John Lennon was the leader and founding member of one of the most important, influential and popular musical acts in history. Their music inspired generations of musicians and fans around the world as well as transforming many musical styles and trends. In 1970 the band broke up over numerous differences. While all four members of the group continued to make music on their own, their fans were always hoping for a reunion. Just 5 years after the break-up, John and his new wife Yoko Ono had a son. With the birth of their son, John dropped out of the public spotlight, quite literally as he put it, hanging his guitar up on the wall and not touching it for the next 5 years.
In 1980, while vacationing in the Caribbean, John suddenly began to feel the itch to compose music again. He felt reborn, and the music began to flow freely from him in a way he had not experienced in well over a decade. Energized, he recorded his first new album since his disappearance from the public spotlight and announced a new world tour was in the planning stages. The music world was overjoyed, and his fans were ecstatic at the prospect of new material.
On the morning of December 8th, 1980 John Lennon welcomed famed photographer Annie Leibovitz into his home for a publicity shoot for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. After Leibovitz left, Lennon his final interview, to San Francisco DJ Dave Sholin in the Lenono office inside the Dakota.
At about 4:15 pm Lennon and Ono left their apartment, the famous Dakota building, to mix the track for "Walking on Thin Ice", an Ono song featuring Lennon lead guitar. The song was important to John, because he felt that it would be a hit for his wife.
As John and Yoko left the entrance of the Dakota and walked towards their limosine they were approached by several people seeking autographs. This was a common sight at the Dakota, as fans would wait around all day for an autograph and a word from their idol. One of the "fans" was Mark David Chapman, a 25 year old doorman from Honolulu Hawaii.
Lennon stopped to sign autographs and to chat with fan turned friend Paul Goresh who was frequently at the Dakota entrance to chat with Lennon or snap his photograph. Goresh was showing Lennon some photographs he had taken of John the previous day, and Lennon was looking them over when Chapman abruptly stuck a copy of his new album Double Fantasy between them, for Lennon to sign.
Goresh remembers, "He was looking at the pictures and asking me to bring some more shots that I had taken six days earlier. As we were in the middle of this conversation, Chapman came up on John's left and he just held the album out. I didn't even hear him say anything. John turned and looked at him, and he was just holding the album with two hands, and John said, 'Do you want that signed?' and Chapman nodded. John took the album and then he looked at me as if to say, 'What, can't he speak?' you know, 'This is strange,' but it didn't mean anything at the time."
Goresh continues, "As John started to sign the album I just happened to have my camera ready, and so I stepped back and took a picture of him signing the cover, I didn't even want the other guy in the picture."
Goresh continues to relay what happened, "After that, I took a shot of John turning to Chapman, holding the album out and asking, 'Is that all right?' Chapman nodded, took the album and just backed away without even turning, and so in the next picture that I took John's eyebrows are raised, as if to say, 'That's strange."
"In all, I shot seven or eight frames, and the last picture is of John's profile as he was getting into the limosuine. That turned out to be the last picture of John alive."
In the photograph of John signing the album for Chapman, Lennon can be seen looking down as he is signing the album for Chapman, who is looking up, over the rim of his glasses at Lennon menacingly. We know from his later testimony, that at this moment, Chapman had his hands in his pocket, holding his gun. According to Chapman, as Lennon was signing the album, a voice inside his head was screaming at him to kill Lennon.
After handing the album back to Chapman, Lennon and Yoko got into the limosine and drove away towards the "Record Plant" recording studio.
After John's limo drove away, Chapman placed the autographed album between the wall of the Dakota, and the security booth just outside the archway next to the wall. Then Chapman pointed it out to both Goresh, and to the doorman stationed there, Jose Perdomo. When Goresh asked him why he placed it there, Chapman replied " Well, I'm just showing you guys where it is, because you'll want to know where it is later."
At around 8:30 pm Goresh decided to leave for the night. When Goresh announced he was leaving, Chapman turned to him and said "Well, something might happen and you might never see him again, and then you won't get his autograph." Paul asked "What's going to happen?" to which Chapman replied "Oh well, I was just thinking that he might go to Spain tonight or something." Goresh didn't catch the hint and left anyway.
After completing work on "Walking on Thin Ice", the couple headed back home. They decided not to go out to a restaurant for a late meal before turning in for the night because John wanted to stop off back home to kiss his son Sean good night before Sean went to bed.
At aproximately 10:50 pm, the white limosine dropped them off at the entrace to the Dakota and they exited the vehicle. Normally, limosines would go through the archway and into the gated courtyard, but John often prefered to be dropped off outside the archway and walk the rest of the way so he could greet fans who would invariably be hanging out there waiting for an autograph. Yoko came out first and walked through the inner alleyway. Lennon followed soon afterwards.
Chapman was still there, waiting for John on the right side of archway, just inside the tunnel. He had grown weary of waiting and was strongly considering giving up for the night, when he saw the limosine pull up. He was waiting on the right hand side of the entrance to the Dakota. After Lennon go out of the limosine, he spotted Chapman standing there. We will never know exactly what Lennon thought, but according to wittnesses, he gave Chapman a long hard stare suggesting he felt something was unusual about him.
As Lennon walked past him, Chapman pulled out his Charter Arms .38 caliber gun, got into a crouched combat stance, holding the gun with both hands and squeezed the trigger 5 times. Some reports claimed that he shouted out "Mr Lennon" before firing, but that does not appear in any of the trial transcripts. nor in any in any wittness interviews" Four of the five bullets tore into Lennon's body, with two of the bullets striking him in the upper left back and the other two striking him in the left shoulder..
Despite being severely wounded, Lennon did not fall down, he turned and dashed up the six steps into the building up to the concierge's station saying "Help me, I've been shot!" as he fell face down onto the floor, still clutching the tapes of "Walking on Thin Ice" they had been mixing that night.
Concierge Jay Hastings covered Lennon with his uniform jacket and removed his blood stained glasses from his face and then called the police. Blood was pouring out of his mouth and chest, some of the bullets had exited through the front of his body creating seven visible wounds. Hastings would later go on to say that Lennon tried to speak, moving his mouth as if to say something, but was unable to do so.
Outside the entrance to the Dakota, Chapman dropped his gun on the ground. doorman Jose Perdomo confronted Chapman and exclaimed "Do you know what you done?" Chapman replied "Yes. I just shot John Lennon". Chapman took of his hat and coat and threw them on the sidewalk, then he took "The Catcher in the Rye" out of his pocket and began to read it as he paced back and forthe on the sidewalk, waiting for the police. Perdomo instructed Joseph Many, who worked in the Dakota and had come down when he heard the shots, to take the gun. Many took it down into the basement through the elevator in the archway for the police.
Officers Steve Spiro and Peter Cullen had been on the corner of 72nd street and Broadway when they got the report from the dispatcher "Shots fired, 1 West 72nd Street" and raced to the scene.
Spiro recalled "Upon exiting the car, a male (Perdomo) in the street, on the passenger side, is yelling pointing toward the driveway archway. He's pointing toward the left hand side saying 'He's the one that did the shooting.' I automatically draw my revolver, pointing it toward the man in the shadows. I'm thinking is this for real? As I point a gun at (the) suspect, a male white starts to put his hands up toward the top of his head. 'Don't move! (Spiro shouts) Put your hands on the wall!' Suspect (Chapman) still has hands on his head. 'Put your hands on the wall and don't move.' Suspect does what he is told. 'Please don't hurt me.' says the suspect"
Spiro's report continues, "Put gun to subject's back. I see two males to my left. I don't know who they are. I place my left arm around suspect's neck moving him against me and using him as a shield to defend myself against other possible gunmen. Turning toward my right with the suspect I see the doorman, another male, and at least three bullet holes in the glass doors. My gun is now pointed toward the doorway. The doorman (Perdomo), who I've seen before while working, yells that the man I have is the only one involved. I put the suspect back up against the wall. Suspect says, 'I acted alone. Don't hurt me.'" (Spiro replies) "No one is going to hurt you."
Spiro continues, "Still thinking that there was a robbery inside the building I start asking suspect, 'What apartment were you in? Who did you shoot?' No response. I hear Jose, the doorman yell, 'He shot John Lennon.' I ask the suspect 'Did you shoot John Lennon?' No response. Pete Cullen (Spiro's partner) yells 'Steve put cuffs on him.' As I get cuffs on the suspect (he) asks once again 'Don't hurt me.'"
they found Chapman sitting down on the sidewalk by the left arch calmly reading his book. Perdomo pointed Chapman out to the officers who quickly arrested him. Chapman pleaded with the officers "Don't hurt me, I'm unarmed". As one officer had him spread-eagle against the wall to search him Chapman said "I acted alone". Then they placed Chapman, handcuffed, into the back of their patrol car as he told them "I'm sorry I gave you guys all this trouble."
The second team of officers, Bill Gamble and James Moran arrived a few minutes later. They determined that he would not make it if they waited for an ambulance, so they decided to carry him to Roosevelt Hospital themselves. As they lifted him, they heard a loud cracking noise as a bone in his shoulder, already weakened by a bullet, snapped. They carried him out of the Dakota to the sidewalk and into the back seat of their patrol car.
As the squad car raced towards Roosevelt Hospital, Officer Moran tried to engage Lennon by asking him questions. He asked Lennon "Do you know who you are?" Lennon nodded silently, trying to speak but only managing a gurgling noise, losing conciousness a few seconds later.
Once at Roosevelt Hospital, Dr Stephan Lynn and his team began life saving procedures. On arrival, Lennon had no pulse, and was not breathing. Dr Lynn and six other doctors tried for aproximately 20 minutes to revive Lennon, opening his chest and manually massaging his heart in an attempt to restore circulation, but the damage to the blood vessels around his heart was simply too great. Lennon was pronounced dead at 11:07 pm. The cause of death was listed as "Hypovolemic Shock" caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume. Dr Elliott Gross, the Chief Medical Examiner in the case said that no one could have lived more than a few minutes with multiple bullet injuries such as Lennon had suffered.
Lennon had been shot four times with hollow-point bullets, deliberately designed to expand upon entering the target so as to cause as much devestation as possible to the tissue. Lennon's affect organs were virtually destroyed on impact.
Yoko was informed of her husbands death, ironically, as the Beatles song "All My Loving" was playing on the Hospital radio. She asked the doctors not to make a formal announcement right away, so that she could go home and tell Sean personally, rather than have him hear about the murder on the radio. Her husbands blood stained clothing were returned to her by the medical examiner after autopsy.
By around 1 Am a crowd of 1000 people had gathered at the entrance to the Dakota, the crowd would continue to grow in the coming days as fans poured in from all around the world. The following morning, Yoko released a statement saying "There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean."
John Lennon's remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetary in Westchester 2 days later, no funderal was held.
As the crowds continue to grow, and chant, and sing, outside the dakota, Yoko sent word that the singing was keeping her and Sean awake. She asked for the crowd to disperse away from the Dakota and to instead, honor John with a vigil in Central Park on the 14th for 10 minutes of silent prayer.
Cities throughout the entire world organized similar vigils with millions of people attending, and radio stations around the globe went silent at the appointed time in tribute. In Central Park alone, the crowds grew as large as 400,000 people.
Chapman would eventually go on to plead guilty in June 1981, against the advice of his lawyers who wanted him to plead not guilty by reason of mental defect. Chapman recieved a sentence of 20 years to life. He has been denied parole each time he has applied, every two years since 2000. He is currently incarcerated at Attica State Prison where he claims to have become a Christian. He is still married to his wife, who sees him as often as she can.
Annie Leibovitz's photograph of Lennon and Ono embracing each other, taken just hours before the murder, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone on January 22nd 1981. The issue was mostly dedicated to articles and letters and photographs commemorating John's life, and his death.
On October 9th, 1985, a portion of Central Park just across the street from the Dakota, where Lennon and Ono often walked together, was dedicated to John's memory. The Strawberry Fields memorial has become somewhat of a mecca for beatles fans to pay their respects to their fallen idol. The site became a focal point for candellight vigils again following the attacks of September 11th, and following the death of fellow Beatle, George Harrison.
Paul McCartney stopped performing live for some time saying that he became very concerned of becoming a victim of a stalker himself. Fellow "Wings" bandmate Denny Laine quit the group, and McCartney eventually disbanded the group shortly thereafter in 1981.
Several artists have recorded songs in tribute to John, and to his passing. Some of the more notable ones include "I Just Shot John Lennon" by the Zombies, "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)" by Elton John, "All Those Years Ago" by George Harrison as well as "When We Was Fab" also by George Harrison, and "Here Today" by Paul McCartney.
In 1983 Lennon had a minor planet named after him "4147 Lennon"
In 2000, the "John Lennon Museum" opened in Saitama Japan and in 2002 Liverpool England, Lennon's hometown, renamed their airport to Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
In 2007, the "Imagine Peace Tower" was opened, and dedicated to Lennon's memory in Vioey Iceland. Each year between Octorber 9th, his birth date, and December 8th, the date of his death, the memorial tower projects a vertical beam of light high into the sky.
Numerous films have been made dealing specifically with Lennon's murder. These include "The Killing of John Lennon", "Chapter 27" and "Killing a Beatle"
Yoko Ono still places a lit candle in the window of Lennon's room in the Dakota every December 8th.
The death certificate indicates that the fatal bullet had a specific route passing through the left shoulder, then passing through the subclavian artery, going through the left lung and finally through the aorta.