She attended music school Jiyu-gakuen as a child, and later Sarah Lawrence College. In 1956, she married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi (divorced 1962). She married American Christian fundamentalist filmmaker Tony Cox on November 28, 1962. The marriage was annulled on March 1, 1963; they re-married that June 6, and divorced on February 2, 1969). Their daughter, Kyoko Chan, was born on August 8, 1963.
An early member of the Fluxus art movement, Ono is best known for marrying The Beatles' John Lennon. They met when John visited a preview of an exhibition of Yoko's. He was taken with the attitude of the exhibits, such as a telescope looking at the word 'Yes' on a ceiling, a block of wood with protruding nails to be hammered in, and a decomposing apple. They married on March 20, 1969 on the Rock of Gibraltar. Their son, Sean Taro Ono Lennon, was born on John's 35th birthday.
Ono is often accused by Beatles fans of breaking up the band; however, in a 2003 interview by Jay Leno, she revealed the disappointment she felt by the breakup and how it impacted upon a life that she was used to. There are Lennon fans who, in addition, blame Ono for the experimental phase (considered bizarre and somewhat unpopular) that Lennon explored in his work immediately following the Beatles' breakup. On the other hand, many fans consider – as Lennon consistently attested – that Ono had a profound and beneficial influence on his oeuvre.
Ono performed with Lennon on several of his albums, beginning with the 1968 Two Virgins and including those recorded under the name of the Plastic Ono Band. Ono also achieved moderate success as a musician in her own right. Many of her earlier songs retain the surreal quality of her art and films, however her later songs are more conventional. Quite a few of her songs have been covered by other prominent musicians, including Elvis Costello's cover of "Walking On Thin Ice".
Ono has allegedly had a bad relationship with Paul McCartney for some time in a dispute centred around the writing credits for many Beatles songs, traditionally credited to Lennon/McCartney. McCartney had wanted to change this to Paul McCartney and John Lennon for some songs, but she would not allow it. She had also wanted to remove the McCartney credit for "Give Peace a Chance".
Her photograph of Lennon's spectacles, bloodstained from when he was fatally shot outside their Manhattan apartment building on December 8, 1980, sold at auction in London in April, 2002 for about $13,000.
She currently resides in New York City.