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Murder of John Lennon

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Coordinates: 40°46′35.74″N 73°58′35.44″W / 40.7765944°N 73.9765111°W / 40.7765944; -73.9765111

Murder of John Lennon
Police artist image of murder of John Lennon.jpg
Police artist sketch of the murder
Location The Dakota, New York City, New York
Date 8 December 1980; 37 years ago (1980-12-08)
22:50 (US Eastern time (UTC−05:00))
Target John Lennon
Weapon Charter Arms Undercover .38 Special revolver
Victim John Lennon
Perpetrator Mark David Chapman

John Lennon was an English musician who gained worldwide fame as a member of the Beatles, for his subsequent solo career, and for his political activism and pacifism. On the evening of Monday, 8 December 1980, Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman in the archway of the Dakota, his residence in New York City. Lennon had just returned from Record Plant Studio with his wife, Yoko Ono.

After sustaining four major gunshot wounds, Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital. Shortly after local news stations reported Lennon's death, crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota. Lennon was cremated at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York on 10 December; the ashes were given to Ono, who chose not to hold a funeral for him. The first media report of Lennon's death to a U.S. national audience was announced by sportscaster Howard Cosell, on ABC's Monday Night Football.

Chapman pleaded guilty to the murder of Lennon and was sentenced to 20-years-to-life imprisonment. He has remained in prison ever since, having been denied parole ten times amidst campaigns against his release after he became eligible in 2000.

Events preceding the murder

8 December 1980

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

Photographer Annie Leibovitz went to the Lennons' apartment to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine.[1] Leibovitz promised Lennon that a photo with Ono would make the front cover of the magazine, even though she initially tried to get a picture with Lennon by himself.[2] Leibovitz said, "Nobody wanted [Ono] on the cover".[3] Lennon insisted that both he and his wife be on the cover, and after taking the pictures, Leibovitz left their apartment at 3:30.[1] 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.[4] At 5:40, 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.[5]

Mark David Chapman

At approximately 5:00 p.m., Lennon and Ono were walking to a limo (shared with the RKO Radio crew) when they were approached by Mark David Chapman, who was seeking an autograph. It was common for fans to wait outside the Dakota to meet Lennon and ask for his autograph.[6] Chapman, a 25-year-old security guard from Honolulu, Hawaii, had previously travelled to New York to murder Lennon in October (before the release of Double Fantasy), but had changed his mind and returned home.[7] Chapman silently handed Lennon a copy of Double Fantasy, and Lennon obliged with an autograph.[8] After signing the album, Lennon asked, "Is this all you want?" Chapman smiled and nodded in agreement. Photographer and Lennon fan Paul Goresh took a photo of the encounter.[9] Chapman had been waiting for Lennon outside the Dakota since mid-morning and had even approached the Lennons' five-year-old son, Sean, who was with the family nanny, Helen Seaman, when they returned home in the afternoon. According to Chapman, he briefly touched the boy's hand.[10]

The Lennons spent several hours at the Record Plant studio before returning to the Dakota at approximately 10:50 p.m.[1] Lennon had 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.[1] Lennon liked to oblige, with autographs or pictures, any fans who had been waiting for long periods of time to meet him, and said 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."[1] The Lennons exited their limousine on 72nd Street instead of driving into the more secure courtyard of the Dakota.[11]


The Dakota doorman Jose Perdomo and a nearby taxi driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway.[12] As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman and nodded slightly, appearing to recognise him from earlier.[13] Seconds later, Chapman took aim at the center of Lennon's back and fired five hollow-point bullets at him from a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver, in rapid succession, from a distance of about nine or ten feet (about 3 m).[14]

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

Based on statements made that night by NYPD Chief of Detectives James Sullivan, numerous radio, television, and newspaper reports claimed at the time that, before firing, Chapman called out, "Mr. Lennon", and dropped into a combat stance.[15] Later court hearings and witness interviews did not include either "Mr. Lennon" or the "combat stance" description. Chapman has said he does not remember calling out to Lennon before he fired,[16][17][18] and that Lennon did not turn around.[19] He claimed to have taken a "combat stance" in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters.[20]

The first bullet missed, passing over Lennon's head and hitting a window of the Dakota building. The next two bullets struck Lennon in the left side of his back, and the other two penetrated his left shoulder. 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". He then fell to the floor, scattering cassettes that he had been carrying. Perdomo ran inside and told concierge worker Jay Hastings that the attacker had dropped his gun on the sidewalk. Hastings first started to make a tourniquet, but upon ripping open Lennon's blood-stained shirt and realizing 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.[1]

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. Perdomo shouted at Chapman, "Do you know what you've done?", to which Chapman calmly replied, "Yes, I just shot John Lennon."

The entrance to the Dakota building where Lennon was shot

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. 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.[21]

Side view of Dakota entryway showing steps Lennon climbed before collapsing in the lobby

He later 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.'"[22]

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 blood, with Hastings attending to him.[23] 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 St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center. Officer James Moran said they placed Lennon in the back seat.[24]

Reportedly, Moran asked, "Are you John Lennon?" to which Lennon nodded and replied, "Yes."[25] There are conflicting accounts of this, however. 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.[26]

Dr. Stephan Lynn was the head of the Emergency Department at Roosevelt Hospital.[27] He had been called in again just after going home following a 13-hour-long work shift. Lynn was in the emergency room a few minutes before 11:00 when Officers Frauenberger and Moran arrived with Lennon in their 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 had no pulse and was not breathing. Lynn, two other doctors, a nurse, and two or three other medical attendants worked on Lennon for ten to fifteen minutes in a desperate attempt to resuscitate him. As a last resort, Lynn cut open Lennon's chest and attempted manual heart massage to restore circulation, but he quickly discovered that the damage to the blood vessels above and around Lennon's heart from the multiple bullet wounds was too great.[28]

Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival by Dr. Lynn at 11:15 p.m.,[29] but the time of 11:07 p.m. has also been reported.[30] The surgeon noted—as did other witnesses—that a Beatles song ("All My Loving") came over the hospital's sound system at the moment Lennon was pronounced dead.[31] Lennon's 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, the aorta and aortic arch". The pathologist who performed the autopsy on Lennon also stated in his report that even with prompt medical treatment, no person could have lived for more than a few minutes with such multiple bullet injuries to all of the major arteries and veins around the heart.[32]

Three of the four bullets that struck Lennon's back passed completely through his body and out of his chest. One of those bullets hit and became lodged in his upper left arm, while the fourth lodged itself in his aorta beside his heart. Nearly all of them would have been fatal by themselves, because each bullet hit vital arteries around the heart. Lennon had been 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. Lynn later stated to reporters on the extent of Lennon's injuries: "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".[33]

When Lynn informed Ono of her husband's death, she started sobbing and said, "Oh no, no, no, no ... tell me it's not true!" Lynn remembers that Ono lay down and began hitting her head against the floor, but calmed down when a nurse gave Lennon's wedding ring to her.[34] Still in a state of shock, she was led away from Roosevelt Hospital by a policeman and Geffen Records' president, David Geffen.[35]

The above account of treatment is disputed by David Halleran, a surgical resident who was in charge of Roosevelt Hospital's ER at the time of Lennon's death, in a 2005 New York Times article and subsequent interviews. Lennon was his patient, and it was he who performed the surgery. Two other doctors (including Dr. Lynn) entered the treatment room and assisted.[36] This is what is depicted in the film The Lennon Report (2016) and the reason the film was made;

The reason we came forward with the story was because in order for the truth to have any weight or credibility, people really needed to understand what happened. One of the biggest revelations of the film is that Dr. David Halleran ... not Dr. Stephan Lynn ... performed the surgery on Lennon that night ... Dr. Marks, who worked alongside Halleran.

The credits at the end of the film contain eyewitness accounts by those in attendance in the ER. The account that Yoko Ono banged her head on the floor is disputed by two of the nurses who were there[37]. In November 2015, Ms. Ono released a statement saying her chief concern at the time was to remain calm and take care of her son Sean.[38]


Monday Night Football

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 had informed their five-year-old son Sean, who was at home. Ono said he was probably watching television and did not want him to learn of his father's death from a TV announcement.[35] 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 a 2013 interview for the CNN series Crimes of the Century that he had seen Lennon being wheeled into the room surrounded by several police officers. After he learned what happened, Weiss called back to the station to relay the information. Eventually, word made its way through the chain of command to ABC News president Roone Arledge, who was tasked with finding a way to bring this major development to the viewing audience.[39]

While all of this was happening, Arledge, who was also the president of the network's sports division, was presiding over ABC's telecast of Monday Night Football in his capacity 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 be the ones to report on 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 event was much greater than the finish of the game.

The following exchange begins with thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter, shortly after Gifford and Cosell were informed of what had transpired:[40]

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.[41]

Other announcements

NBC momentarily broke into its East Coast feed of The Best of Carson for its bulletin of Lennon's death before returning in the middle of a comedy piece being performed by Johnny Carson.[42] 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.[43]

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."[44]


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[6]

On the day following the murder, Lennon's former bandmate 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.[45]

Lennon's death triggered an outpouring of grief around the world on an unprecedented scale.[46] His remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York; no funeral was held.[47] Ono sent word to the chanting crowd outside the Dakota that their singing had kept her awake; she asked that they re-convene at Central Park's Naumburg Bandshell the following Sunday for ten minutes of silent prayer.[48] 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.[49] Thirty thousand gathered in Lennon's hometown of Liverpool, England, and the largest group—over 225,000—converged on Central Park, close to the scene of the shooting.[49] For those ten minutes, every radio station in New York City went off the air.[50]

At least three Beatles fans committed suicide after the murder,[51] leading Ono to make a public appeal asking mourners not to give in to despair.[52] 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 John's loss and wanted to know how they could commemorate his life and help her and Sean.[53]

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.[35] Chapman pleaded guilty in 1981 to murdering Lennon.[54][55][56][57] Under the terms of his guilty plea, he was sentenced to 20-years-to-life and later automatically became eligible for parole in 2000.[58] However, Chapman has been denied parole ten times and remains incarcerated at the Wende Correctional Facility.[59][60]

Memorials and tributes

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.[61] In 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors ranked it as the top magazine cover of the last 40 years.[62]


  • 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.[63]
  • On September 28–30, 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.[64] 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 U.K. performed at the festival.[64][65]
  • As of 2005, Ono still placed a lit candle in the window of Lennon's room in the Dakota every year on 8 December.[66]
  • Every 9 October, Lennon's birthday, through 8 December, the date Lennon was shot, the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland is lit.
    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.[67]


  • David Bowie, who befriended Lennon in the mid-1970s (Lennon co-wrote and performed on Bowie's US #1 hit "Fame" in 1975), performed a tribute to Lennon in the final show of his Serious Moonlight Tour at the Hong Kong Coliseum, on 8 December 1983—the third anniversary of Lennon's death. Bowie announced that the last time he saw Lennon was in Hong Kong, and after announcing, "On this day, December the 8th 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed outside of his New York apartment," he performed Lennon's song, "Imagine".[68]
  • David Gilmour of Pink Floyd wrote and recorded the song "Murder" in response to Lennon's death; the song was released on Gilmour's solo album, About Face (1984).
  • George Harrison released a tribute song, "All Those Years Ago" (1981), featuring Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.
  • Elton John, who had recorded the number-one hit "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" with Lennon, teamed up with his lyricist Bernie Taupin and recorded a tribute to Lennon, entitled "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)". It appeared on his album Jump Up! (1982), and peaked at #13 on the US Singles Chart that year.[69] When he performed the song at a sold-out concert in Madison Square Garden in August 1982, he was joined on stage by Ono and Sean.[70]
  • McCartney released his tribute, "Here Today", on his album, Tug of War (1982).
  • Queen, during their Game Tour, performed a cover of Lennon's solo song "Imagine" at concerts after Lennon's death. Queen also performed the song "Life Is Real", from the album Hot Space (1982), in his honour. It was written by singer Freddie Mercury.
  • Roxy Music added a cover version of the song "Jealous Guy" to their set whilst touring in Germany, which they recorded and released in March 1981. The song was their only U.K. #1 hit, topping the charts for two weeks. It features on many Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music collections, though not always in its full-length version.
  • Paul Simon's homage to Lennon, "The Late Great Johnny Ace", initially sings of the rhythm and blues singer Johnny Ace, who is said to have shot himself in 1954, then goes on to reference John Lennon, as well as President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, the year "Beatlemania" started. Simon had actually premiered the song during Simon & Garfunkel's reunion Concert in Central Park in 1981; near the end of the song, a fan ran onto the stage, possibly in response to Simon's mentioning Lennon in the lyrics. The man, saying to Simon, "I have to talk to you", was dragged offstage by Simon's personnel; all of this can be seen in the DVD of the concert. The song also appears on Simon's Hearts and Bones (1983) album.
  • Bob Dylan wrote and recorded the song "Roll On John" on his 2012 album, Tempest.
  • XTC performed "Rain" in Liverpool the night after Lennon's death.[71]

Physical memorials

Strawberry Fields 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.[72]
  • 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.[73]
  • 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.[74]
  • 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 New York City Subway's 72nd Street station (served by the B and ​C trains), which is located outside the Dakota.[75][76]

In popular culture

Several films dramatizing the murder of Lennon have been released, all more than 25 years after the event. These include:

  • The Killing of John Lennon (released 7 December 2007), directed by Andrew Piddington and starring Jonas Ball as Chapman.[77]
  • Chapter 27 (released 28 March 2008), directed by J. P. Schaefer and starring Jared Leto as Chapman and actor Mark Lindsay Chapman as Lennon. Lindsay Chapman had previously been cast (and billed then as "Mark Lindsay") in NBC's John & Yoko: A Love Story (1985), but Yoko Ono demanded the role of Lennon be re-cast after it was revealed that the actor's real surname was Chapman.[78]
  • The Lennon Report (filmed in 2016), which focuses on attempts by doctors and nurses to save Lennon's life.[79]


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  • Ingham, Chris (2006). The Rough Guide to The Beatles. Rough Guides. ISBN 978-1-84353-720-5.
  • Maeder, Jay (1998). Big Town, Big Time: A New York Epic : 1898-1998. Sports Publishing. ISBN 9781582610283.

Further reading

  • The Associated Press (8 December 2005). "Lennon's death lingers for those who were there". MSNBC.
  • Bresler, Fenton (1990). Who Killed John Lennon?. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-92367-9. (Also published as The Murder of John Lennon, Mandarin Publishing, ISBN 0-7493-0357-3.)
  • Brook, Tom (8 December 2000). "The night Lennon died". BBC.
  • Cardinals, The (2015). The Dakota Apartments: A Pictorial History of New York's Legendary Landmark. Campfire Publishing. ISBN 978-0692420591.
  • Hamill, Pete (20 December 1980). "The Death and Life of John Lennon". New York.
  • Jones, Jack (1992). Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman. Villard Books. ISBN 978-0-8129-9170-3.
  • Mathews, Tom, et. al. (22 December 1980). "Death of a Beatle". Newsweek.
  • Seaman, Fred (1991). The Last Days of John Lennon. Birch Lane Press. ISBN 978-1-55972-084-7.
  • "Witnesses From the Night Lennon Was Shot". FOX News. 7 December 2005. Archived from the original on 26 October 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2009.

External links

  • History Channel. "CRIME FILE - Famous crime: Mark Chapman: The Assassination of John Lennon". Crime Investigation Network.

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