DECEMBER 8, 1980 – In New York City, singer/songwriter/musician/actor/author/artist/activist JOHN LENNON (b. October 9, 1940), a man who would become known as much for his platform on pacifism, peaceful protest as for his musical acumen, was murdered outside of his residence by a lone assassin.Lennon’s final day had already been a rather busy one. After a late breakfast, John and Yoko left the Dakota Apartments where they had lived since 1973, for an afternoon photo session.
Photographer Annie Leibovitz, who had been commissioned by Rolling Stone magazine to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono as part of the promotional efforts surrounding their joint album “Double Fantasy.” While Leibovitz had hoped that both Lennon and Ono would pose nude, Ono was uncomfortable with shedding her clothes. But Ono’s reluctance led to a legendary improvisation.
The ’80s were not a romantic time and I asked [John and Yoko] to crawl up together. I wanted them both to be naked, but Yoko wouldn’t take off her pants so I said, ‘why don’t you keep everything on?’ In those days, you pull a Polaroid and the three of us knew right away it was good,” she said. “I was sent to get John for the cover, not Yoko, because there was still a lot of resentment [towards her]. But when I got there, John said he wanted Yoko on the cover.” “This is it,” John Lennon told Liebovitz when he saw the photo.
“This is our relationship.”“When he was killed, I went to Rolling Stone and they were mocking up the film,” she added. “I told them the story and so they put that photo on the cover.” It appeared on the shelves on January 22, 1981. Leibovitz described herself as being “perplexed” with the photos after, but said some shoots just figure themselves out.After the photo session, 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. 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.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. It was common for fans to wait outside the Dakota to meet Lennon and ask for his autograph.
Chapman, a 25-year-old security guard from Honolulu, Hawaii, had previously traveled to New York to murder Lennon in October (before the release of “Double Fantasy”), but had changed his mind and returned home. Chapman silently handed Lennon a copy of “Double Fantasy,” and Lennon obliged with an autograph. 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.
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.The Lennons spent several hours at the Record Plant studio before returning to the Dakota, at approximately 10:50 pm. 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. 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 December 6, 1980: “People come and ask for autographs, or say ‘Hi’, but they don’t bug you.” The Lennons exited their limousine on 72nd Street instead of driving into the more secure courtyard of the Dakota.The Dakota’s doorman, Jose Perdomo, and a nearby cab driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway. As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman, appearing to recognize him from earlier. 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 meters) away. 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. 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, but he claimed to have taken a “combat stance” in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters. 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 the other two 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”.
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. Outside, doorman Perdomo shook the gun out of Chapman’s hand then kicked it across the sidewalk. 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 Steven 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.After sustaining four major gunshot wounds, Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital. At the hospital, it was stated that nobody could have lived longer 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 at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, two days after his death; 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.”Lennon was born on the second floor of the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital. His mother Julia Stanley Lennon (March 12, 1914– July 15, 1958), who was 26, was known as being high-spirited and impulsive, but also musical, and having a strong sense of humor, all attributes that would be inherited or adopted by John. She would teach her son how to play the banjo and ukulele, and buy his first acoustic guitar. John’s father Alfred Lennon (December 14, 1912–April 1, 1976) was not present. “Freddie” (as he was known to friends, but “Alf” to his family) married Julia on December 3, 1938, after having dated for ten years, and John was their only child together, but as Freddie was often away at sea during World War II he did not see much of his child during the boy’s infancy. Alf was a talented musician, and specialized in impersonating Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson.
He also played the banjo, as did Julia. She also played the ukelele and the piano accordion, and possessed a singing voice similar to Vera Lynn’s, although neither pursued music professionally.Alf first saw his son that following November when he returned from working as a merchant seaman on troop transports during World War II. He sent regular pay checks to Julia, who lived with her son at 9 Newcastle Road (the Stanley family’s home). He occasionally went back to Liverpool, but did not stay long before he was sent off on another ship. The checks to Julia stopped when he went AWOL in 1943. Neither Julia nor the Merchant Navy knew of his whereabouts. Julia only found out because she stopped receiving her allowance money, and the Navy wrote to her to inform her that they were looking for him.Julia had started going out to dance halls in 1942, and met a Welsh soldier named “Taffy” Williams who was stationed in the barracks at Mossley Hill. Alf blamed himself for this, as he had written letters telling Julia that because there was a war on, she should go out and enjoy herself. Julia took his advice, and often gave her young son a piece of chocolate or sugar pastry the next morning for breakfast that she had been given the night before. She became pregnant by Williams in late 1944, though first claiming that she had been raped by an unknown soldier.Alf later told his version of what happened while he was AWOL in 1943.
He claimed that he had sailed from America to Bône, North Africa, but was arrested for stealing one bottle of beer from the ship, consequently serving nine days in a military prison. After his release he became involved in various “shady deals”, and was supposedly rescued from a criminal gang of Arabs. He eventually served on a troopship from North Africa to Italy before finally boarding a ship that was making its way to England, in 1944.When Alf eventually returned to Liverpool on January 13, 1945, he offered to look after Julia, their son and the expected baby, but Julia rejected the idea. Alf took John to his brother Sydney’s house, in the Liverpool suburb of Maghull, a few months before the birth. The baby girl, Victoria, was subsequently given up for adoption (after intense pressure from Julia’s father and family) to a Norwegian Salvation Army Captain. Julia later met Bobby Dykins and lived with him, but after considerable pressure from Mimi (who twice contacted Liverpool’s Social Services and complained about the infant sleeping in the same bed as Julia and Dykins) Julia reluctantly handed the care of her son over to her elder sister Mimi.In July 1946, Alf visited Mimi’s house at 251 Menlove Avenue and took his son to Blackpool for a long “holiday”, but secretly intended to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Julia and Dykins found out and followed them to Blackpool, and after a heated argument Alf made the five-year-old boy choose between Julia or him. John chose Alf (twice) and then Julia walked away, but in the end John, crying, followed her. Alf lost contact with the family until after the advent of Beatlemania, when he and John met again. In 1968, John Lennon told biographer Hunter Davies that he soon forgot his father, saying, “It was like he was dead.”John’s mother named him John Winston Lennon after his paternal grandfather, John “Jack” Lennon, and then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
John later claimed to detest his name especially when local school kids would call him “Winnie” and he later legally changed it to Ono after he became involved with artist Yoko Ono.Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence he lived with his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith, who had no children of their own, at “Mendips” a comfortable middle-class home at 251 Menlove Avenue in Woolton. His aunt purchased volumes of short stories for him, and his uncle, a dairyman at his family’s farm, bought him a mouth organ and engaged him in solving crossword puzzles. Julia visited Mendips on a regular basis, and when John was 11 years old he often visited her at 1 Blomfield Road, Liverpool, where she played him Elvis Presley records, taught him the banjo, and showed him how to play “Ain’t That a Shame” by Fats Domino. In September 1980, Lennon commented about his family and his rebellious nature: “Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic poet/musician. But I cannot be what I am not … I was the one who all the other boys’ parents—including Paul’s father—would say, ‘Keep away from him’…
The parents instinctively recognized I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend’s home … Partly out of envy that I didn’t have this so-called home … but I did… There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women, five sisters. One happened to be my mother. [She] just couldn’t deal with life. She was the youngest and she had a husband who ran away to sea and the war was on and she couldn’t cope with me, and I ended up living with her elder sister. Now those women were fantastic … And that was my first feminist education … I would infiltrate the other boys minds. I could say, “Parents are not gods because I don’t live with mine and, therefore, I know.”He regularly visited his cousin, Stanley Parkes, who lived in Fleetwood.
Seven years Lennon’s senior, Parkes took him on trips and to local cinemas. During the school holidays, Parkes often visited Lennon with Leila Harvey, another cousin, often traveling to Blackpool two or three times a week to watch shows. They would visit the Blackpool Tower Circus and see artists such as Dickie Valentine, Arthur Askey, Max Bygraves and Joe Loss, with Parkes recalling that Lennon particularly liked George Formby. After Parkes’ family moved to Scotland, the three cousins often spent their school holidays together there. Parkes recalled, “John, cousin Leila and I were very close. From Edinburgh we would drive up to the family croft at Durness, which was from about the time John was nine years old until he was about 16.” He was 14 years old when his uncle George died of a liver hemorrhage in June 1955 at age 52.Lennon was raised as an Anglican and attended Dovedale Primary School. From September 1952 to 1957, after passing his Eleven-Plus exam, he attended Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool, and was described by Harvey at the time as, “A happy-go-lucky, good-humored, easy going, lively lad.” He often drew comical cartoons which appeared in his own self-made school magazine called “The Daily Howl”, but despite his artistic talent, his school reports were damning: “Certainly on the road to failure … hopeless … rather a clown in class … wasting other pupils’ time.”His mother bought him his first guitar in 1956, an inexpensive Gallotone Champion acoustic for which she “lent” her son five pounds and ten shillings on the condition that the guitar be delivered to her own house, and not Mimi’s, knowing well that her sister was not supportive of her son’s musical aspirations.
As Mimi was skeptical of his claim that he would be famous one day, she hoped he would grow bored with music, often telling him, “The guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it”. On July 15, 1958, when Lennon was 17 years old, his mother, walking home after visiting the Smiths’ house, was struck by a car and killed.Lennon failed all his GCE O-level examinations, and was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art only after his aunt and headmaster intervened. Once at the college, he started wearing Teddy Boy clothes and acquired a reputation for disrupting classes and ridiculing teachers. As a result, he was excluded from the painting class, then the graphic arts course, and was threatened with expulsion for his behavior, which included sitting on a nude model’s lap during a life drawing class. He failed an annual exam, despite help from fellow student and future wife Cynthia Powell, and was “thrown out of the college before his final year.”At age 15, Lennon formed the skiffle group, the Quarrymen. Named after Quarry Bank High School, the group was established by him in September 1956.
By the summer of 1957, the Quarrymen played a “spirited set of songs” made up of half skiffle and half rock and roll. Lennon first met Paul McCartney at the Quarrymen’s second performance, held in Woolton on July 6, 1957 at the St. Peter’s Church garden fête, after which he asked McCartney to join the band.McCartney says that Aunt Mimi “was very aware that John’s friends were lower class”, and would often patronize him when he arrived to visit Lennon. According to Paul’s brother Mike, McCartney’s father was also disapproving, declaring Lennon would get his son “into trouble”, although he later allowed the fledgling band to rehearse in the McCartneys’ front room at 20 Forthlin Road. During this time, the 18-year-old Lennon wrote his first song, “Hello Little Girl”, a UK top 10 hit for The Fourmost nearly five years later.George Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist. Lennon thought Harrison (at 14 years old) was too young, so McCartney engineered a second audition on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus, where Harrison played “Raunchy” for Lennon. Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon’s friend from art school, later joined as bassist. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Sutcliffe became “The Beatles” in early 1960. In August that year, the Beatles engaged for a 48-night residency in Hamburg, Germany, and desperately in need of a drummer, asked Pete Best to join them. Lennon was now 19, and his aunt, horrified when he told her about the trip, pleaded with him to continue his art studies instead. After the first Hamburg residency, the band accepted another in April 1961, and a third in April 1962.
Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager from 1962, had no prior experience of artist management, but had a strong influence on their early dress code and attitude on stage. Lennon initially resisted his attempts to encourage the band to present a professional appearance, but eventually complied, saying, “I’ll wear a bloody balloon if somebody’s going to pay me”. McCartney took over on bass after Sutcliffe decided to stay in Hamburg, and drummer Ringo Starr replaced Best, completing the four-piece line-up that would endure until the group’s break-up in 1970. The band’s first single, “Love Me Do”, was released in October 1962 and reached #17 on the British charts.
They recorded their debut album, “Please Please Me” (UK), in under 10 hours on February 11, 1963. The Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership yielded eight of its fourteen tracks. With few exceptions—one being the album title itself—Lennon had yet to bring his love of wordplay to bear on his song lyrics, saying: “We were just writing songs… pop songs with no more thought of them than that—to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant”. In a 1987 interview, McCartney said that the other Beatles idolized John: “He was like our own little Elvis … We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader; he was the quickest wit and the smartest”.The Beatles achieved mainstream success in the UK during the beginning of 1963 and were so busy, that just like his father, John missed the birth of his own son, Julian on April 8th.After a year of Beatlemania in the UK, the group’s historic February 1964 US debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show marked their breakthrough to international stardom. A two-year period of constant touring, movie-making, and songwriting followed, during which Lennon wrote two books, “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works”. The Beatles received recognition from the British Establishment when they were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1965.
He would return his in 1969 in response to England’s participation in the Vietnam War.The rest really, is well-known history. The group outlasted the “beat” craze by constantly evolving musically and stylistically. Expanding their sound by utilizing new technology (and by the use of unconventional musical instruments) and creativity applying new recording techniques in the studio under the leadership of the brilliant producer George Martin, they pushed the boundaries of pop music, leading it away from its status as a disposable form of entertainment, instead transforming it into a valid art form. By reinventing themselves at every opportunity, the Beatles, both collectively and individually, actually became the trend setters instead of merely imitating what was currently popular, and became, to this day, one of the best-selling, most influential, and most critically respected musical groups in human history. Many of their sales and attendance records still stand, and modern sales of their lengthy catalog remain strong and unwavering.After the band’s breakup in 1970, all four former Fabs launched their own solo careers, but later perhaps feeling some guilt at not spending enough time with his son Julian, John actually stepped away from the spotlight upon the birth of his second child Sean Taro Ono Lennon on his 35th birthday in 1975 (at the same time, he finally received his “green card” to remain in the US as a permanent citizen) to become a “house-husband.”In 1980, at age 40 and with a new album under his belt, Lennon seemed on the verge of a comeback, or at least a return to form, when an assassin’s bullets forever stilled his voice on December 8th, depriving the world of his genius and any future achievements, not to mention erasing any possibility of a true Beatles “reunion” and leaving a 5-year old boy without his father.After years of battling against injustice and oppression and snubbing the establishment against threats of imprisonment and deportation, John was sadly taken down by a lone deranged fan with a loaded handgun at close range in front of the The Dakota apartment building in the artist’s beloved adoptive city of New York.On August 24, 1981, Mark David Chapman was given a 20 year-to-life jail sentence for the murder of John Lennon. The 25-year old had shot Lennon five times at close range in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York City.
Over the next few months, Chapman would claim many times to have been beaten by fellow inmates, some of whom allegedly tried to kill him.As the result of his sentence of 20-years-to-life, Chapman first became eligible for parole in 2000, and is entitled to a hearing every two years. In August 2014, Chapman was denied release from prison in his eighth appearance before a parole board. The panel wrote to the 59-year-old killer that it concluded that if released, “you would not live and remain at liberty without again violating the law.” It added: “This victim had displayed kindness to you earlier in the day, and your actions have devastated a family and those who lived the victim.”At his previous hearing in 2012, Chapman described how Lennon had agreed to autograph an album cover for him earlier on the day of the killing. “He was very kind to me,” he said. “After that, I did try to tell myself to leave. I’ve got the album, take it home, show my wife, everything will be fine,” he said. “But I was so compelled to commit that murder that nothing would have dragged me away from the building.”At a 2010 hearing, Chapman recalled that he had considered shooting Johnny Carson or Elizabeth Taylor instead, and said again that he chose Lennon because the ex-Beatle was more accessible, that his century-old apartment building by Central Park “wasn’t quite as cloistered.”Chapman’s ninth parole application was denied on August 28, 2016, at which Chapman said he now saw his crime as being “premeditated, selfish and evil”. His 2018 and 2020 parole hearings went no better. His next parole hearing is scheduled for August 2022.The Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership is regarded as one of the most influential and successful of the 20th century. As performer, writer or co-writer Lennon has had 25 #1 singles on the US Hot 100 chart. His album sales in the US stand at 14 million units. 1980’s “Double Fantasy”, his last offering, was also his best-selling solo album, at 3 million shipments in the US. It won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The following year, the BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music went to Lennon.Participants in a 2002 BBC poll voted him eighth of “100 Greatest Britons”. Between 2003 and 2008, Rolling Stone recognized Lennon in several reviews of artists and music, ranking him 5th of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and 38th of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, and his albums “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine”, 22nd and 76th respectively of “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Lennon was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Upon his death, he was worth $800 million.