Remembering John Lennon, 40 years after his death

This Day in History:, John Lennon Is Shot. December 8, 1980. The 40-year-old former member of the Beatles was shot and killed by obsessed fan Mark David Chapman. The outspoken rock icon was entering his Manhattan apartment when Chapman shot him four times at close range with a .38-caliber revolver. Lennon was rushed to the hospital but died en route. He had given Chapman an autograph earlier in the day. Chapman voluntarily remained at the scene of the shooting until he was arrested by police. Demonstrations of mourning were held all over the world. Deemed a borderline psychotic, Chapman pleaded guilty to murder and remains in Attica prison. Lennon is memorialized in a section of Central Park known as "Strawberry Fields."

Beatles legend was gunned down outside his New York apartment on Dec. 8, 1980

John Lennon would have turned 80 years old in 2020.

The founder of The Beatles, whose life was cut short 40 years ago by an assassin’s bullets, is often mentioned among the greatest musicians of all time and is still regarded as a beloved and controversial figure who wrote timeless songs that came to epitomize the peace, love and hope that mostly eluded his generation.

Lennon’s voice as a young man became one of the most influential to oppose the Vietnam War, and this made him a target of the U.S. government and others who despised him for a lifestyle that contradicted his stated principles and the fame which helped popularize his political views.

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After 1969, the troubled genius began pouring himself into political activism, and when The Beatles disbanded in 1970, he slowly began to evaluate the toll that psychedelic drugs and booze had taken on his life for years.

Lennon by his own admission was physically abusive to his first wife, Cynthia Powell, who attributed their divorce to Lennon’s use of LSD.

Underneath all of the band’s fun-filled, freewheeling, drug-fueled antics of the 1960s and 1970s was Lennon’s diminishing sense of self worth, made worse by his failures as a father and a strained relationship with his older son, Julian Lennon.

After The Beatles

By the time the band broke up in 1970, Lennon had chosen to reinvent himself with his new wife, Yoko Ono, and found early success as a solo artist.

In 1971, Lennon and Oko moved from London to New York, where they derided the establishment in their music and were labeled radical propagandists.

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Lennon and Ono produced more than a dozen recordings from 1968 to 1972, many of which were the antiwar anthems that still beam over the radio waves to this day, including “Give Peace a Chance,” “Imagine,” and “War is Over.”

During this time, Lennon also indulged in infidelity, and he and Ono separated for a while.

Turning points

It was around 1973 when Lennon went into an 18-month period of desperate soul searching, which he later described as his so-called “lost weekend,” in which the artist moved to Los Angeles and sank into further debauchery. But by early 1975, Lennon and Ono reconciled, and Lennon moved back to New York to be with her.

Then on Oct. 9, which was Lennon’s birthday, the couple had a son who they named Sean.

Five years later, Lennon had completely devoted himself to domesticity and fatherhood.

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Lennon turned his back on music after 1975, revealing in several interviews that his second-born son was a chance for him to make amends for his failure to be present in the life of his first son, Julian, born seven years earlier.

For Lennon, however, this new labor of love came to a tragic end on Dec. 8, 1980 — 40 years ago.

On that fateful night, he was shot four times and died outside his Manhattan apartment.

Lennon was 40 years old. Sean was only 5.

The beloved front man of The Beatles was gone forever and fans were shaken to the core with disbelief, according to news accounts. Like the Kennedy assassination or the 9/11 attacks on America, many who were alive at the time recall where they were the moment they heard the news.

It was the end of an era, and the world would be forced to cope with a tragic loss.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Lennon’s music had come to symbolize the American counterculture movement that opposed the war, while Lennon simultaneously became a thorn in the side of the Richard Nixon administration, which sought to deport him for his anti-Vietnam War sentiments.

The day John Lennon died

It was a Monday.

Earlier in the evening of Dec. 8, as Lennon left his apartment at The Dakota in Manhattan, he reportedly signed a copy of his new album for a fan who approached as Lennon headed toward his waiting limousine.

The stranger was later identified as Mark David Chapman, a man with severe mental illness.

When Lennon and Ono returned from the recording studio later that night, Chapman laid in wait in the shadows with a handgun, which he used to shoot Lennon twice in the back and two times in the shoulder, according to reports.

Lennon was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Howard Cosell informed America

Millions of Americans first heard the news when legendary sports announcer Howard Cosell interrupted the broadcast of “Monday Night Football” to break the story to a national television audience.

“Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell said as the New England Patriots faced the Miami Dolphins. “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.”

Just one month before his death, Lennon had released “Double Fantasy,” his fifth studio album with Ono, which won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and eventually became Lennon’s best-selling album of all time.

Early life

John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool, England, in 1940.

He was an only child, separated from his father at a young age.

A young, single mother, Julia Lennon, wanted the lad to have a semblance of family so she sent him to live with an aunt and uncle nearby while still maintaining a close relationship.

Several accounts say Julia was the person who first introduced Lennon to music — regularly playing records by Elvis Presley and Fats Domino and teaching the boy how to play the banjo. Despite her sister’s disapproval, Julia reportedly bought Lennon his first acoustic guitar in 1956 when Lennon was 15 and forming his first band, the Quarrymen.

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Around this time, Lennon met Paul McCartney, who came on with the band during only its second performance.

Two years later, tragedy struck.

In July 1958, Lennon’s mother was hit by a car and died as she walked from her sister’s house.

Her death sent Lennon into a spiral of depression and he frequently drank and got into fisticuffs, but several years later the tragedy would serve as inspiration for some of The Beatles’ most memorable tunes, including the 1968 song “Julia.”

Lennon dropped out of art school to form The Beatles in 1960 with McCartney on guitar and vocals, George Harrison on guitar and Pete Best on drums. Best was replaced in 1962 with Ringo Starr, and the rest — as they say — was history.

In 1964, the band appeared on American TV during “The Ed Sullivan Show,” solidifying the band’s status among rock legends whose music has stood the test of time.

The man who once proclaimed that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus,” Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 along with Jerry Garcia, Bob Marley, Elton John and Rod Stewart.

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