Earlier in the day, Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, were photographed for the last time together by Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone magazine in their New York City apartment. The iconic image covered the January 1981 issue of Rolling Stone along with articles and pictures in memory of Lennon’s life. He gave his last interview with DJ Dave Sholin for RKO Radio Network before heading to Record Plant Studio with Ono to mix a song they were working on together.
He was returning from the studio with Ono when Mark David Chapman took aim and fired five shots at John Lennon with a .38 Special revolver at 10:50 p.m. as he was entering his apartment building, The Dakota. Lennon staggered up the five steps to the security and reception area of his building, muttering, “I’m shot. I’m shot,” before collapsing on the ground. He was rushed to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, just blocks away, but was pronounced dead on arrival due to hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume. Meanwhile, outside The Dakota, the doorman had knocked the gun from Chapman’s hands and kicked it across the sidewalk. Chapman sat down on the ground awaiting the police, reportedly holding a copy of Catcher in the Rye. When asked by the doorman if he knew what he had just done, Chapman calmly replied, “Yes, I just shot John Lennon.”
The killer had previously exhibited obsessive tendencies and had become fixated on John Lennon. Chapman had traveled to New York with intentions of murdering Lennon in October of 1980, but changed his mind and returned home to Hawaii. His disdain for Lennon was largely attributed to Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark he first made in an interview in 1966. He thought Lennon’s comment and his songs “God” and “Imagine” were blasphemous. Despite his lawyer’s advice to plead insanity, Chapman made a guilty plea to second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life. He has since been denied parole seven times.
The news of Lennon’s death was first reported during ABC’s Monday Night Football by broadcast team Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford. Cosell interrupted his reporting of the game and said, “Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City. The most famous perhaps, of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”
Fans all over the world began to grieve heavily. On December 14, 1980, Yoko Ono asked fans in New York City to convene in Central Park for 10 minutes of silence in remembrance of Lennon. Ono’s request was met by millions of fans worldwide gathering together to pay tribute to the late musician. The largest gathering of over 225,000 was in Central Park, near the scene of the shooting.
Since his death, countless memorials and tributes have been dedicated to Lennon including songs by other famous musicians, statues, and memorial sites. One of the most famous sites is Strawberry Fields in Central Park close to The Dakota, a place where Lennon used to walk often. Various countries donated trees to be planted in the area, and a mosaic reading “IMAGINE” was gifted by the city of Naples, Italy.
Though Lennon was killed over 30 years ago, his legacy will live on forever.