The Death of John Lennon – 8th December 1980

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The John Lennon Letters:

Edited and with an Introduction by Hunter Davies


John Lennon

9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980

The last picture of John Lennon, posing with a fan on the day of his death
John Lennon signs an autograph for Mark Chapman

See Mark Chapman

See The Catcher in the Rye


The Real John Lennon 2000 (full documentary)


John Winston Ono Lennon MBE (born John Winston Lennon; 9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an English singer and songwriter who rose to worldwide fame as a co-founder of the band the Beatles, the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music. With Paul McCartney, he formed a celebrated songwriting partnership.

Born and raised in Liverpool, as a teenager Lennon became involved in the skiffle craze; his first band, the Quarrymen, evolved into the Beatles in 1960. When the group disbanded in 1970, Lennon embarked on a solo career that produced the critically acclaimed albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and iconic songs such as “Give Peace a Chance” and “Working Class Hero“. After his marriage to Yoko Ono in 1969, he changed his name to John Ono Lennon. Lennon disengaged himself from the music business in 1975 to raise his infant son Sean, but re-emerged with Ono in 1980 with the new album Double Fantasy. He was murdered three weeks after its release.


John Lennon – Making of Imagine (song) – from Gimme Some Truth HD


He was shot by Mark David Chapman in the archway of the building where he lived, the Dakota, in New York City on Monday, 8 December 1980. Lennon had just returned from Record Plant Studio with his wife, Yoko Ono.

Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital. He was 40 years old. At the hospital, it was stated that nobody could have lived for more than a few minutes after sustaining such injuries. Shortly after local news stations reported Lennon’s death, crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota. Lennon was cremated on 10 December 1980 at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York; 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 US national audience was announced by Howard Cosell, on ABC’s Monday Night Football.


The Day John Lennon Died Part 1/3


Events preceding his death

8 December 1980

Leibovitz’s portrait of Lennon and Ono, taken on 8 December 1980

Photographer Annie Leibovitz went to the Lennons’ apartment to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine.[2] 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.[3] Leibovitz: “Nobody wanted [Ono] on the cover”.[4] 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.[2] 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.[5] At 5:40 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.[6]

Mark David Chapman

Main article: Mark David Chapman

As Lennon and Ono walked to a limousine, shared with the RKO Radio crew, they were approached by several people seeking autographs. Among them was Mark David Chapman.[7] It was common for fans to wait outside the Dakota to meet Lennon and ask for his autograph.[8] 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.[9] Chapman silently handed Lennon a copy of Double Fantasy, and Lennon obliged with an autograph.[7] 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.[10] 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.[11]

Lennon  signing a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman several hours before the murder

The Lennons spent several hours at the Record Plant studio before returning to the Dakota, at approximately 10:50 pm.[2] 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.[2] Lennon liked to oblige any fans who had been waiting for long periods of time to meet him with autographs or pictures, once saying during an interview with BBC Radio’s Andy Peebles on 6 December 1980: “People come and ask for autographs, or say ‘Hi’, but they don’t bug you.”[2] The Lennons exited their limousine on 72nd Street instead of driving into the more secure courtyard of the Dakota.[12]


The Dakota’s doorman, ex-CIA Agent Jose Sanjenis Perdomo, and a nearby cab driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway.[13] As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman, appearing to recognize him from earlier.[14] Seconds later, Chapman took aim directly 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 range of about nine or ten feet (about 3 m) away.[1] 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 Lennon’s name before he fired,[16][17][18] but he claimed to have taken a “combat stance” in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters.[19] The first bullet missed, passing over Lennon’s head and hitting a window of the Dakota building. Two of the next bullets struck Lennon in the left side of his back, and two more penetrated his left shoulder. Lennon, bleeding profusely from external wounds and also from his mouth, staggered up five steps to the security/reception area, saying, “I’m shot, I’m shot”.[20] He then fell to the floor, scattering cassettes that he had been carrying. The concierge, Jay Hastings, first started to make a tourniquet, but upon ripping open Lennon’s blood-stained shirt and realizing the severity of his multiple injuries, he covered Lennon’s chest with his uniform jacket, removed his blood-covered glasses, and summoned the police.[2]

The Dakota, location of the killing

Outside, doorman Perdomo shook the gun out of Chapman’s hand then kicked it across the sidewalk.[13] Chapman then removed his coat and hat in preparation for the arrival of police—to show he was not carrying any concealed weapons—and sat down on the sidewalk. Perdomo shouted at Chapman, “Do you know what you’ve just done?” to which Chapman calmly replied, “Yes, I just shot John Lennon.” The first policemen to arrive were Steve Spiro and Peter Cullen, who 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 sitting “very calmly” on the sidewalk. 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

The second team, officers Herb Frauenberger and his partner, Tony Palma, arrived a few minutes later. They found Lennon lying face down on the floor of the reception area with Hastings attending to him, blood pouring from his mouth and his clothing already soaked with blood.[22] Realizing the extent of his injuries, the policemen decided not to wait for an ambulance and immediately carried Lennon into their squad car and rushed him to St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. Officer James Moran said they placed Lennon in the back seat.[23] Reportedly, Moran asked, “Are you John Lennon?” to which Lennon nodded and replied “Yes.”[24] 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.[25]

Dr. Stephan Lynn, head of the Emergency Department,[26] who had been called in again after having just returned home after a 13-hour-long work shift, received Lennon in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital a few minutes before 11:00 pm when Officers Frauenberger and Moran arrived, with Moran carrying Lennon on his back from their squad car and onto a gurney, into the emergency room demanding a doctor for a multiple gunshot wound victim. When Lennon arrived, he had no pulse and was not breathing. Dr. Lynn, two other doctors and a nurse worked on Lennon for between 15 to 20 minutes in attempting to revive him. As a last resort, Dr. 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.[27] Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival in the emergency room at the Roosevelt Hospital at 11:15 pm by Dr. Lynn,[28] but the time of 11:07 pm has also been reported.[29] Lennon’s body was then taken to the city morgue at 520 First Avenue and autopsied. The cause of death was reported as “hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the chest 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.[30]

The surgeon also noted—as did other witnesses—that, at the moment Lennon was pronounced dead, a Beatles song (“All My Loving“) came over the hospital’s sound system.[31]

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; nearly all of them would have been fatal by themselves. As Lennon had been shot four times at close range, Lennon’s 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”.[32] When told by Dr. Lynn of her husband’s death, Ono started sobbing and said, “Oh no, no, no, no … tell me it’s not true!” Dr. 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.[33] She was led away from Roosevelt Hospital by Geffen Records’ president, David Geffen, in a state of shock.[34]


Monday Night Football

Howard Cosell 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.[34]

Meanwhile, news producer Alan J. Weiss from WABC-TV had been waiting to be treated in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital due to having been involved in an accident earlier that evening while riding his motorcycle. Weiss recalled in an interview for the CNN series Crimes of the Century in 2013[35] 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.

On this evening Arledge, who was also the president of ABC Sports, was serving his role as the executive producer of Monday Night Football. As Arledge was given word that Lennon was dead, the game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins was in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 13 and the Patriots with the ball late in the fourth quarter and driving to try to score the winning points. Arledge passed word on to the MNF broadcast team, consisting of Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, and suggested that they relay the news of Lennon’s death to the television audience.

It was decided that Cosell, who had interviewed Lennon during a 1974 broadcast and who had expressed some apprehension about telling the viewers that Lennon had been murdered, should relay the news. With 30 seconds remaining in the game, Cosell and Gifford had the following exchange:[36]

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 news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take. Frank?
Gifford: (after a pause) Indeed, it is.[37]

Other announcements

Apparently, the first nationally-telecast bulletin about the shooting was made by Kathleen Sullivan as part of a standard newscast on Cable News Network; Sullivan reported that Lennon had been shot but his condition was not known at the time of the bulletin. NBC-TV 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.[38]

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.[39]

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.”[40]


“Neither of us [Yoko or I] want to make the mistake that Gandhi and Martin Luther King did, which is get killed one way or the other. Because people only like dead saints, and I refuse to be a saint or a martyr.”

– John Lennon, when asked why he returned his MBE, 1969[41]

“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[8]

Lennon’s murder triggered an outpouring of grief around the world on an unprecedented scale.[42] Lennon’s remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, Westchester County, N.Y.; no funeral was held.[43] 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.[44] 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.[45] Thirty thousand gathered in Liverpool, and the largest group—over 225,000—converged on New York’s Central Park, close to the scene of the shooting.[45] For those ten minutes, every radio station in New York City went off the air.[46]

At least three Beatles fans committed suicide after the murder,[47] leading Ono to make a public appeal asking mourners not to give in to despair.[48] 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.[34] Chapman, against the advice of his lawyers who wanted to file an insanity plea, pleaded guilty in 1981 to murdering Lennon.[49][50][51][52] Under the terms of his guilty plea, Chapman was sentenced to 20-years-to-life and later automatically became eligible for parole in 2000.[53] However, Chapman has been denied parole eight times, as of 22 August 2014, and is currently incarcerated at Wende Correctional Facility.[54][55]

Memorials and tributes

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

Annie 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.[56] In 2005 the American Society of Magazine Editors ranked it as the top magazine cover of the last 40 years.[57]

George Harrison released a tribute song, “All Those Years Ago“, which featured Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, in 1981. McCartney released his tribute, “Here Today“, on his 1982 album, Tug of War. 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 1982 album, Jump Up!, and peaked at #13 on the US Singles Chart that year.[58] 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.[59] 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 while touring in Germany, which they recorded and released in March 1981. The song was their only UK #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 mentioning Lennon in the lyrics. The man was dragged offstage by Simon’s personnel, saying to Simon, “I have to talk to you”; all of which can be seen in the DVD of the concert. The song also appears on Simon’s 1983 Hearts and Bones album.

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 “Imagine“.[60] 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).

The Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields with the Dakota in the background

In 1985, New York City dedicated an area of Central Park directly across from the Dakota as Strawberry Fields, where Lennon had frequently walked. In a symbolic show of unity, countries from around the world donated trees and the city of Naples, Italy, donated the Imagine mosaic centerpiece.[61] A symbolic grave for Lennon was erected in Prague‘s Mala Strana square, which hosted demonstrations during the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.[62]

Lennon was honoured with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.[63] In 1994, the breakaway autonomous republic of Georgia, Republic of Abkhazia, issued two postage stamps featuring the faces of Lennon and Groucho Marx, rather than portraits of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx, spoofing Abkhazia’s Communist past.[64] On 8 December 2000, Cuba’s President Fidel Castro unveiled a bronze statue of Lennon in a park in Havana.[65] In 2000, the John Lennon Museum was opened at the Saitama Super Arena in the city of Saitama, Japan (but closed on 30 September 2010),[66] and Liverpool renamed its airport Liverpool John Lennon Airport, adopting the motto, “Above us only sky”, in 2002.[67] The minor planet 4147 Lennon, discovered 12 January 1983 by B. A. Skiff at the Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory, was named in memory of Lennon.[68] On 9 December 2006, in the city of Puebla, Mexico, a plaque was revealed, honouring Lennon’s contribution to music, culture and peace.[69] 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.[70] In 1990 a group of citizens came forward with an initiative to rename one of the streets of Warsaw in honour of John Lennon. The petition had approximately 5000 supporting signatures and passed through city council unchallenged.[71]

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.[72] From 28 to 30 September 2007, Durness held the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival which was attended by Julia Baird (Lennon’s half-sister), who read from Lennon’s writings and her own books, and Stanley Parkes, Lennon’s Scottish cousin.[73] 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.[73][74]

In 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s New York City annexe 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.[75] Ono still places a lit candle in the window of Lennon’s room in the Dakota on 8 December.[76] In 2012, Bob Dylan released the Lennon tribute “Roll on John” on his Tempest album.[77]

On film

Two films depicting the murder of Lennon were released close together more than 25 years after the event. The first of the two, The Killing of John Lennon, was released on 7 December 2007. Directed by Andrew Piddington, the movie had Jonas Ball play Mark David Chapman.[78] The second film was Chapter 27, released on 28 March 2008. Directed by J. P. Schaefer, Mark David Chapman was played by Jared Leto. Lennon was portrayed by actor Mark Lindsay Chapman, who has the same first and last name as the person who killed Lennon. Lindsay Chapman had previously been cast (and billed then as ‘Mark Lindsay’) in NBC Television’s John & Yoko: A Love Story in 1985, but the role of Lennon was re-cast when it was revealed that the actor’s real surname was Chapman.[79]

Click image to buy this book

The John Lennon Letters:

Edited and with an Introduction by Hunter Davies



3 thoughts on “The Death of John Lennon – 8th December 1980

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