Mary Cox was born in Liverpool, England, the only child of Joseph Cox, a ship steward, and his wife Florence Barrett. Mary left school at 16 and changed her name to Maureen when she began her career as a trainee hairdresser in Liverpool. She was also known as "Mitch" to her friends.
Maureen became a regular at the Cavern Club, where The Beatles often played. She developed a crush on the new drummer, and seeing him on the street one day, chased after him. She got his autograph and wrote his "car" license number on her exercise book. It was not until three weeks later that Ringo took any notice of her. Once he did, they went out regularly together on his days off. After they began dating, she would still go to Cavern performances to watch the Beatles, but it was getting more and more dangerous for her to go. As Cox recalled in 1967:
“(The girls) used to hang around the Cavern all day long, just on the off chance of seeing them. They'd come out of the lunchtime session and just stand outside all afternoon, queuing up for the evening.... The object was to get as near the front row as possible, so that they could see the Beatles, and be seen. I never joined the queue till about two or three hours before the Cavern opened. It frightened me. There would be fights and rows among the girls. When the doors opened the first ones would tear in, knocking each other over. Then when it got near the time for the Beatles to come on, if there was a gang of four say, they would go off in turns to the lavatory with their little cases to get changed and made up. So when the Beatles came on they'd look smashing, as if they'd just arrived...They were obviously dying to be noticed and get to know one of them. But no, it was really just everything about being there. It was terrible, the mad screams when they came on....”
Maureen's life became regularly threatened when some of the fans figured out that she was dating Ringo. She was viciously scratched on the face by a fan on February 14, 1963 as she was waiting in Ringo's car outside the Locarno where the Beatles played that night. She got the window up just in time or she feared she would have been killed.
Maureen and Ringo saw each other less as the Beatles' fame grew. Ringo moved to London while she stayed in Liverpool with her parents. Maureen was not well known in the press until she went on a Caribbean holiday with Ringo, Paul McCartney, and Paul's girlfriend, Jane Asher in May 1964. She told her parents she was going to visit Ringo in London for a few days but suddenly her name and pictures were all over the British tabloids. Maureen's father, Joe Cox, commented: “It really did not surprise my wife or myself when we learned she was half way across the world. In any case it wouldn't have made any difference. I would have given her permission anyway. Maureen is a sensible girl and well able to take care of herself.”
Previously, in September 1963, Maureen, with her parents' permission, had holidayed in Greece with Ringo, Paul and Jane Asher—their last peaceful and anonymous vacation before the Beatles' fame made privacy impossible.
In Liverpool, Maureen had assisted at the Beatles Fan Club since 1962 and answered lots of Ringo's fan mail. Parents would write back thanking her for being so nice to their daughters. After their Caribbean holiday, Ringo introduced Maureen to the press, announcing she was now his private secretary and would be helping his parents with his personal fan mail.
In June 1964, Ringo collapsed, suffering from tonsilitis, at a photo studio just before tours to Amsterdam and Australia. Maureen and Ringo's mother rushed from Liverpool and stayed at his London flat until he was released from the hospital, free to join the Beatles on the remainder of their Australian tour. In December 1964, Maureen was by Ringo's side when he went back into the hospital to have his troublesome tonsils removed. She secretly visited and brought him ice cream, remaining with him in London through Christmas. By January 1965, Ringo went down on one knee and proposed to Maureen at the Ad Lib Club in London.
Marriage to Ringo
The eighteen-year-old Cox married Ringo Starr on February 11, 1965. Their first child, Zak Starkey, was born on September 13, 1965. They had two more children, Jason on August 19, 1967 and Lee on November 11, 1970. During this time, Maureen was very much a part of Ringo's life and they did everything together. She sang backup vocals on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and was in attendance at the rooftop concert in 1969 (Paul can be heard saying "Thanks Mo" in reference to Maureen's cheering after the final performance of "Get Back".)
The very first song in the Beatles' Apple Records catalog was a special private recording sung by Frank Sinatra as a favor to Ringo Starr as a 22nd birthday gift for Maureen in 1968. Sammy Cahn rewrote Lorenz Hart's lyrics to "The Lady Is a Tramp" and personalized them about Maureen (who was a great Sinatra fan). Sinatra recorded the song in Los Angeles, and only a few copies were pressed before the master tape was destroyed. Ringo surprised Maureen with the one-of-a-kind single on August 4, 1968.
Despite all of the marriage problems the couple faced, such as Maureen's affair with George Harrison, which is mentioned in Pattie Boyd's biography Wonderful Tonight, Maureen Starkey did not want a divorce. Her husband, however, simply wanted out. Maureen eventually accepted. On July 17, 1975, the divorce was finalized on the grounds of Ringo's affair with an American model, Nancy Lee Andrews.
In her book John, John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, wrote that after her divorce from Ringo, Maureen was so upset that she rode a motorbike at full speed into a brick wall and required plastic surgery to repair injuries to her face.
Maureen gradually created a new life for herself and the children but the Starkeys remained a family unit. A friend commented: "Ringo never lost that place in his heart for Maureen. He'd only lost that person that fell in love with her." On the third anniversary of their divorce in 1978 Ringo and Maureen with their children attended a party together setting off press speculation that they were reconciling. Maureen married Isaac Tigrett, of Hard Rock Cafe and House of Blues fame, on May 27, 1989 in Monaco. They had one daughter together: Augusta King Tigrett, born January 4, 1987 in Dallas, Texas.
Maureen died of complications related to leukemia treatment at age 48 on 30 December 1994 in Seattle, Washington. She had recently received bone marrow from her son Zak. Her four children, mother Flo, husband Isaac Tigrett and ex-husband Ringo were all at her bedside when she died. Ringo was devastated by her death and a friend commented to the press: "She took a part of Ringo with her when she died last week. There was so much of Ringo that he had lost over the years which only Maureen held in her heart." McCartney wrote the song "Little Willow," which appears on his 1997 album Flaming Pie, as a tribute to her memory, and he dedicated it to her children.