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Murder of John Lennon

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Coordinates: 40°46′35.6″N 73°58′34.8″W / 40.776556°N 73.976333°W / 40.776556; -73.976333

Murder of John Lennon
Police artist image of murder of John Lennon.jpg
A police artist's sketch of the murder
LocationThe Dakota, New York City, New York
Date8 December 1980; 40 years ago (1980-12-08)
10:50 p.m (US Eastern time (UTC−05:00)
Attack type
Shooting with handgun
WeaponCharter Arms Undercover .38 Special revolver
VictimJohn Lennon
PerpetratorMark David Chapman

On the evening of 8 December 1980, English musician John Lennon, formerly of the Beatles, was shot and fatally wounded in the archway of The Dakota, his residence in New York City. His killer was Mark David Chapman, an American Beatles fan who travelled from Hawaii. Chapman said he was angered by Lennon's lifestyle and public statements, especially his much-publicized remark about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus" and the lyrics of his later songs "God" and "Imagine". Chapman also said he was inspired by the fictional character Holden Caulfield from J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.

Chapman planned the killing over several months and waited for Lennon at the Dakota on the morning of 8 December. During the evening he met Lennon, who signed his copy of the album Double Fantasy. Lennon left with his wife, Yoko Ono, for a recording session at the Record Plant. Later that night, Lennon and Ono returned to the Dakota. As they walked towards the entrance of the building, Chapman fired five hollow-point bullets from a .38 special revolver, four of which hit Lennon in the back. Chapman remained at the scene reading The Catcher in the Rye until he was arrested. Lennon was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital in a police car where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Lennon was 40 years old.

A worldwide outpouring of grief ensued on an unprecedented scale. Crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota. People in nearby buildings placed lit candles in their windows,[1] and at least three Beatles fans committed suicide.[2] Lennon was cremated at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. The ashes were given to Ono, who requested 10 minutes of silence around the world instead of holding a funeral. Chapman pleaded guilty to murdering Lennon and was given a sentence of 20-years-to-life imprisonment in an Upstate New York prison. He has been denied parole eleven times since he first became eligible in 2000.

Events preceding the murder[edit]

8 December 1980[edit]

Annie Leibovitz's portrait of Lennon and Ono, taken on the day of the killing

Portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz went to the Lennons' apartment to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine.[3] Leibovitz promised them that a photo of the two of them together would make the front cover of the magazine. Leibovitz took several photos of John Lennon alone and one was originally set to be on the cover.[4] Leibovitz said, "Nobody wanted [Ono] on the cover".[5] Lennon insisted that both he and his wife be on the cover, and after taking the pictures, Leibovitz left their apartment at 3:30 p.m.[3] After the photo shoot, Lennon gave what would be his last interview, to San Francisco DJ Dave Sholin, for a music show to be broadcast on the RKO Radio Network.[6] At around 5 p.m., Lennon and Ono, delayed by a late limousine, left their apartment to mix the song "Walking on Thin Ice" (an Ono song featuring Lennon on lead guitar) at the Record Plant Studio.[7]

Mark David Chapman[edit]

The Dakota, Lennon's residence and the location of the killing

Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old former security guard from Honolulu, Hawaii, was a fan of the Beatles with no prior criminal convictions.[8] He claimed that he had been enraged by Lennon's infamous, much-publicized 1966 remark about the group being "more popular than Jesus", and especially by the lyrics of Lennon's later songs. Chapman said he decided Lennon was a "phony" based on the dichotomy between Lennon's altruistic lyric "imagine no possessions" and his lavish lifestyle as depicted in Anthony Fawcett's book John Lennon: One Day at a Time, published by Grove Press in 1976.[9] J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye took on great personal significance for Chapman, to the extent that he wished to model his life after the novel's protagonist Holden Caulfield. One of the novel's main themes is Caulfield's rage against adult hypocrisy and "phonies".[10]

Chapman took a flight to New York on 6 December 1980.[11] On the morning of 8 December, Chapman left his room at the Sheraton Hotel, leaving personal items behind that the police would later find. He bought a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in which he wrote "This is my statement", signing it "Holden Caulfield." Chapman then waited for Lennon outside the Dakota in early-morning and spent most of the day near the entrance to the Dakota, talking to fans and the doorman. During that morning, a distracted Chapman missed seeing Lennon step out of a cab and enter the Dakota. Later in the morning, Chapman met Lennon's family nanny, Helen Seaman, who was returning from a walk with Lennon's five-year-old son Sean. Chapman reached in front of the housekeeper to shake Sean's hand and said that he was a beautiful boy, quoting Lennon's song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)".[12][13]

At approximately 5:00 p.m., Lennon and Ono left the Dakota for a recording session at Record Plant Studios. As they were walking to a limousine (shared with the RKO Radio crew), they were approached by Chapman. It was common for fans to wait outside the Dakota to meet Lennon and ask for his autograph.[14] Lennon liked to oblige, with autographs or pictures, any fans who had been waiting for long periods of time to meet him, stating during a 6 December 1980 interview with BBC Radio's Andy Peebles: "People come and ask for autographs, or say 'Hi', but they don't bug you."[3]

Chapman asked Lennon to sign a copy of his album, Double Fantasy.[15][16] Later, Chapman said, "He was very kind to me. Ironically, very kind and was very patient with me. The limousine was waiting ... and he took his time with me and he got the pen going and he signed my album. He asked me if I needed anything else. I said, 'No. No sir.' And he walked away. Very cordial and decent man."[17] Photographer and Lennon fan Paul Goresh took a photo of Lennon signing Chapman's album.[18]


The West 72nd Street entrance to the Dakota, where Lennon was shot

The Lennons spent several hours at the Record Plant studio before returning to the Dakota at approximately 10:50 p.m.[3] Lennon decided against dining out so he could be home in time to say goodnight to his son, before going on to the Stage Deli restaurant with Ono.[3] The Lennons exited their limousine on 72nd Street instead of driving into the more secure courtyard of the Dakota.[19]

The Dakota doorman Jose Perdomo and a nearby taxi driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway.[20] The Lennons passed Chapman and walked toward the archway entrance of the building. As Ono passed by, Chapman nodded at her. As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman, appearing to recognize him from earlier.[21] Seconds later, Chapman drew a Charter Arms .38 caliber revolver he had concealed in his coat pocket, aimed at the center of Lennon's back and rapidly fired five hollow-point bullets at Lennon from a distance of about nine or ten feet (3 m).[22]

Based on statements made that night by New York City Police Department Chief of Detectives James Sullivan, numerous radio, television, and newspaper reports at the time claimed before firing Chapman called out "Mr. Lennon" and dropped into a combat stance.[23] Later court hearings and witness interviews did not include either "Mr. Lennon" or the "combat stance" description. Chapman said that he does not remember calling out to Lennon before he fired,[24][25][26] and that Lennon did not turn around.[27] He claimed to have taken a "combat stance" in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters.[28]

Side view of the Dakota archway, showing the step Lennon climbed before he collapsed in the lobby

One bullet missed Lennon and struck a window of the Dakota building. The other four hit Lennon in the back and shoulder, puncturing his left lung and left subclavian artery.[29] Lennon, bleeding profusely from external wounds and from his mouth, staggered up five steps to the security/reception area where he said, "I'm shot! I'm shot!"[note 1][32] He then fell to the floor, scattering cassettes that he was carrying. Perdomo ran inside and told concierge worker Jay Hastings that the attacker dropped his gun on the pavement. Hastings first started to make a tourniquet, but upon ripping open Lennon's blood-stained shirt and realising the severity of the musician's multiple injuries, he covered Lennon's chest with his uniform jacket, removed his blood-covered glasses, and summoned the police.[3]

Chapman then removed his coat and hat in preparation for the arrival of police—to show he was not carrying any concealed weapons—and remained standing on West 72nd Street.[33] Underneath his coat, he wore a promotional T-shirt for the musician Todd Rundgren's album Hermit of Mink Hollow.[34] Perdomo shouted at Chapman, "Do you know what you've done?", to which Chapman calmly replied, "Yes, I just shot John Lennon."[33]

Officers Steven Spiro and Peter Cullen were the first policemen to arrive at the scene; they were at 72nd Street and Broadway when they heard a report of shots fired at the Dakota. The officers arrived around two minutes later and found Chapman standing very calmly on West 72nd Street. They reported that Chapman had dropped the revolver to the ground and was holding a paperback book, J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Later, he claimed, "If you were able to view the actual copy of The Catcher in the Rye that was taken from me on the night of Dec. 8, you would find in it the handwritten words, 'This is my statement.'"[35] They immediately put Chapman in handcuffs and placed him in the back seat of their squad car. Chapman made no attempt to flee or resist arrest.[35]

Officer Herb Frauenberger and his partner Tony Palma were the second team, arriving a few minutes later. They found Lennon lying face down on the floor of the reception area, blood pouring from his mouth and his clothing already soaked with it, with Hastings attending to him.[36] Realizing the extent of Lennon's injuries, the policemen decided not to wait for an ambulance and immediately carried Lennon into their squad car. He was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital on West 59th Street.[37] Officer James Moran said they placed Lennon in the back seat.[38]

Reportedly, Moran asked, "Are you John Lennon?" to which Lennon nodded and replied, "Yes."[30] According to another account by officer Bill Gamble, Lennon nodded slightly and tried to speak, but could only manage to make a gurgling sound, and lost consciousness shortly thereafter.[31]

Resuscitation attempt[edit]

A few minutes before 11:00 p.m., Moran arrived at Roosevelt Hospital with Lennon in his squad car. Moran was carrying Lennon on his back and onto a gurney, demanding a doctor for a multiple gunshot wound victim. When Lennon was brought in, he was not breathing, and had no pulse. Three doctors, a nurse, and two or three other medical attendants worked on Lennon for 10 to 20 minutes in an attempt to resuscitate him. As a last resort, the doctors cut open Lennon's chest and attempted manual heart massage to restore circulation, but they quickly discovered that the damage to the blood vessels above and around Lennon's heart from the multiple bullet wounds was too great.[39]

Three of the four bullets that struck Lennon's back passed completely through his body and out of his chest, while the fourth lodged itself in his aorta beside his heart. One of the exiting bullets from his chest hit and became lodged in his upper left arm. Several of the wounds could have been fatal by themselves, because each bullet had ruptured vital arteries around the heart. Lennon was shot four times at close range with hollow-point bullets and his affected organs—particularly his left lung and major blood vessels above his heart—were virtually destroyed upon impact.[40]

Information regarding who operated on and attempted to resuscitate Lennon has varied. Many reports said Stephen Lynn, the head of the Emergency Department at Roosevelt Hospital, performed Lennon's surgery. In 2005, Lynn said he massaged Lennon's heart and attempted to resuscitate him for 20 minutes, that two other doctors were present, and that the three of them declared Lennon's death.[39] Conversely in 1990, Richard Marks, an emergency room surgeon at Roosevelt Hospital, stated he operated on Lennon, administered a "massive" blood transfusion, and provided heart massage to no avail. "When I realized he wasn't going to make it," said Marks, "I just sewed him back up. I felt helpless."[41] In 2015, surgeon David Halleran disputed the accounts of both Marks and Lynn, stating that the two doctors "didn't do anything." Halleran also stated that he did not realise whom he was operating on initially, and that Lynn only came to assist him when he heard that it was Lennon. At the time, Halleran was a third-year general surgery resident at Roosevelt Hospital.[42][43]

If he [Lennon] had been shot this way in the middle of the operating room with a whole team of surgeons ready to work on him... he still wouldn't have survived his injuries.

— Stephen Lynn, head of the Emergency Department at Roosevelt Hospital[40]

Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:15 p.m.,[44] but the time of 11:07 p.m. has also been reported.[45] Witnesses noted that the Beatles song "All My Loving" came over the hospital's sound system at the moment Lennon was pronounced dead.[46] His body was then taken to the city morgue at 520 First Avenue for an autopsy. The cause of death was reported on his death certificate as "hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and left chest resulting in damage to the left lung, the left subclavian artery, and both the aorta and aortic arch".[47] According to the report, even with prompt medical treatment, no person could have lived for more than a few minutes with multiple bullet wounds affecting all of the major arteries and veins around the heart.[47]

Lynn informed Ono of her husband's death. According to Lynn, Ono started sobbing and said, "Oh no, no, no, no ... tell me it's not true!" He said that Ono then lay down and began hitting her head against the floor, but calmed down when a nurse gave Lennon's wedding ring to her. His account is disputed by two of the nurses who were there.[48] In a 2015 interview, Ono denied hitting her head on a concrete floor and stated that her chief concern at the time was to remain calm and take care of her son Sean.[49] She was led away from Roosevelt Hospital by a policeman and Geffen Records' president, David Geffen.[50]


Monday Night Football[edit]

Howard Cosell, seen here in an earlier photograph, broke the news of Lennon's death on ABC's 'Monday Night Football

Ono asked the hospital not to report to the media that her husband was dead until she informed their five-year-old son Sean, who was at home. Ono said he was probably watching television and that she did not want him to learn of his father's death from a TV announcement.[50] Meanwhile, news producer Alan J. Weiss of WABC-TV had been waiting to be treated in the Roosevelt Hospital ER after being injured in a motorcycle accident earlier in the evening. Weiss recalled in 2013 that he saw Lennon being wheeled into the room surrounded by police officers. After he learned what happened, Weiss called his station with the information. Eventually, word made its way to ABC News president Roone Arledge.[51]

Arledge was also the president of the network's sports division, and was presiding over ABC's telecast of Monday Night Football as its executive producer. When Arledge received word of Lennon's death, a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins was tied with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots were driving toward the potential winning score. As the Patriots tried to put themselves in position for a field goal, Arledge informed Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell of the shooting and suggested that they report the murder. Cosell, who had interviewed Lennon during a Monday Night Football broadcast in 1974, was chosen to do so but was apprehensive of it at first, as he felt the game should take precedence and that it was not their place to break such a big story. Gifford convinced Cosell otherwise, saying that he should not "hang on to (the news)" as the significance of the killing was greater than the finish of the game.

With thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter, the following exchange took place:[52]

Cosell: ... but [the game]'s suddenly been placed in total perspective for us. I'll finish this; they're in the hurry-up offense.

Gifford: Third down, four. [Chuck] Foreman ... it'll be fourth down. [Matt] Cavanaugh will let it run down for one final attempt; he'll let the seconds tick off to give Miami no opportunity whatsoever. (Whistle blows.) Timeout is called with three seconds remaining; John Smith is on the line. And I don't care what's on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth.

Cosell: Yes, we have to say it. 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 newsflash, which, in duty bound, we have to take. Frank?

Gifford: (after a pause) Indeed, it is.[53]

Other announcements[edit]

New York rock station WNEW-FM 102.7 immediately suspended all programming and opened its lines to calls from listeners. Stations throughout the country switched to special programming devoted to Lennon and/or Beatles music.[54]

The following day, Ono issued a statement: "There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean."[55]


The outpouring of grief, wonder and shared devastation that followed Lennon's death had the same breadth and intensity as the reaction to the killing of a world figure: some bold and popular politician, like John or Robert Kennedy, or a spiritual leader, like Martin Luther King Jr. But Lennon was a creature of poetic political metaphor, and his spiritual consciousness was directed inward, as a way of nurturing and widening his creative force. That was what made the impact, and the difference — the shock of his imagination, the penetrating and pervasive traces of his genius—and it was the loss of all that, in so abrupt and awful a way, that was mourned last week, all over the world.

— Jay Cocks, TIME, 22 December 1980[14]

On the day following the murder, Lennon's Beatle bandmate George Harrison issued a prepared statement for the press: "After all we went through together, I had and still have great love and respect for him. I am shocked and stunned. To rob a life is the ultimate robbery in life. The perpetual encroachment on other people's space is taken to the limit with the use of a gun. It is an outrage that people can take other people's lives when they obviously haven't got their own lives in order." Harrison later privately told friends, "I just wanted to be in a band. Here we are, 20 years later, and some whack job has shot my mate. I just wanted to play guitar in a band."[56]

Lennon's former writing partner Paul McCartney was leaving an Oxford Street recording studio when reporters asked him for his reaction; he responded, "Drag, isn't it?". When publicised, the response was widely criticised, and even McCartney himself regretted the seemingly callous remark. McCartney later said that he had intended no disrespect and simply was unable to articulate his feelings, given the shock and sadness he felt over Lennon's murder.[57]

Lennon's murder triggered an outpouring of grief around the world on an unprecedented scale.[58] His remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York; no funeral was held.[59] Ono sent word to the chanting crowd outside the Dakota that their singing had kept her awake; she asked that they re-convene at the Central Park Bandshell the following Sunday for ten minutes of silent prayer.[60] On 14 December 1980, millions of people around the world responded to Ono's request to pause for ten minutes of silence to remember Lennon.[61] 30,000 gathered in Lennon's hometown of Liverpool, and the largest group—over 225,000—converged on Central Park, close to the scene of the shooting.[61] For those ten minutes, every radio station in New York City went off the air.[62]

At least three Beatles fans killed themselves after the murder,[2] leading Ono to make a public appeal asking mourners not to give in to despair.[63] On 18 January 1981, a full-page open letter from Ono appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Titled "In Gratitude", it expressed thanks to the millions of people who mourned Lennon's loss and wanted to know how they could commemorate his life and help her and Sean.[64]

Double Fantasy, which was released three weeks before Lennon's murder and initially poorly received, became a worldwide commercial success and went on to win the 1981 Album of the Year award at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards.

Ono released a solo album, Season of Glass, in 1981. The cover of the album is a photograph of Lennon's blood-spattered glasses. That same year she also released "Walking on Thin Ice", the song the Lennons had mixed at the Record Plant less than an hour before he was murdered, as a single.[50]

John Hinckley tried to assassinate president Ronald Reagan three months after Lennon's murder, and the police found a copy of Catcher in the Rye among his personal belongings.[65] He left a cassette tape in his hotel room on which he stated that he mourned Lennon's death. He said that he wanted to make "some kind of statement" after Lennon's death.[66]

Chapman pleaded guilty in 1981 to murdering Lennon.[67][68][69][35] Under the terms of his guilty plea, he was sentenced to 20-years-to-life and later automatically became eligible for parole in 2000.[70] However, he has been denied parole eleven times and remains incarcerated in an Upstate New York prison.[71][72]

Jay Hastings, the Dakota doorman who tried to help Lennon, sold the shirt he was wearing that night, stained with Lennon's blood, at auction in 2016. It sold for £31,000.[73]

Memorials and tributes[edit]


Memorial behind the Iron Curtain: Lennon Wall in Prague, August 1981

Leibovitz's photo of a naked Lennon embracing his wife, taken on the day of the murder, was the cover of Rolling Stone's 22 January 1981 issue, most of which was dedicated to articles, letters and photographs commemorating Lennon's life and death.[74] In 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors ranked it as the top magazine cover of the last 40 years.[75]


  • Every 8 December, a memorial ceremony is held in front of the Capitol Records building on Vine Street in Hollywood, California. People also light candles in front of Lennon's Hollywood Walk of Fame star, outside the Capitol Building.[76]
  • On 28–30 September 2007, Durness held the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival, which was attended by Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird, who read from his writings and her own books; and Stanley Parkes, Lennon's Scottish cousin.[77] Parkes said, "Me and Julia [Baird] are going to be going to the old family croft to tell stories". Musicians, painters and poets from across the UK performed at the festival.[77][78]
  • As of 2005, Ono still placed a lit candle in the window of Lennon's room in the Dakota every year on 8 December.[79]
  • Every 9 October, Lennon's birthday, through 8 December, the date Lennon was shot, the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland is lit.[citation needed]
    The Imagine Peace Tower
    The Imagine Peace Tower (Icelandic: Friðarsúlan, meaning "the peace column") is a memorial to John Lennon from his widow, Yoko Ono, located on Viðey Island in Kollafjörður Bay near Reykjavík, Iceland.
  • On 24 March 2018, McCartney participated in the March for Our Lives, a protest against gun violence, because of Lennon's killing.[80]


Physical memorials[edit]

Strawberry Fields during wintertime, with the Dakota in the background
  • In 1985, New York City dedicated an area of Central Park where Lennon had frequently walked, directly across from the Dakota, as Strawberry Fields. In a symbolic show of unity, countries from around the world donated trees, and the city of Naples, Italy, donated the Imagine mosaic centerpiece.[87]
  • On 9 October 2007, Ono dedicated a new memorial called the Imagine Peace Tower, located on the island of Viðey, off the coast of Reykjavík, Iceland. Each year, between 9 October and 8 December, it projects a vertical beam of light high into the sky in Lennon's memory.[88]
  • In 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's New York City annex hosted a special John Lennon exhibit, which included many mementos and personal effects from Lennon's life, as well as the clothes he was wearing when he was murdered, still in the brown paper bag from Roosevelt Hospital.[89]
  • In 2018, Ono created an artwork in John Lennon's memory, titled "Sky", for MTA Arts & Design. The artwork was installed during the renovation of the 72nd Street station on the New York City Subway's B and ​C trains, which is located outside the Dakota.[90][91]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

Several conspiracy theories have been published, based on CIA and FBI surveillance of Lennon due to his left-wing activism,[92][93] and on the actions of Chapman in the murder or subsequent legal proceedings. Barrister and journalist Fenton Bresler[94] raised the idea in a book published in 1990.[95] Liverpool playwright Ian Carroll, who has staged a drama conveying the theory Chapman was manipulated by a rogue wing of the CIA, suggests he was not so insane he could not manage a long trip from Hawaii to New York shortly prior to the murder.[96] Claims include Chapman was a "Manchurian candidate", including speculation on links to the CIA's Project MKUltra.[97][98] At least one author has argued forensic evidence proves Chapman did not commit the murder.[99] The 2010 documentary 'The Day John Lennon Died' suggests the doorman at the Dakota was a Cuban exile with links to the CIA and the Bay of Pigs invasion.[46][100]


  1. ^ Reportedly, officer James Moran asked, "Are you John Lennon?" to which Lennon nodded and replied, "Yes."[30] According to another account by officer Bill Gamble, Lennon nodded slightly and tried to speak, but could only manage to make a gurgling sound, and lost consciousness shortly thereafter.[31]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]