On this day in 1981, Mark David Chapman is sentenced to 20 years to life for the murder of John Lennon, a founding member of The Beatles, one of the most successful bands in the history of popular music.
On December 8, 1980, Chapman shot and killed the 40-year-old singer, songwriter and peace activist, outside Lennon’s New York City apartment building, the Dakota, where he lived with his wife Yoko Ono and their young son Sean. Lennon, who was born on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, England, shot to fame in the 1960s with The Beatles, whose multiple best-selling albums and hit films, such as A Hard Day’s Night (1964), turned the group into hugely influential global pop icons. After The Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon embarked on a successful solo music career, writing and performing such songs as “Imagine” and “(Just Like) Starting Over.” He also directed a 1972 documentary film, also titled Imagine, which was a sometimes-surreal glimpse at a day in the life of Lennon and Ono, set to their music.
On the day of Lennon’s murder, Chapman, a Beatles fan who was born in 1955, spent the day hanging out near the musician’s apartment on West 72nd Street and Central Park West. Late that afternoon, a photographer captured a shot of Lennon as he stopped to autograph his Double Fantasy album for Chapman before walking with Yoko Ono toward a limousine waiting to take them to a recording session. Later that night, shortly before 11 p.m., the couple returned to the Dakota, where a waiting Chapman shot Lennon four times as the musician walked toward his building. Chapman stayed at the scene, reading The Catcher in the Rye, a book he was obsessed with, until the police arrived and took him into custody. Lennon was pronounced dead at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital around 11:15 p.m.
Chapman initially entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity; however, he later decided to drop the insanity defense and plead guilty to second-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing on August 24, 1981, Chapman read from The Catcher in the Rye. Chapman’s requests for parole have all been denied and he continues to serve time at New York’s Attica State Prison.
Lennon’s iconic life, and his untimely death, have in recent years inspired several films, including Chapter 27 (2007), which starred a bloated Jared Leto as Chapman and chronicled the three days leading up to the assassination. The visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood will reportedly direct a Lennon biopic, Nowhere Man, to be filmed partially in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool.