For many baby-boomers
whose formative years coincided with the Swinging Sixties, a mild
Monday in early December 1980 will always be remembered as the day
the music died.
In New York,
the enigmatic, charismatic – and frankly often loony –
ex-Beatle John Lennon staggered into the entrance hall of the Dakota,
the exclusive parkside mansion block that had been his home for
nearly eight years.
of a new song the 40-year-old had just recorded, called Walking
On Thin Ice, clattered to the floor as he collapsed –
blood flowing from four gunshot wounds.
been heading home late from work and was hoping to catch his five-year-old
son, Sean, before he went to bed.
He and Yoko
Ono, his wife and musical collaborator, had been dropped by their
white limousine on the pavement outside the building rather than
driving through the gates and into the building’s secure courtyard.
on ahead, nodding blankly at a stranger in the shadows – there
were always fans and hangers-on lurking outside the Dakota for a
glimpse of their hero.
trudged behind and had taken three or four strides when a voice
called out: ‘Mr Lennon?’
The star slowed
and then turned to look. Instantly, he registered that he’d
seen this man a few times lately – and, earlier that day, had
even autographed an LP cover for him.
But now the
stranger had a different purpose. He was down on one knee in a combat
stance, a .38 revolver clasped in his hands.
rang out and four dum-dum bullets, specially adapted to cause maximum
physical damage, slammed into Lennon’s back, side and shoulder.
got as far as the lobby before blurting out: ‘I’m shot!
I’m shot!’ He was dead on arrival at hospital a quarter
of an hour later.
the killer, pudgy 25-year-old Mark Chapman, stood quietly at the
scene. On the ground lay the smoking gun he had let fall from his
hands, beside Lennon’s blood-stained glasses.
against the wall of the Dakota, Chapman then began flicking through
a copy of Catcher
In The Rye, J.D. Salinger’s famous novel of adolescent
alienation, whose central character was apparently the inspiration
for what he had just done.
When the cops
arrived, he made no attempt to escape. As his hands were cuffed
and he was bundled into a squad car, he explained: ‘I acted
alone.’ At precinct headquarters, he told detectives: ‘Lennon
had to die.’
To a world
shocked by Lennon’s violent and seemingly pointless death,
it became clear that Chapman was a delusional nerd. He took drugs
and was psychologically disturbed.
school, he sought refuge in an imaginary world where he exercised
power over other people.
adult who never settled into a proper job, he found solace for his
empty life in the music of The Beatles. A loner himself, he identified
with the reclusive side of Lennon’s insecure, mixed-up personality.
of Lennon’s vast wealth and burgeoning business empire turned
Chapman’s hero-worship on its head.
He felt betrayed,
personally insulted. He stalked and shot his erstwhile hero out
of a weird sense of retribution – coupled with a desire to
be famous for something.