Killed by ‘a local screwball’: The day John Lennon was shot to death
In November of 1980, John Lennon and Yoko Ono released their fifth album called “Double Fantasy.”
The record was recorded at The Hit Factory in New York City earlier that year. It was not a huge hit when it was released.
But, it won the 1981 Grammy Award for record of the year largely because Lennon was murdered just weeks after it was released.
On the night of Dec. 8, 1980, Lennon had signed a copy of the album for a fan. Just seven hours later that fan, Mark David Chapman, shot and killed the former Beatle as he returned home from a recording session with his wife, Ono.
At the time, police said Chapman indicated he was upset with how Lennon scribbled his name on the album. The Associated Press reported that police were familiar with Chapman and described him as “a local screwball.”
Earlier in the day, Lennon and Ono had their photo taken by Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone magazine.
Ono was fully clothed while Lennon was curled at her side, nude, in their apartment in the Dakota building in New York City. A short time later, Lennon was interviewed in his apartment by radio personality Dave Sholin.
According to biography.com, Lennon said, at the end of the interview, “I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried and I hope that’s a long, long time.”
The couple left the apartment building around 4:30 p.m. to go to the Record Plant. Lennon signed the album for Chapman. When they came home, Chapman shot Lennon four times in the back and chest with a .38-caliber handgun.
Witnesses said Chapman was seen “crouching in the archway of the Dakota” when Lennon and Ono arrived. A witness said when police took Chapman away, “He had a smirk on his face.”
At 11:15 p.m. that night Lennon was declared dead in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital.
Lennon was born on Oct. 9, 1940, in England and raised by an aunt but saw his mother regularly, according to biography.com.
His mother taught him to play musical instruments and bought him his first guitar. According to biography.com, Lennon was 16 when he created a “skiffle band called the Quarry Men.”
Lennon met Paul McCartney in 1957 and invited him to join his band.
They eventually formed a successful music writing partnership that evolved into the British phenomenon, The Beatles.
A year after meeting McCartney, McCartney introduced Lennon to George Harrison. The band also added a college friend, Stuart Sutcliffe and then drummer Pete Best.
“The first recording they made was Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’ in 1958. In fact, it was Holly’s group, the Crickets, that inspired the band to change its name. Lennon would later joke that he had a vision when he was 12 years old — a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day on, you are Beatles with an ‘A.’”
Brian Epstein discovered the Beatles in 1961 and secured them a contract. Ringo Starr came on board as the drummer. The group released its first single in October 1962 – “Love Me Do.”
“Please Please Me,” which topped the charts in Britain, followed along with “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
In 1962 Lennon married Cynthia Powell and they had a son, Julian. They divorced in 1968 and in 1969 Lennon married Yoko Ono, a Japanese avant-garde artist.
In 1964 the Beatles brought their act to the United States appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
After the show, the Beatles made the movie “A Hard Day’s Night.” Their second movie, “Help!” was released in 1965, according to biography.com.
Lennon left the Beatles in September 1969. McCartney left in April 1970.
In 1970, Lennon released a solo album, “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” followed in 1971 by “Imagine.”
Lennon and Ono moved the United States in 1971 “but were constantly threatened with deportation by the Nixon administration. Lennon was told that he was being kicked out of the country due to his 1968 marijuana conviction in Britain, but the singer believed that he was being removed because of his activism against the unpopular Vietnam War. Documents later proved him correct. (Two years after Nixon resigned, in 1976, Lennon was granted permanent U.S. residency),” according to biography.com.
In 1973, Lennon and Ono separated. Lennon continued to release successful albums including “Mind Games,” “Walls and Bridges” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
He and Ono reconciled in 1974 and in 1975 they had a son, Sean.
Five years later, Lennon was dead.
Paul McCartney said after Lennon’s death, “John was a great guy. He is going to be missed by the whole world.”
Chapman, who pleaded guilty to killing Lennon, is serving 20 years to life in prison and has been denied parole 11 times, most recently in August 2020. His next parole hearing will be in August 2022.
Had he not been gunned down on Dec. 8, 1980 by a deranged “fan” lying in wait for him outside of his Upper West Side residence in Manhattan, John Lennon may well have been a well-preserved 81 years old right now, still happily married to Yoko Ono and living in the Dakota. The ostensible founder and leader of the Beatles, the most beloved critically and commercially successful band of the rock era, Lennon left behind a complicated legacy befitting his complicated, mercurial and at times tormented personality.
While Lennon was known to make Jewish jokes on occasion — often as part of his relentless if well-intentioned teasing of Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein — he was an equal-opportunity offender, and didn’t have it in for Jews any more than for any other group that attracted his attention and thereby became the subject of his rapier, if at times cruel, wit.
The number of Jews who played serious roles in the Beatles’ career, both creatively and behind the scenes, was rather remarkable, beginning with Epstein himself, who discovered the Fab Four playing in the dank, underground Cavern Club in Liverpool and steered them on their way to becoming the socio-cultural phenomenon that transcended music and became nearly synonymous with “the Sixties.”
Other key Jewish players included New York City radio personality Murray “The K” Kaufman; “Cousin” Bruce Morrow, the New York city radio host who introduced the Beatles at the Shea Stadium concert promoted by Sid Bernstein; and filmmaker Richard Lester, the visionary behind the camera who helped shape the Beatles’ image through his direction of the musical comedy films “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” Even their hair stylist, Leslie Cavendish, late of Vidal Sassoon’s studio, was Jewish. Their early hits included many written by Jewish songwriters, among them “Chains” by Carole King and Gerry Goffin; “Baby It’s You” by Burt Bacharach; “Twist and Shout” by Bert Berns; and “Kansas City” by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
After Epstein died in 1967, Lennon brought in the controversial Allen Klein to be the group’s business manager — a move opposed by his bandmate Paul McCartney, who favored Lee Eastman (born Leopold Vail Epstein) and his son, John, who were father and brother, respectively to McCartney’s then-girlfriend and soon-to-be-wife Linda Eastman. Lennon also worked with legendary Jewish record producer Phil Spector on the Beatles’ “Let It Be” album and on several of Lennon’s post-Beatles solo albums. Whatever feelings Lennon may have harbored about Jews in the abstract, he was clearly quite comfortable working with individual members of the tribe.
Which may be why, in a curious, little-known episode in 1969, Lennon wound up singing in Hebrew as part of a radio broadcast for Voice of Israel.
Israeli freelance journalist Akiva Nof happened to be in Amsterdam at the same time that Lennon and Yoko Ono were performing one of their “Bed-Ins for Peace” at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. Not only did Nof score an interview with the world’s most famous couple — he was even invited to join them in bed.
With his tape recorder running, Nof asked Lennon if he knew any Israeli songs. Lennon replied, “Only ‘Hava Nagilah,” and then sang a few lines from the song. Nof then asked Lennon to sing another song “for the Israeli audience,” and Lennon launched into an as-yet-unreleased Beatles number, accompanying himself on guitar and singing, “I want you, I want you so bad, babe,” tailoring the phrase with the end tag, “Hello Israel.” The tune later surfaced on the group’s final studio album, “Abbey Road,” called “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” — minus the reference to Israel.
But Lennon and Nof weren’t yet done with their Hebrew jam session. Nof boldly if not brashly asked Lennon, “Would you be able to, if I give you some words in Hebrew…” to which Lennon responded with a resounding, “Yes, yes!” Lennon then launched into Nof’s “Oath for Jerusalem,” singing the Hebrew lyrics (which Nof had transliterated for him) quite confidently, with Yoko Ono singing backup. The lyrics Lennon sang meant, “Jerusalem, we all swear, that we will never abandon you, from now until forever.” It’s not known if Lennon knew the meaning of the Hebrew words he was singing.
John Lennon once reportedly said, “Show business is an extension of the Jewish religion.” Apparently, he was just fine with playing his part.