Assassination of John Lennon Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The 1960’s came to a horrifying and definitive end for all who were still clinging to the ideals of that decade when Mark David Chapman gunned down musical superstar John Lennon in front of Lennon’s New York City residence.

Summary of Event

On the night of December 8, 1980, music superstar John Lennon, a former member of the influential and phenomenally successful 1960’s rock group the Beatles, was shot to death outside his New York City residence by Mark David Chapman. Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, had been returning to their home from the Record Plant, a New York City recording studio. Assassinations and attempts;John Lennon[Lennon] [kw]Assassination of John Lennon (Dec. 8, 1980) [kw]Lennon, Assassination of John (Dec. 8, 1980) Assassinations and attempts;John Lennon[Lennon] [g]North America;Dec. 8, 1980: Assassination of John Lennon[04330] [g]United States;Dec. 8, 1980: Assassination of John Lennon[04330] [c]Crime and scandal;Dec. 8, 1980: Assassination of John Lennon[04330] Lennon, John Ono, Yoko Chapman, Mark David

Lennon and Ono lived in the Dakota, a luxury apartment building located at the northwest corner of Seventy-second Street and Central Park West. Built in the 1880’s for Edward Clark, cofounder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, the prestigious Dakota has been home over the years to some of the world’s most famous people, including actors Boris Karloff and Judy Garland and composer Leonard Bernstein. The building’s profusion of such architectural features as gables and dormers make it resemble a Germanic castle. It supposedly received its name because at the time it was built, its location on the upper West Side of Manhattan was so isolated from busier parts of the city that some likened its remoteness to that of the Dakota Territory.

Lennon and Ono took up residence in the Dakota in 1973, in the midst of Lennon’s long legal battle against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), a U.S. federal agency. The INS, in what was apparently a politically motivated effort by the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, Nixon, Richard M. was attempting to deport the British-born Lennon as an undesirable alien. It was not until late in 1975 that Lennon won his case to be allowed to live in the United States permanently. The bruising legal fight left Lennon spiritually and physically exhausted.

Around the same time Lennon won his legal struggle, Ono gave birth to the couple’s son, Sean. (Sean was born on October 9, 1975, which was Lennon’s thirty-fifth birthday.) One of the tenets of Lennon and Ono’s relationship was equality between the sexes, so when Ono told Lennon that she had fulfilled her end of the bargain with the difficult pregnancy and birth, and now it was time for him to take over the baby’s care, Lennon did not flinch. The past several years of his life had been filled with legal, personal, and artistic turmoil, and Lennon was ready to step back from the world as well as from his music.

Musically, the former Beatle had been suffering through a creative slump for some time. After the Beatles split up, Lennon released the solo album Imagine Imagine (Lennon) in October, 1971. The record was a resounding critical and commercial success, but Lennon’s subsequent solo albums, recorded during a time when his creativity and focus were being sapped by his continuing legal and personal struggles (including problems in his marriage he and Ono separated for more than a year at one point), failed to match Imagine. Already in withdrawal from public life, Lennon took the opportunity to focus his energies on caring for his young son instead of on his music.

A crowd sings “Give Peace a Chance” in tribute to the slain musician John Lennon in New York City’s Central Park on December 14, 1980. Thousands participated in the vigil.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

By 1980, however, the slumbering songwriter in Lennon was beginning to awaken. He was ready to reassert himself on the musical scene after an absence of more than five years. A midyear trip to Bermuda yielded inspiration for a batch of new songs as well as the title of the potential album: Double Fantasy (from a flower he saw in a horticultural garden). Lennon and Ono spent the late summer and autumn of 1980 working on the album, which had evolved into a record of alternating “his” and “her” cuts so that the two could “sing” to each other. Released in mid-November, 1980, Double Fantasy Double Fantasy (Lennon and Ono) was well received by the record-buying public. Lennon was then enmeshed in other musical projects as well. He was working on expanding Ono’s song “Walking on Thin Ice,” which had received a lot of club exposure, so that it could be released as a single. He was also heavily involved in the production of Milk and Honey, the planned follow-up album to Double Fantasy; that is why Lennon was at the Record Plant on December 8, 1980.

During the afternoon of December 8, Lennon and Ono did an interview with a radio crew in Ono’s office at the Dakota known as Studio One. About 5:00 p.m., the couple left the building to go to the Record Plant. As Lennon exited the Dakota to walk to a waiting car, he was approached by a chubby young man wearing glasses who held out a copy of Double Fantasy for him to sign. Lennon scrawled his signature on the album and sped off. Little did he know that he had just given an autograph to the man who would kill him a few hours later, Mark David Chapman.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Chapman was the son of a U.S. Air Force sergeant and a nurse. A former drug user turned born-again Christian in high school, Chapman had drifted through a series of odd jobs, including that of a camp counselor and a security guard. In 1977, he had attempted suicide. At some point, a friend recommended that Chapman read the novel The Catcher in the Rye Catcher in the Rye, The (Salinger) (1951) by J. D. Salinger. The book deeply affected him, and he tried to model his life after its main character, Holden Caulfield.

In October, 1980, and again in November, Chapman traveled to New York with a plan to kill Lennon, but he left without taking any action. Chapman told his wife (whom he had married in 1979) that he had been obsessed with killing Lennon, but he had come to his senses. On December 6, 1980, he returned to New York once again. At first he stayed in a cheap room at the West Side YMCA, but then he moved to a Sheraton hotel.

On the morning of December 8, Chapman left his hotel room. An assortment of personal items were laid out on the room’s dresser, including Chapman’s passport, an eight-track tape, and a Bible, which was opened to the Gospel According to John. After the word “John,” Chapman had written the name “Lennon.” When he left the room he was armed with a .38 caliber pistol that he had loaded with five hollow-point bullets. After leaving the Sheraton, Chapman bought another copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He then went to wait on the sidewalk outside the Dakota. Chapman had an opportunity to kill Lennon when the musician emerged late in the afternoon to go to the Record Plant, but he got cold feet and merely asked for his copy of Double Fantasy to be autographed.

Lennon and Ono left the Record Plant about 10:30 p.m. They initially intended to go to the Stage Deli for some food, but they changed their minds and decided to go straight home. About 10:50 p.m., their limousine arrived in front of the Dakota. Ono got out first, followed by Lennon, who was carrying some cassette tapes of their session at the Record Plant. Shrouded in shadow, Chapman called out Lennon’s name as the rock superstar walked past him on the sidewalk. Lennon half turned and stared myopically into the darkness. Crouched in a combat stance less than twenty feet away, Chapman pointed his gun and fired five times in rapid succession at Lennon. Four bullets smashed into the singer’s body. Lennon staggered up the five steps into the Dakota’s entrance office and collapsed. Chapman dropped his gun, took off his overcoat to show that he was unarmed, and began reading his book until the police arrived and arrested him. The police took Lennon to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He had lost approximately 80 percent of his blood volume.

Significance

On a purely musical level, Lennon’s death ended the hopes of many that he might emerge as the musical voice of another generation, as he had been for young people in the 1960’s. It also dashed forever the dream that many had held that the Beatles Beatles would someday get back together. On a spiritual and emotional level, the assassination of John Lennon ended, once and for all, any lingering belief on the part of aging hippies and others that the ideals, values, and lifestyle of the 1960’s could return. Ironically, this famously steadfast proponent of nonviolence was the victim of one of the most violent acts imaginable, demonstrating that a world based on the 1960’s mantra of peace and love was as ephemeral as those who had sought it.

Lennon’s violent death struck a deep emotional chord in many people, as those who had grown up on his music and that of the Beatles in more carefree days mourned the loss of youth and innocence. To paraphrase a line from one of Lennon’s own songs, the dream was over. Assassinations and attempts;John Lennon[Lennon]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bresler, Fenton. Who Killed John Lennon? New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Occasionally overwrought but extremely interesting volume poses numerous questions about Lennon’s murder and argues that it was the result of a conspiracy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Jack. Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon. New York: Villard Books, 1992. Sensationalistic biography provides a creepy exploration of Chapman’s delusional ramblings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seaman, Frederic. The Last Days of John Lennon. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1991. Interesting portrait of the artist in the last two years of his life by his personal assistant during 1979-1980.

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