Danny Collins (2015)

Starring Al Pacino, Jennifer Garner, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale
inspired by a 34-year-late letter written by John Lennon to British musician Steve Tilston
Al Pacino (left) and the real Danny Collins, Steve Tilston (right), who in 2005 became aware of a letter John Lennon had written to him 34 years earlier.

Questioning the Story:

Was the real letter lost for 40 years?

No. The Danny Collins true story reveals that the real letter was lost for 34 years, not 40. John Lennon wrote the letter to British musician Steve Tilston in 1971, the same year he is depicted as having written the letter to Danny Collins (Al Pacino) in the movie. This was just months after The Beatles had split up in December 1970. Tilston, who is the real-life inspiration for Pacino's Collins, was unaware of the letter's existence until 2005, at which time he was contacted by an American collector who owned the letter. -Bleeker Street

Did the real Danny Collins, Steve Tilston, find success as a musician?

Yes, moderate success at least. Though not widely known, British folk musician Steve Tilston has recorded more than twenty albums across a career that has spanned four decades. He has won a number of awards, including the 2012 BBC Folk Award for Best Song of the Year. -Bleeker Street

Fake Danny Collins album covers incorporating images of a young Al Pacino (left) were created for the movie. Pictured on the right is one of Steve Tilston's real album covers from the 1970s.

Did John Lennon really include his telephone number with the letter?

Yes. The true story confirms that John Lennon, then 30, included his home phone number and signed the letter "love, John and Yoko." -Bleeker Street

Did Lennon really write the letter after reading an interview in TIME Magazine?

No. The real Danny Collins, Steve Tilston, was actually interviewed by ZigZag magazine, not TIME. ZigZag was a British rock magazine edited by Pete Frame. The now-defunct magazine focused more on underground music instead of popular acts. Steve Tilston was 21 at the time of the interview. He was born on March 26, 1950 in Liverpool, England, UK.

What advice did John Lennon offer in the original letter?

In the movie, Lennon's lost letter to Danny Collins (Al Pacino) reads in part, "Stay true to yourself. Stay true to your music." The famed musician then offers his phone number so that the two can discuss how to navigate the often perilous waters of fame and fortune, something Lennon had experience with by that point in his career in 1971.

In real life, John Lennon's letter to Steve Tilston was in essence very similar. He was responding to the answer Steve Tilston gave to ZigZag magazine when Tilston was asked if he thought fame and fortune would impact his songwriting. Tilston told the magazine, "Yes, it would have a very detrimental effect." In his letter, Lennon shared his own thoughts on fame and fortune in relation to his abilities as a songwriter, stating that he had experienced both poverty and great wealth and neither had a detrimental affect on his songwriting.

"Being rich doesn't change your experience in the way you think," wrote Lennon. "The only difference basically is that you don't have to worry about money - food - roof - etc, but all other experiences - emotions - relationships - are the same as anybody's." He included his phone number with the letter so that they could discuss the matter. The original letter is pictured below. -Bleeker Street

John Lennon's letter to Steve Tilston (pictured above) was meant to reassure Tilston that success wouldn't threaten his ability as a songwriter. The 1971 letter also included a message of support at the bottom for the co-editors of Oz magazine, who were on trial at the time facing charges of conspiracy to corrupt public morals.

Did fame and fortune damage Steve Tilston's life like it does to Danny Collins in the movie?

No. Steve Tilston admits that he never became rich or famous enough to know if it would have had a detrimental effect on his songwriting. "I said something about how becoming rich beyond the dreams of Avarice might have a detrimental effect on my songwriting," recalls Tilston of his 1971 interview with ZigZag magazine. "Sadly, I was never really able to test this theory out, but Lennon, who clearly had, put me right." The Danny Collins movie turns Tilston's tale into a cautionary one, with Al Pacino's character losing himself to fame in the form of drugs and women. -The Telegraph

"I've managed to earn my living as a musician for 40-odd years, and it's been feast and famine," Tilston said. "But really, I've lived a charmed life. I wouldn't change it at all. ... The idea of celebrity turns me right off. I just like to do what I do." -NYTimes.com

Did Steve Tilston have a child he was estranged from?

No. As stated above, the movie's cautionary tale of a musician becoming lost in the temptations of celebrity is a fictional one. The real Danny Collins, Steve Tilston, has a daughter named Martha and a son, Joe. Both followed in their father's footsteps. Martha Tilston is a professional singer and Joe Tilston sings and plays bass for the ska-punk band Random Hand.

Why did Lennon's original letter never make it to Steve Tilston?

John Lennon sent the letter to the offices of ZigZag magazine, addressing it to both Steve Tilston and the journalist who interviewed him, Richard Howell. Tilston believes that someone associated with the ZigZag offices in London sold the letter instead of passing it on to him. The letter, which in 2010 was estimated to be worth over $10,300, ended up in the hands of an American collector who wrote to Tilston to confirm that he was the same person that Lennon was referring to.

"I didn't hear about it at all until out of the blue about five years ago," says Tilston, "when an American chap got in touch with me and said; 'Are you the Steve Tilston that John Lennon wrote to?'" -The Telegraph

Related Videos

Take an expanded look at the Danny Collins true story by watching the inspiration for the movie, Steve Tilston, perform live.

 Steve Tilston - The Road When I Was Young (Live)

Steve Tilston, whose letter from John Lennon inspired the movie Danny Collins, performs the song "The Road When I Was Young" in 2012 on the Songwriter's Circle TV show on BBC Four.

 Danny Collins Movie Trailer

Al Pacino stars as Danny Collins, an aging 1970s rock star whose fast-living has left him estranged from his son Tom (Bobby Cannavale). His manager, Frank Grubman (Chistopher Plummer), stumbles upon a lost 40-year-old letter written to Collins by John Lennon. The inspiring letter leaves Collins wondering how different his life would have been if he had received it forty years earlier. Is it too late to change his ways and the course of his life?

Link-to-Learn More:

Steve Tilston Albums