John Lennon was fatally shot outside of his New York City apartment on Dec. 8, 1980
The musician, who is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time, rose to fame as a member of The Beatles and enjoyed a prolific solo career after the group disbanded in 1969. Sadly, his life was cut short: He was shot and killed in front of his residence, the Dakota, in New York City on Dec. 8, 1980.
The killer, Mark David Chapman, confessed at the scene of the crime. He later told a parole board that he was a Beatles fan “seeking fame.” "I knew what I was doing, and I knew it was evil,” he said in September 2022. “I knew it was wrong, but I wanted the fame so much that I was willing to give everything and take a human life."
"I remembered him as a kid — goofy, funny, sarcastic, charming," Julian told PEOPLE after watching the 2021 documentary series The Beatles: Get Back. "I fell in love with him again because that was the guy I remember before it all went pear-shaped."
“I remember him saying to me, ‘Paul, I worry about how people are going to remember me when I die,’ and it kind of shocked me,” McCartney recalled on an episode of his iHeart Radio podcast, McCartney: A Life in Lyrics, in 2023. “I said ‘OK, hold on, just hold it right there. People are going to think you were great, you’ve already done enough work to demonstrate that.’ ”
Lennon's death is the subject of the upcoming AppleTV+ docuseries John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial, which premieres on Dec. 6. The three-part series features interviews with eyewitnesses, friends of the late Beatle and members of Chapman's legal team.
Here’s what to know about John Lennon’s death.
How did John Lennon die?
On Dec. 8, 1980, Lennon was shot twice in the back and twice in the shoulder with a .38-caliber pistol. The Washington Post reported that N.Y.C.’s medical examiner, Dr. Elliot Gross, attributed Lennon’s death to “massive hemorrhaging and shock” caused by the gun wounds.
According to the autopsy, two bullets struck Lennon's left lung before exiting his chest. One bullet that entered through his shoulder hit his left arm bone while the other punctured his left lung before becoming lodged in his neck.
When did John Lennon die?
Lennon is believed to have died moments after being shot. According to the Associated Press, the singer was shot at 10:50 p.m. He was brought to nearby Roosevelt Hospital less than 10 minutes later and was pronounced dead upon arrival.
"Death occurred within a very short time," Gross said two days later, noting that Lennon was "essentially pulseless" when he arrived at the hospital.
Where did John Lennon die?
Lennon was shot outside of his apartment building, the Dakota, on Central Park West in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He was pronounced dead at the nearby Roosevelt Hospital.
How old was John Lennon when he died?
Lennon was 40 years old when he was murdered, having recently celebrated his birthday on Oct. 9.
Who killed John Lennon?
Longtime Beatles fan Mark David Chapman, an out-of-work security guard living in Hawaii, pleaded guilty to shooting Lennon in June 1981. He reportedly confessed just moments after the incident, telling the panicked doorman, “I just shot John Lennon,” according to The Washington Post.
Chapman and Lennon had crossed paths earlier in the day when the Beatles fan obtained the artist's autograph on a copy of the album Double Fantasy. The Hawaii native had bought the gun three months prior and traveled to New York City to commit the crime.
In 2020, Chapman told a parole board that he was motivated by jealousy. “My thinking was he has all of this money, lives in this beautiful apartment and he is into music representing a more cautious lifestyle, a more giving lifestyle," he told the board, according to ABC News. "It made me angry and jealous compared to the way I was living at the time. There was jealousy in there."
He added, “I assassinated him ... because he was very, very, very famous and that's the only reason.”
What did John Lennon do on the day of his death?
On the day of his death, Lennon and Ono shot a cover for Rolling Stone with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, who took photos of the couple in their N.Y.C. home. (Three days earlier, Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Cott interviewed Lennon for more than nine hours; their conversation was not published in full until 2010.)
In the photo, the “Imagine” singer is fully nude and wrapping his body around Ono, who is fully clothed. “We were feeling comfortable because it was Annie, whom we respected and trusted, so John seemed not to have any problem taking off his clothes,” Ono told the publication in 2004. The image was later named one of the best magazine covers of the previous 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors.
That day, Lennon also sat down for an interview with RKO Radio before leaving for the Record Plant, a recording studio in N.Y.C.
Prior to his departure, he signed a copy of his album Double Fantasy for Chapman outside of the Dakota. Another fan, photographer Paul Goresh, captured a photo of Lennon next to Chapman. These would be the last photos taken of the musician, and Ono later asked Goresh for the photos, he recalled to NJ.com in 2015.
"Somehow that photo was harder for me to look at than the death photo," Ono later wrote to fans in The New York Times and The Washington Post. "John was in a hurry that afternoon. He did not have to give his autograph but he did, while the man watched him, the man who was to betray John later."
Who was with John Lennon when he died?
Ono was with Lennon at the time of his death. According to The Washington Post, the couple pulled up to the Dakota in a limousine and exited together before walking toward the doorway of their building. Lennon turned back when he heard someone calling his name, at which point he was shot.
"When John fell right beside me, I felt like we were in a guerilla war, not knowing who or where the enemy was," Ono later wrote.
What were John Lennon’s last words?
Witnesses have claimed that Lennon’s last words were “I’m shot,” said just moments before the former Beatle collapsed.
His last words to his widow were more tender, however. Ono told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that on the way home from the studio, she had suggested grabbing dinner before returning home, but Lennon replied, “No, let’s go home because I want to see Sean before he goes to sleep.”
How did the public react to John Lennon’s death?
After Lennon’s death, fans congregated outside of his residence. As one man who showed up to the Dakota told NPR: “I took it … as a personal loss. The man changed my life, you know, and I just had to come here to make sure it's true. I don't even know why I'm standing here. It's amazing. I just can't believe it.”
A silent vigil was also held in Lennon’s honor on Dec. 15, 1980; Ono invited the public to participate “from wherever” they were at the time. Around 100,000 people turned up to honor the Beatle together in N.Y.C.’s Central Park, according to The Washington Post. Another 2,000 gathered in Chicago, and a memorial concert for 30,000 was held in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool, England.
A memorial titled “Strawberry Fields” was later placed in Central Park.
What legacy did John Lennon leave behind?
In addition to his many musical accolades — Lennon himself has seven Grammys, including a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Beatles remain the best-selling group of all time — he made a lasting impression on his loved ones.
"When John died, it was so difficult," bandmate McCartney said in December 2022. "It was difficult for everyone in the world because he was such a loved character and such a crazy guy. He was so special."
In addition to the copious tributes and memorials established in his name, in 1997 Ono created the John Lennon Award with the BMI Foundation, which offers scholarships to aspiring songwriters and composers.
Lennon’s legacy also lives on through his two sons, Julian and Sean Lennon, who continue to honor his memory in their own music; his wife Ono; and his remaining bandmates, McCartney and Ringo Starr. (George Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001.)
Where is John Lennon’s killer now?
Chapman has been in prison since he was arrested after the shooting. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in June 1981 and was sentenced to 20 years to life two months later. In September 2022, he was denied parole for the 12th time.
Ono has opposed Chapman's release over the years. In 2015, she told The Daily Beast, “He did it once, he could do it again, to somebody else. It could be me, it could be Sean, it could be anybody, so there is that concern."
Chapman will be eligible for parole in 2024.
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