The Death of John Lennon: A Look Inside Lennon’s Final Day

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

John Lennon really needs no introduction, but it’s near impossible to bring up the singer without mentioning the profound impact he had on music. Not only was his songwriting partnership with fellow Beatle Paul McCartney one of the most successful in music history, but John Lennon, the person, came to represent movements and revolutionize genres. (I mean, who doesn’t recognize the lyrics of “Imagine” or Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono?)

Lennon’s fame during his lifetime is only rivaled by the unfathomable amount of attention he received in his death. The Beatle was brutally murdered; he was shot and killed by a crazed fan. But how did that happen? And why? Below we’ll dive into some of the chilling details of John Lennon’s death and how we lost the Beatle.

The Who, What, When, and Where

John Lennon died on December 8, 1980, at The Dakota Apartments in New York City. He was 40 years old and sadly, the first Beatle to leave this world. He had been shot and killed by Mark David Chapman just before 11 p.m. after returning from the Record Plant recording studio. Yoko Ono was with Lennon at the time of his death, and he was officially pronounced dead at 11:15 p.m. at the Roosevelt Hospital. 

More Background

By December 8, Lennon had just released his collaborative album, Double Fantasy, with his wife Yoko Ono, one month prior. Lennon and Ono were in New York to promote the album and were scheduled to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone that day. The couple posed for photographer Annie Leibovitz early in the day. (The result of that photoshoot was one of the most iconic images of the pair.) 

Lennon also gave his final media interview on the day of his murder with RKO Radio.

Then, on the way to the Record Plant studio, something disturbing occurred. Chapman, who would just hours later kill Lennon, stopped the Beatle outside of the Dakota to ask for an autograph. The soon-to-be murderer wanted Lennon to sign his copy of Double Fantasy. Lennon obliged. 

“He was very kind to me,” Chapman said about the interaction in a later parole hearing. “Ironically, very kind, and he was patient with me. The limousine was waiting, his wife was waiting in the limousine, and he took his time with me and he got the pen going and he signed my album. He asked me if I needed anything else. I said No. No, sir, and he walked away. Very cordial and very decent man.”

In that same parole hearing, Chapman was asked if that first interaction made him question his murderous plans.

“Yes,” he said. “There was an inner struggle for a while there, you know, what am I doing here? Leave now. It wasn’t all totally cold-blooded, but most of it was. I did try to tell myself to leave. I’ve got the album, take it home, show my wife, everything will be fine. But I was so compelled to commit that murder that nothing would have dragged me away from that building.”

Later that evening as Lennon and Ono returned to the Dakota, Chapman was still waiting outside. As the couple passed by him to enter their home, Chapman fired 5 bullets at Lennon him, hitting him with four of the bullets in the back and shoulder. Lennon was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead upon arrival.

Who Is Mark David Chapman? 

Mark David Chapman was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised in Decatur, Georgia. He had no prior convictions and had worked as a security guard in Hawaii before shooting Lennon.

Chapman was 25 years old when he killed Lennon. 

Even more disturbing was the fact that Chapman was a longtime Beatles fan. But, after Lennon’s controversial 1966 statement that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus,” Chapman turned on Lennon. He also became irritated by the lyrics in Lennon’s later songs “God” and “Imagine.” (Both songs have verses that could be perceived as in opposition to Christianity.) 

Lennon’s murderer also became obsessed with the fictional protagonist, Holden Caulfied, from the novel The Catcher in the Rye around the time of the shooting. Chapman reportedly wanted to model his life after the rebellious Caulfied, and he even had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye on his person when he murdered Lennon. 

Chapman was arrested on the scene and was charged with second-degree murder soon after. He remains incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility in New York and has been denied parole 11 times to date. 

Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

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