A Letter From Lennon

Meet the real-life inspiration for "Danny Collins"

Written by Alexandra Yu

Steve Tilston is a British singer/songwriter and the inspiration behind the character of DANNY COLLINS, the new movie that Bleecker Street is releasing later this year.

At 65 years old and after four decades in the music industry, Tilston has established himself as one of the most highly regarded folk musicians in the UK. He has won numerous awards including the BBC Folk Award for Best Song of the Year, and counts Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan as fans of his music. While he has no regrets about where life has taken him, it could have been considerably different.

Back in 1971, after the release of his first album, Tilston was interviewed by Zig Zag magazine and was asked if fame and fortune would impact his songwriting abilities. Being a young and precocious songwriter, he answered, “Yes, it would have a very detrimental effect.” After reading this article, John Lennon decided to share his own experiences with celebrity and wrote a letter to Tilston explaining that “he had experienced wealth beyond the dreams of Avarice and it hadn’t affected his songwriting”, included his home phone number, and signed the letter “love, John and Yoko."

The letter never reached Tilston. In fact, he was unaware of its existence until 2005 when an American collector contacted him to confirm that he was the actual Steve Tilston to which the letter was addressed. Upon learning that John Lennon had reached out to him decades prior, Tilston admitted that he “wouldn’t have thought twice about ringing him.” As a fan of The Beatles, Tilston “always appreciated [Lennon’s] writing and his wit.” The lost opportunity to meet the music icon was frustrating to him, as he never found out how a meeting with Lennon could have affected his life. Considering that both men were born in Liverpool, Tilston wondered if that could have served as a mutual bonding point, transitioning to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's new venture into the folk music world in which Tilston was already immersed.

Tilston’s letter was the inspiration for Bleecker Street’s upcoming motion picture DANNY COLLINS, written and directed by Dan Fogelman. Upon learning of the letter, Fogelman met with Tilston and developed the screenplay, which tells the story of an aging rocker (played by Al Pacino) who decides to turn his life when he receives a undelivered letter written by John Lennon.

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