When John Lennon was murdered on 8 December 1980, it shocked the world and left many wondering how could this happen?
Why was John Lennon murdered? He was murdered by Mark David Chapman, a fan who associated the story “catcher in the rye” with the success of John Lennon. Chapman killed John Lennon because he was “angry and jealous” at the way the Beatle was living and was seeking “glory” for himself.
Mark David Chapman – the man who killed John Lennon
Mark Chapman was born in Texas, but in 1980 lived in Hawaii with his wife Gloria. Now 25 years old and working as a security guard, he had been a Beatles fan as a teenager, but as a born-again Christian was angered by John Lennon’s claim to be “bigger than Jesus Christ”, which John would claim was taken out of context and a misunderstood quote.
When John Lennon’s media appearances again became frequent and he began to live the life of a millionaire in New York, Chapman could not understand how this was possible and started to disagree with John’s words and actions (supposedly preaching peace whilst seeking self glory) and closely associated them with the story set out within The Catcher In The Rye and in particular the focus of the story – Holden Caulfield.
Mark Chapman’s hatred for the musician increased after hearing about it from various sources including news agencies that carried stories on their front pages each day; even when these articles discussed what kind of car one might see him driving around in – there were no details too small!
But then something changed–perhaps whatever held power over someone so deeply committed finally broke free and allowed the madness to take over. Chapman not only thought John was a phoney but decided to take action on it, leaving his wife Gloria Chapman behind in Hawaii to travel to New York to meet John telling her that he might do something. To this day Gloria Chapman still supports her husband.
The Catcher In The Rye
Having travelled from Hawaii to meet John Lennon, Mark David Chapman stayed in a hotel in New York before setting off to meet his once hero. Chapman left his belongings behind in his hotel room along with a copy of The Catcher In The Rye. He would later say that this novel was what drove him to murder: it depicts an antihero called Holden Caulfield who rails against all “phonies” he meets during his journey through life as if they were absolute nothingness — just another fake like those around them. The short story became popular among disaffected youth worldwide after being published in 1951 and continues to resonate deeply today because its messages about honesty remain timeless.
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The final year of John Lennon’s life
When John’s son, Sean, turned five Lennon left his son in America to travel abroad with Yoko Ono (to visit her family in Tokyo) and then spent some time writing in Bermuda.
When the media wanted to know what John Lennon had been doing while on his hiatus, he gave many interviews. One such discussion with Playboy saw him discuss The Beatles’ songs at length and still maintain that they did not have “the answer.”
“If the Beatles or the Sixties had a message, it was to learn to swim,” he told Playboy’s, David Sheff. “And once you learn to swim, swim. Carrying the Beatles’ or the Sixties’ dream around all your life is like carrying the Second World War and Glenn Miller around. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy Glenn Miller or the Beatles, but to live in that dream is the twilight zone. It’s not living now. It’s an illusion.”
John Lennon’s final studio session
John Lennon’s death was particularly tragic because just months before his contract with EMI had ended on a greatest hits compilation called ‘Shaved Fish’ which contained some fan favourites like and one song that would become very popular during John’s lifetime – Double Fantasy.” The Beatles company Apple was finally dissolved the following year too, this gave John the freedom he craved as he no longer had any commitments to any record company. The pressures from a recording contract were off and this gave John enough headspace to start being more creative again with his songwriting.
He began writing songs again and spent time working on new music. With his creative juices flowing that album was to become Double Fantasy was recorded at New York’s Hit Factory studios between August and October 1980.
The first single from the album was (Just Like) Starting Over, which had a 1950s vibe and reflective lyrical content showed the fans that Lennon was far from over, despite no recording contract, and that the musician could still produce excellent music. While the single was well-received, some critics felt that the album was middle-aged self-indulgence but on the whole, Beatles fans were reportedly just happy to hear and see John back in the charts again (and now competing with his old songwriting partner, Paul McCartney).
Not all fans were willing to let go of the idea that The Beatles represented a generation. The Beatles were often treated like deities by fans who blindly followed their every move.
John Lennon’s final interview
John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine in December 1980, just two months before he was shot dead. The article discusses their plans for the photoshoot with Annie Liebov Katz – who would go on later work for Vanity Fair- at their apartment opposite Central Park seen as “the most famous spot near iconic”.
“I’m so hungry for making records because of the way I feel.”
“I wanna make some more records before I tour. So I’d like to make at least one more album before actually making that decision.”
John ended the discussion by signing an autograph for DJ, adding “I’m a fan of people too you know? Like when they give me books and all that.” It was truly prophetic given what happened next.
Monday, 8 December 1980
After the radio interview had wound up, John and Yoko left for his last walk across town. They went to work on their new song “Walking On Thin Ice” which acknowledged all these New Wave bands like The B52s playing in chic nightclubs during that time period. It seemed like he wanted this record released before Christmas because it was mixed quickly at Hit Factory just days after the recording ended with him being very pleased about how things sounded when they were done mixing
As the couple left The Dakota, they walked through a gaggle of fans that had started to congregate around their apartment building in New York City. One fan offered them an album by John Lennon and asked for him specifically sign it? That man was Mark David Chapman.
Monday, 8 December 1980 & the man who killed John Lennon – Mark David Chapman
Over the course of Monday, 8 December 1980 Mark Chapman hung around outside The Dakota Building waiting for a glimpse from his favourite Imagineer. He missed out on seeing John Lennon arrive at an apartment early in the morning but later that day got lucky when Sean appeared with his Nanny.
When John Lennon signed a contract with Chapman, the assassin was caught up in anticipation. But later that evening his mood changed as he realized what had happened and how close this would bring him to meeting one of pop culture’s most famous figures.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono returned to the Dakota in their limousine at about 10:50 pm, after a successful session mixing Walking On Thin Ice. He considered this record as being one of her best chances yet for success with it; she agreed but told him that he should take care because there are many fans around who want autographs or pictures from them.
As John Lennon walked by, Mark Chapman quickly fired five bullets in succession from his revolver into Lennon’s back. The bullets were “hollow-point”, which means they dispersed into sharp shards once they struck their target.
As Lennon approached the Dakota, the doorman Jose Perdomo rushed to assist. New York police officers quickly arrived on the scene. One of them, Officer James Moran, tried to get a response from John, asking: “Are you John Lennon? Lennon reportedly responded: “Yes.”
Mark Chapman, meanwhile had stayed closed and simply removed his coat and stood under a nearby street lamp, where he was found by doorman Jose Perdomo reading The Catcher In The Rye. When an anguished and confused Jose demanded of the youth “Do you know what you’ve just done?”, Chapman replied calmly: “Yes. I just shot John Lennon.”
The bullets had caused significant damage to his body and John had reportedly lost 80% of his blood supply in the process, he died after arriving at Roosevelt Hospital. Medics battled for nearly 20 minutes before being able to resuscitate him with no success; he was finally declared dead.
After John Lennon’s death, Yoko Ono released the following statement:
“John loved and prayed for the world. He tried to bring peace and love to the world. If everyone loved each other the way John did, the world would be a better place. I know that he is now happy in heaven.”
Mark Chapman had this to say in his police statement:
“I know the consequences of my actions, and I do not feel wrong in doing so. It was just that something went off inside me at that moment. I have no explanation for it.”
The sentencing of Mark David Chapman for the murder of John Lennon
Interviewed for hundreds of hours by court-appointed psychiatrists for the defence and prosecution attorneys, Mark Chapman was probed about his words and actions. The defence claimed that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, while the prosecution maintained that he was competent to go to trial. Chapman himself took the decision to plead guilty to the murder and he was sentenced to 20 years to life.
Unrepentant, Mark Chapman pleaded guilty when he went on trial for first-degree murder on 24 June 1981. John Lennon’s then-wife Yoko Ono questioned how Chapman could have read The Catcher In The Rye and not understand the consequences of his actions, since the novel clearly states that “phonies” will never be saved.
Mark Chapman was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment with a further 5 years before he became eligible for parole; he remains in protective custody to date. He was transferred from Attica Correctional Facility in July 1986 to Wende (or Wende Correctional Facility), a maximum-security prison near Buffalo, New York where he is currently located.”
In 2020, forty years after the murder, Chapman was up for parole for the eleventh time. The judge turned him down, claiming that the killer’s release “would be incompatible with the welfare of society”. Chapman is eligible for parole again in 2022 when he will be 67 years old.