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Today marks 40 years since John Lennon was shot dead on his doorstep in New York

Mark Chapman shot the singer on 8 December 1980.

Image: PA Images

TODAY MARKS 40 years since former Beatle John Lennon was shot dead in New York.

On a mild December evening in 1980, a young man with a revolver shot the singer four times in the back as he arrived home from a recording studio with his wife, Yoko Ono.

Police found his killer, Evangelical Christian Mark Chapman, reading a book as he waited for them to arrest him outside the Dakota apartment building in midtown Manhattan.

Lennon was rushed to hospital on the back seat of a police car but “did not have the slightest chance of surviving” despite receiving several blood transfusions, a doctor told reporters.

A breaking news dispatch on December 8 read: “Former Beatle John Lennon was assassinated in front of his home in New York”.

It was the start of a flood of media coverage that would rival the reach of the world-famous singer, who was just 40 years old at the time of his death.

Chapman, then 25, had travelled from Hawaii and had got Lennon to sign his copy of the British singer’s latest album, Double Fantasy, earlier that day as Lennon left the building.

“I saw the photo where he signed the autograph. It was flashed on TV again and again,” Yoko Ono would write to fans a month later in an ad she took out in major newspapers across the country.

“Somehow that photo was harder for me to look at than the death photo. John was in a hurry that afternoon. He did not have to give his autograph but he did, while the man watched him, the man who was to betray John later.”

Years later from a prison cell, Chapman told a journalist he was “angry at (Lennon) for saying (in the song ‘God’) that he didn’t believe in God, that he just believed in him and Yoko, and that he didn’t believe in the Beatles”.

Lennon’s quip that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” in 1966 had also irked him.

Chapman was deemed competent to stand trial and was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains. His 12th parole hearing is set for 2022.

‘Great tragedy’

Following the shooting, then US president-elect Ronald Reagan called the killing a “great tragedy” as thousands of mourners gathered outside the building where Lennon had lived with Ono and their son Sean.

Ono announced there would be no public funeral. Instead she sent word to fans singing outside her window to gather at an amphitheatre in nearby Central Park that Sunday to honour her late husband.

On 14 December, about 200,000 people braved the New York cold to pay tribute to Lennon with all of the city’s radio stations going silent for 10 minutes.

Across the United States, tens of thousands flocked to parks, squares, parking lots or theatres, while millions more joined in around the world.

In Moscow, where Beatles albums had been banned but where their recordings circulated on the black market, tributes went on for days.

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Police finally moved to disperse hundreds of young people who had gathered near the USSR capital’s university with portraits of Lennon.

“You would have to go back to the tragic death of John Kennedy or Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the 60s to find a reaction like this in the wake of a celebrity,” an AFP account of the events said.

Emotions were equally high in the UK, especially in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool. Some 20,000 people sang ‘Give Peace a Chance’ at the end of a tribute concert.

“John Lennon is not dead. As long as his music lives he can’t die,” a Beatles impersonator told the Liverpool crowd.

The star would have turned 80 in October, and has continued to have an enduring influence on popular culture.

In September, Chapman apologised to Ono for his “despicable act”, saying that he thinks about it all the time and accepts he may spend the rest of his life behind bars.

© AFP 2020 with reporting from Press Association. 

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