Just as there is no understating the artistic, cultural, and all-around historical upheaval instigated in the 1960s by the Beatles, it is similarly impossible to quantify the devastating impact made by the murder of John Lennon, the band’s leader, on December 8, 1980.
It occurred in what was otherwise a time of bliss for Lennon and his wife and creative collaborator Yoko Ono. Double Fantasy, Lennon’s first album in five years, was racing up the charts. Just a few hours earlier, esteemed photographer Annie Leibowitz had conducted a portrait session with the couple for Rolling Stone.
Upon leaving the Dakota to lay down music tracks at the Record Plant, the couple was approached by obsessed Lennon devotee Mark David Chapman who asked John to autograph an album. Nearby photographer Paul Goresh snapped a picture of the musician obliging.
Lennon normally enjoyed such impromptu exchanges with fans outside his residence. Two days earlier, he’d told BBC Radio, “People come and ask for autographs or say ‘Hi,’ but they don’t bug you.”
At around 10:50 P.M., Lennon and Ono returned home, whereupon Chapman fired five hollow-point bullets at Lennon, hitting him four times.
In the ensuing commotion, Dakota doorman Jose Perdomo wrestled the gun from Chapman’s hand and kicked it across the street. Jay Hastings, the building’s concierge, attempted to stem Lennon’s bleeding with his uniform jacket. “Do you know what you’ve just done?” Perdomo raged at Chapman.
The shooter stood nearby, holding a copy of the classic novel The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and calmly responded, “Yes, I’ve just shot John Lennon.”
Police officers rushed Lennon to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, where he died during surgery due to the impact of the gunshots and 80 percent blood loss. John Lennon was only 40 years old.
America initially learned of Lennon’s death via ABC’s Monday Night Football. A local news producer happened to have seen Lennon being wheeled into the hospital and called in the story. After momentary trepidation, ABC Sports president Roone Arledge asked MNF commentator Howard Cosell to break the news. Cosell interrupted the game to say:
“Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps, of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash….”
Grief exploded all over the planet. Thousands of fans lined up outside the Dakota. Ono asked them to convene the following Sunday in Central Park for ten minutes of silent prayer. On December 14, millions of observers honored Ono’s request worldwide.
Chapman described himself as a devout Christian, but his approach to the faith was on par with his fanaticism regarding the Beatles and Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye who fights a nonstop inner battle against those he deems “phonies.”
As a result, Chapman especially idolized and despised John Lennon, later revealing:
“He told us to imagine no possessions, and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music.
I would listen to this music and I would get angry at him, for saying that he didn’t believe in God and that he didn’t believe in the Beatles… I just wanted to scream out loud, ‘Who does he think he is?’…
At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage… into this Catcher in the Rye milieu where my mind-set is Holden Caulfield and antiphony-ness.”
Mark David Chapman pleaded guilty to murdering John Lennon. A judge sentenced him to 20 years to life under the condition that Chapman would be provided with mental-health services. To date, Chapman has been denied parole nine times.
Every bit as surely as an era began in 1964 when the Beatles electrified humanity on The Ed Sullivan Show, that same era came to a horrific close 16 years later on West 72nd Street, not far at all from where the group’s performance was first broadcast.
On each occasion, John Lennon changed the world forever after.
Main image: Mark David Chapman, mugshot taken after he killed John Lennon [NYPD]