December 8, 1980 – The Death of John Lennon

Monday, December 8, 1980, the legendary Beatle, John Lennon was murdered. The announcement came from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football (the New England Patriots vs. the Miami Dolphins):

John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman at Lennon’s home, The Dakota, in New York City. He had just returned from Record Plant Studio with his wife, Yoko Ono. Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where 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. He 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.

On the morning of December 8, photographer Annie Leibovitz went to Ono and Lennon’s apartment to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone. She had promised Lennon a photo with Ono would make the cover. After the photo shoot, Lennon gave what would be his last interview to San Francisco DJ Dave Sholin for a music show on the RKO Radio Network. At 5:00 pm, Lennon and Ono left their apartment to mix the track “Walking on Thin Ice”, an Ono song featuring Lennon on lead guitar, at Record Plant Studio.

As Lennon and Ono walked to their limousine, they were approached by several people seeking autographs, among them, Mark David Chapman. Chapman silently handed Lennon a copy of Double Fantasy, and Lennon autographed it.

John and Yoko then went back to the studio until 10:50 pm. Then John wanted to be home in time to say goodnight to five-year-old son Sean before he went to sleep. As he entered the Dakota, Chapman was waiting for him, and shot him in the back. Lennon was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Chapman pleaded guilty to Lennon’s murder in June 1981, against the advice of his lawyers, who wanted to file an insanity plea. He received a life sentence but under the terms of his guilty plea became eligible for parole in 2000, after serving 20 years. Chapman has been denied parole at hearings every two years since 2000 and remains in prison.

Lennon continues to be mourned throughout the world and has many memorials and tributes, such as New York City’s Strawberry Fields, a memorial garden area in Central Park across the street from the Dakota building. Ono later donated $1 million for its maintenance. It has become a gathering place for tributes on Lennon’s birthday and on the anniversary of his death, as well as at other times of mourning, such as after the September 11 attacks and following George Harrison’s death on November 29, 2001.

I remember listening to my parents’ Beatles albums non-stop for a while after John Lennon’s death. I could not get enough of the Help! album as well as Rubber Soul. I have been a Beatles fan ever since then. The Beatles have had a major influence on most artists, even through today. The Beatles were boy band predecessors for New Kids on the Block, all the way to the Jonas Brothers (I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing). They had a major influence on Alternative/New Wave rock (especially with the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), and also had a major influence on Hard Rock/Heavy Metal (The White Album). And they were all great singer/songwriters.

Rolling Stone magazine is marking the anniversary of John’s death by releasing Lennon’s final interview. It was conducted just three days before his death.

During the interview, Lennon slammed critics saying they want “dead heroes” like James Dean and Sid Vicious. Lennon said he was not interested in being anyone’s “dead hero.”

Well John did have a sense of humor, so I wonder what he would think.
It is a shame that a peaceful man died in such a violent way. And it is also sad for all of us because he had so much more to contribute.
But the music he did write and perform will live forever.

In closing, here is an editorial piece by Yoko Ono that was published today in the New York Times:


John Lennon

I don’t remember how I heard that John Lennon had been shot. Thirty years ago, on a warm December night in Manhattan, it was suddenly in the air, on the street — with only a brief, grim gap between news of the shooting at the Dakota, on 72nd Street and news of his death at Roosevelt Hospital. I called my brother in California and then sat in the stairwell of a building at 27th and Third, numb and grieving, like everyone else.

It was a new kind of death — not a political assassination like the ones that claimed the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr.; not the self-immolation that took down Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison. Lennon survived the ’60s and ’70s, and by 1980 he was living in New York City as normally, as modestly, as he and his wife, Yoko Ono, could. Then a deranged young man, Mark David Chapman, found a secular scripture in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and shot Lennon in hopes of becoming Holden Caulfield.

Every day I’m at The Times, I pass a photo of the Beatles taken at a press conference during one of their early visits to New York. In the picture, Lennon’s hands are folded behind him, and he stands, with the other Beatles, in a corona from the press lights. Invariably, it reminds me of the famous portrait Annie Leibovitz shot the morning of the day Lennon was killed — the one where he is lying naked, fetal, clinging to Yoko Ono, the ridge of his back so terribly exposed.

We remember what we remember of Lennon, and of that night. When I was young, he was the only adult that mattered outside my family — the Beatle of Beatles. I loved his wit; his irony; his “Help!”; his urgent, reedy voice; his unceasing transformations. Like everyone else who loved him, I can’t help grieving, even now, for all the transformations we lost 30 years ago when John Lennon was only 40.

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