John Lennon’s Cause of Death: How Did the Beatle Die?

John Lennon Cause of Death

Getty A man lights a candle in front of the Lennon's wall memorial to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the musician's death on December 8, 2010 in Prague. Lennon was killed by gunman Mark Chapman outside a luxury apartment block in New York on December 8, 1980.

John Lennon was shot four times December 9, 1980 by Mark David Chapman outside Lennon’s New York apartment after the Beatle signed an autograph for him earlier in the day. Chapman pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He remains in a New York prison, and has been denied parole 11 times.

The details of Lennon’s death are disturbing, and Chapman has even called his own behavior “creepy.” His attorney questioned his client’s sanity before trial, but Chapman entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder after he was ordered fit to stand trial.

As the 40th anniversary of his death approaches and as his birthday passes, ABC 20/20 is airing a special episode on Lennon’s life and death in “John Lennon: His Life, Legacy, Last Days.” Lennon would have turned 80 on October 9, 1940. The episode airs Friday, October 16, 2020 at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Here’s what you need to know:


Lennon Was Shot Four Times, Said ‘I’ve Been Shot’ & Stumbled Into His Lobby Before Losing Consciousness, His Autopsy Said

Chapman’s odd but collected behavior on the day of Lennon’s murder was a theme of The Washington Post article published shortly after Lennon’s death and Chapman’s first court appearance. The headline said, “‘I Just Shot John Lennon,’ He Said Coolly.”

As Lennon approached his apartment that night, Chapman called out, “Mr. Lennon,” before firing multiple times at him with a .38-caliber rifle, according to the Post. Lennon said, “I’ve been shot,” and stumbled into his vestibule.

Lennon’s doorman was covered in blood.

“Do you know what you just did?” the doorman asked, according to the Post.

“I just shot John Lennon,” Chapman replied.

Witnesses told the Post he had a smirk on his face.

Chapman was charged with second-degree murder, and pleaded guilty following psychological evaluations. He is serving 20 years to life in prison in a New York state prison east of Buffalo, according to his prison record.

Lennon’s autopsy report, annotated by the Post, said Lennon was shot four times. Two bullets entered the left side of Lennon’s left back, traveling through the left side of his chest and his left lung before exiting from the body. A second bullet also passed into the left side of his chest and through his left lung, then lodged in his neck. Two more bullets hit Lennon in his left shoulder.

“He was bleeding out of his mouth and chest. I’ve been involved with enough other shootings to know it was bad,” Police Officer Peter Cullen told the Post.

Director of Medical Services Stephen Lynn told the Post Lennon was nearly dead on arrival at the hospital.

“I don’t think it would have been possible to resuscitate him by any means,” he said. “He had lost a great deal of blood.”


After Chapman Shot Lennon, He Read ‘Catcher and the Rye’ While Waiting for Police

After Chapman shot Lennon four times, he remained on the scene, waiting for police and reading Catcher and the Rye.

“That’s a true sociopathic mind,” Chapman said at his parole hearing in 2016, according to the Liverpool Echo. “I will say this: Towards the end, I would say the last hour or so, I did talk to myself. I sent up a prayer and said please help me turn this around. I couldn’t do it… I couldn’t do it.”

A 1980 article from The Washington Post detailed Chapman’s demeanor on the scene, where bystanders reported he dropped his .38-caliber pistol and took out a book.

Chapman was an unemployed security guard at the time of the murder. He had no previous criminal record.


Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr Made Brief Press Statements Immediately After Lennon’s Death

Ono, McCartney, Starr and George Harrison all stayed away from the media spotlight in the days following Lennon’s death, according to The Washington Post archive article. Ono released a statement on behalf of herself and their young son, Sean Ono Lennon.

It said:

There is no funeral for John. Later in the week we will set the time for a silent vigil to pray for his soul. We invite you to participate from wherever you are at the time. We thank you for the many flowers sent to John. But in the future, instead of flowers, please consider sending donations to Spirit Foundation Inc. [1 Battery Park Plaza, N.Y.] which is John’s personal charitable foundation. He would have appreciated it very much John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him.Love. Yoko and Sean.

McCartney appeared briefly before the press outside his farm in London. He said he was unable to “take it in at the moment,” and retreated. Starr had been vacationing in Europe and flew to New York after hearing of Lennon’s death. His spokesperson said Starr was “extremely shocked” and “didn’t want to say anymore.” Harrison made no immediate public comment, but cancelled a concert and entered seclusion.

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