For one generation, the tragedy of 22 November 1963 is an indelible memory—they will always remember exactly where they were when they first heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. For many people in the following generation, the date of 8 December 1980 has the same lasting impact—that awful moment when they first heard that John Lennon had been shot to death. Today is the 34th anniversary of his murder.
As shocking as the loss of President Kennedy was, the mind can at least grasp that, as a powerful political figure, it is not surprising that he had enemies. Whether Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman or his death was part of a complicated conspiracy—as many believe—history teaches us that influential world leaders always have opponents.
What makes the death of John Lennon so hard to comprehend and accept—even 34 years later—is that his murder was so senseless. The craziness of Beatlemania, and the fury provoked by his remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, was long behind him. In fact, for the five years before his murder, Lennon had basically dropped out of sight, retiring from the frantic pace of the music business in 1975 to enjoy ordinary daily pleasures most of us take for granted: taking care of the house, raising his son, baking bread, chatting with his wife Yoko Ono over dinner…for five years John Lennon was a contented househusband.
Then in 1980, he went back into the recording studio to make music again. He and Ono’s album Double Fantasy was released on November 17, and its first single, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” was on the airwaves. The album’s tone and Lennon’s outlook in recent interviews were optimistic and upbeat. Just three weeks later he was murdered.
When Lennon and Ono left their New York City apartment building “the Dakota” to go to the music recording studio around 5:00 p.m. on 8 December 1980, a fan named Mark David Chapman shook Lennon’s hand and asked his idol to sign his copy of Double Fantasy. Lennon obliged him. Chapman then hung around the entrance to the Dakota and waited.
Lennon and Ono returned at 10:49 that night. After they got out of the car, Chapman fired four bullets into Lennon’s back. Although police rushed the mortally wounded singer to a nearby hospital, John Lennon was pronounced dead at 11:07 p.m. Killed by a deranged fan… just as he was making his comeback…just as he was about to step into the security of his own home…it was, and is, too much to comprehend.
Historical newspapers (http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/) are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors—they also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers—or, as in the case of this story, perhaps events that you yourself lived through. If you were alive in 1980, where were you when you first heard the news that John Lennon had been killed? Please share your stories with us in the comments.
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