John Lennon's tragic death remembered 40 years later: How the world reacted

5 October 2020, 10:51 | Updated: 5 October 2020, 12:00

John Lennon's death remembered
John Lennon's death remembered. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

John Lennon's death sent shockwaves around the world on December 8, 1980 when Mark Chapman shot the Beatles singer dead on the doorstep of his New York home.

The murder of the Beatles singer and one of the most famous celebrities on the planet in New York was something that resonated with so many people, in a way that had not been felt since John F Kennedy's death nearly 20 years previously.

In what would have been his 80th year, we take a look back at how the world reacted when it heard that John Lennon had been so senselessly killed, and how his fellow stars responded in tribute.

See more: Celebrity deaths in 2020: Paying tribute to the stars we've lost this year

  1. How and when did John Lennon die?

    Yoko Ono and John Lennon
    Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Picture: Getty

    On the evening of December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot dead in the archway of the Dakota, his home in New York City.

    The killer was Mark David Chapman, an American Beatles fan who had travelled from Hawaii.

    Chapman explained that he was angered by Lennon's life and public statements, in particular his phrase about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus" and the lyrics of his songs 'God' and 'Imagine'.

    Chapman also said he was inspired by Holden Caulfield from JD Salinger's 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye.

    Daily News page 3 dated Dec. 10, 1980, John Lennon and Mark
    Daily News page 3 dated Dec. 10, 1980, John Lennon and Mark. Picture: Getty

    The American planned the killing over several months, and waited for Lennon at the Dakota that morning. At one point, he even met Lennon, who signed his copy of the album Double Fantasy.

    See more: Paul McCartney "often dreams" about old friend John Lennon: "They're always good"

    Later that night, Lennon and wife Yoko Ono returned, and as they walked towards the entrance, Chapman fired five shots, four of which hit Lennon in the back.

    Chapman stayed at the scene, reading The Catcher in the Rye, until he was arrested by the police. Lennon was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 11.15pm.

  2. How was John Lennon's death announced on TV?

    As the death occurred at around 4am UK time, and with rolling news channels not in existence, most British people didn't find out what happened until the morning or even lunchtime news broadcasts on TV.

    In the US, news producer Alan J Weiss of network WABC-TV had been waiting to be treated in the Roosevelt Hospital after being injured in a motorcycle accident earlier that evening. He said in 2013 that he had seen Lennon being taken into the room surrounded by police officers.

    After discovering what happened, he called the station. Eventually, the news made its way to ABC News president Roone Arledge, who at the time was overseeing ABC's coverage of Monday Night Football.

    See more: The Story of... 'Yesterday' by The Beatles

    When Arledge discovered that Lennon had died, a match between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins was level with less than a minute left. Arledge told commentators Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell about the shooting, and said they should report it on air.

    Cosell, who had interviewed Lennon back in 1974, wasn't sure, as he felt it was not their place to break such a big moment.

    However, Gifford convinced Cosell to do so, saying that he should not "hang on to [the news]".

    Cosell told viewers: "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 newsflash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.

  3. Did John Lennon have a funeral?

    Lennon Forever
    Lennon Forever. Picture: Getty

    The day after Lennon's death, Yoko Ono issued a statement: "There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race.

    "Please do the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean."

    His remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York.

    Read more: The 10 greatest John Lennon songs, ranked

    Ono told to the chanting crowd outside the Dakota that their singing had kept her awake, and asked that they re-convene at the Central Park Bandshell the following Sunday for ten minutes of silent prayer.

    On December 14, millions of people around the world did justs that. They paused for ten minutes of silence to remember Lennon. 30,000 gathered in Lennon's hometown of Liverpool, and the largest group - over 225,000 - did so at Central Park. For those ten minutes, every radio station in New York City also went off air.

  4. How did the other Beatles react?

    On the day after the murder, bandmate George Harrison issued a statement for the press, saying: "After all we went through together, I had and still have great love and respect for him.

    "I am shocked and stunned. To rob a life is the ultimate robbery in life. The perpetual encroachment on other people's space is taken to the limit with the use of a gun.

    "It is an outrage that people can take other people's lives when they obviously haven't got their own lives in order."

    See more: Yoko Ono facts: Artist's age, children and relationship with John Lennon revealed

    Harrison is said to have privately told friends: "I just wanted to be in a band. Here we are, 20 years later, and some whack job has shot my mate. I just wanted to play guitar in a band."

    Paul McCartney criticised for his reaction at the time. He was leaving an Oxford Street recording studio when reporters asked him for his reaction. He responded by saying: "Drag, isn't it?".

    McCartney himself regretted the remark. He later said that he had intended no disrespect, and was unable to articulate his emotions, due to the shock and sadness he felt.

    Ringo Starr didn't release a statement at the time. In 1981, he told Barbara Walters how "sad" he was and that he "still misses" Lennon "a great deal".

    See more: The inside story of why The Beatles really broke up

  5. What tributes happened at the time?

    There was a huge outpouring of grief among fans at the time. In the week after his death, Lennon's new single '(Just Like) Starting Over' climbed to number one in the UK singles chart.

    Read more: The greatest John Lennon cover versions ever

    His famous festive song 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)' was reissued and went to number 4 the following week, and in the first week of January 1981, a re-released 'Imagine' went to number one for five weeks. He then replaced himself at number one with new single 'Woman'.

    See more: The Story of... 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)' by John Lennon

    Stevie Wonder found out about Lennon's death while backstage at one of his own concerts, and proceeded to tell a shocked crowd the sad news.

    Queen performed 'Imagine' the night after Lennon's death at Wembley Arena in London.

    David Bowie, who was close friends with Lennon since the mid-1970s, performed a moving tribute to Lennon at the final show of his Serious Moonlight Tour at the Hong Kong Coliseum, on 8 December 1983, the third anniversary of Lennon's death, singing 'Imagine'.

    George Harrison released a tribute song titled 'All Those Years Ago' in 1981, featuring Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.

    Elton John joined up with Bernie Taupin to recorded a tribute to Lennon, called 'Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)'. When he performed the song in Madison Square Garden in August 1982, he was joined on stage by Ono and Sean.

    QUIZ: How much of a John Lennon fan are you?

  6. What happened to Mark Chapman?

    Chapman pleaded guilty in 1981 to murdering Lennon.

    He was sentenced to 20-years-to-life, and later automatically became eligible for parole in 2000.

    However, he has been denied parole 11 times and remains incarcerated in an Upstate New York prison.

    In 2020, he was quoted as saying he was "sorry" for killing Lennon, and that he was "attention-seeking".

    Read more: John Lennon’s 'attention-seeking killer' Mark Chapman apologises for murder