Ringo Starr's tough childhood before battling serious illness in hospital as teen

Darcy Rafter October 3, 2022
Ringo Starr's tough childhood before battling serious illness in hospital as teen
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, is one of the most legendary names in the history of rock music. However, even his most devoted fans don’t realize the traumatizing struggles that the musician has faced. After the artist was forced to cancel his performance, we take a look at Ringo Starr’s battle with serious illnesses in his younger years.

Ringo Starr and his band, All-Starr, have recently canceled two concerts after the drummer suffered a sudden illness over the weekend. The group was scheduled to perform in New Buffalo, Michigan, on Saturday, October 1st, the same day the cancellation was announced, and in Minnesota on Sunday.

Let’s take a look inside Ringo Starr’s life, from his tough childhood growing up in a lower-working-class family in Liverpool to fighting an illness so severe he came close to death.

Ringo Starr’s tough childhood and illness he was ‘lucky to survive’

Photo by RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Ringo was born Richard Starkey, the only child of Richard Starkey and Elsie Gleave on July 7, 1940. The artist later became Sir Richard Starkey MBE. Even before he found fame, Ringo Starr struggled with his health and various illnesses.

At six years old his appendix burst leading to peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen lining. Following his appendectomy to remove his ruptured appendix, Starr developed a severe internal infection.

In an interview with NPR in 2017, he explained: “Peritonitis it’s called… And that was pretty dangerous. It’s still dangerous today, but in 1947, it was very dangerous.”

Starr’s biography, Ringo: With a Little Help, reveals his mother was told he may not survive the surgery.

It was recalled: “He was barely conscious at times and was nearly comatose for ten weeks. He was lucky to survive – and he knew it.”

After coming out of his coma, Starr spent the following year in recovery. However, six months into the stint, he fell out of the bed and ripped open all the stitches in his stomach. He later admitted: “So they had to dive in again and sew me up.”

Ringo Starr spent three years in hospital fighting illnesses

Sadly, this was not the end of his time in hospital as from the age of 13 to 14, he was infected with tuberculosis. Starr explained in 2017 that he contracted the illness from the area he lived in. He revealed that there were “six or seven cases in every street where people were just in the living room dying of TB because they didn’t have a cure, of course.”

He added that Streptomycin is what saved him as “they shipped me off to a greenhouse in the country… just this huge greenhouse where instead of flowers, they put all us kids in there and let us breathe some decent air for a change and gave us streptomycin. And a year later, I came out of that.”

Including his time in the sanitarium, altogether, he spent three years of his childhood in hospital with severe illnesses.

Starr’s hospital stints led him to play music

Photo by Fiona Adams/Redferns

During his second hospital stay, Starr began to develop a passion for music, particularly drums. Aside from letting them knit, hospital staff allowed young long-term patients to play instruments.

Starr explained: “Some teacher would come in with musical instruments, being drums, tambourines, maracas, triangles – all percussive stuff.”

After being given a drum for his first music session, the next session came around and they tried to give him a different instrument. However, Starr “only wanted the drum, And that’s where I really fell in love with drums.”

Starr revealed he “made my first kit when I came out of hospital out of biscuit tins and firewood. And then, when I was about 16, I got a bass drum.

“That’s all I had was a big bass drum. And then when I was 18, I got my first kit. So I’d strengthened up by then.”

He joins The Beatles, but his health issues return

This was the start of everything for Ringo, he started practicing drums more and played in a number of local bands. He was asked to join The Beatles and propelled to international fame throughout the 1960s.

However, Starr’s health concerns still loomed, and in 1964 whilst the band was preparing for a world tour he contracted tonsillitis and pharyngitis. As a result of his illness, drummer Jimmie Nicol replaced him on tour for 13 days whilst Starr recovered.

The artist later told Esquire that his long medical history has left him with a hatred for hospitals. He confessed that he “can’t even visit hospitals.”

Starr recalled that “one time Barbara [his wife] was having a procedure, and she was in there getting better afterward, and I’m trying to wake her up – ‘Come on, let’s go, let’s go!’”

Ringo Starr’s sudden illness causes canceled tour dates

Ringo’s current diagnosis has not been confirmed, but a spokesperson for the band said the 82-year-old’s illness is not related to Covid-19.

However, his illness has affected his voice, as reported by The Mirror, meaning his band, All-Starr, has had to cancel a couple of dates from Ringo’s tour schedule.

The tour was already postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The second part of their tour is due to end on October 20 in Mexico City.

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Darcy is an experienced journalist passionate about celebrity culture and entertainment. After gaining a degree in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University she has also become a social media specialist, always keeping informed on the latest trends. With almost five years of experience in media, her expertise is analysing platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. When she's not tracking the latest trending content, she’s watching films and eating lots of chocolate.