34th Anniversary of Ex-Beatle John Lennon’s Death

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.

photo: ofJohn Lennon performing with the Beatles in 1964

Photo: John Lennon performing with the Beatles in 1964. Credit: VARA; Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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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.

Beatle John Lennon Slain, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 December 1980

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 December 1980, page 1

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.

'Screwball' Kills John Lennon, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 9 December 1980

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 9 December 1980, page 1

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.

Thousands Mourn Loss of Legendary Beatle (John Lennon), Centre Daily Times newspaper article 9 December 1980

Centre Daily Times (State College, Pennsylvania), 9 December 1980, page 1

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.

Gunman Charged with Ex-Beatle's (John Lennon) Death, Daily Advocate newspaper article 9 December 1980

Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 9 December 1980, page 1

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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Beatlemania Comes to America! (7 February 1964)

Were you there when it happened—when the Beatles arrived in America and a new era began? Can you believe it was half a century ago? Part of the fun of doing genealogy research in historical newspapers is not just learning about our ancestors’ past; it is also about reliving our own past, the history that we have lived through.

photo of the Beatles arriving in America 7 February 1964

Photo: The Beatles arriving in America, 7 February 1964. From left to right: John, Paul, George & Ringo. Source: UPI photo. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Beatles are now so established as icons—not just in rock ’n’ roll music but in popular culture overall—that it is hard to imagine a time when they were new and unknown. However, that was the case for most of the then-record television audience of 73 million American viewers who watched the Ed Sullivan Show Sunday night, 9 February 1964. That was the first time the Beatles, who had just arrived from England two days before, appeared live on American television. History was made that night, and American music and culture would never be the same.

Looking at film clips of the rapturous members of the Sullivan audience that historic night, screaming and swooning at the Beatles’ every word and gesture—as well as the throng packed outside the CBS studio clamoring to get in—it is easy to accept the conventional wisdom that the Beatles were an immediate success in America.

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That was not necessarily the view of the mainstream media at the time—its embrace of the four “mop-topped” Britons was not universal.

cartoon of the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, Oregonian newspaper cartoon 11 February 1964

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 February 1964, page 4

In fact, as the following six newspaper articles show, many reporters and reviewers were disdainful of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. In reading these comments now, in light of today’s acceptance of the Beatles as the greatest rock group ever, it is startling to read such descriptions as “disquieting,” “revolting,” “unkempt, untalented noisemakers,” and “distracting bore.” One of these reviewers certainly got it right, however, with this comment: “some things may never be the same.”

And Here Comes the Beatle Bomb, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 10 February 1964

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 10 February 1964, page 26

Seattle critic C. J. Skreen included this zinger in his newspaper review:

The Beatles have relatively little talent, if their Sullivan show performance can be believed, but they appear to be a rather likeable crew in contrast to their American predecessors in our native art form.

Their success seems to be a combination of shaggy locks, skintight suits with velvet collars and a sharp press agent who has made Beatlemania the wave of the future among those groups which educators like to describe as the future leaders of our country.

He concluded by asserting that, after inflicting the Beatles on America, “the British can consider the score settled for the Revolutionary War.”

Adult Finds Beatlemania Real Puzzle, Oregonian newspaper article 11 February 1964

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 February 1964, page 19

New York critic Cynthia Lowry included these comments in her review:

Beatle clothes look about two sizes too small, and I’ve seen Hungarian sheep dogs with more attractive hairdos.

But thousands of squealing young girls get their message. Camera shots of panting youngsters in Sullivan’s audience were disquieting, in fact.

Maybe after two more exposures to the Beatles on television, all of us elderly people will become Beatlenuts, yeah, yeah, yeah, but I doubt it.

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Oregon critic Francis Murphy was also not impressed.

review of the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Oregonian newspaper article 11 February 1964

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 February 1964, page 19

Nor was Cleveland critic Bert Reesing.

Beatles on TV, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 February 1964

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 February 1964, page 19

Reesing’s review included these comments:

Perhaps it’s a dangerous mission for anyone older than 16 to offer an account of the initial mop-topped TV appearance of the Beatles. Shades of Elvis! The mass hysteria by Sullivan’s teenaged girl audience was nothing short of revolting.

…We’ve all heard the foot-stomping group’s recordings. In fact, it’s been nearly impossible to escape them on radio. But to see them in clothes too tight and sheepdog hair too long, and hear them sing not so good in their specialty number, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was a distracting bore.

I missed their second appearance of the evening on the Sullivan hour. Their cavorting and the fits of ecstatic moaning by panting young persons in the audience didn’t hold my hand. I switched the dial…“yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Beatlemaniacs Squeal as Shaggy Kings Sing, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 10 February 1964

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 10 February 1964, page 3

This newspaper review concluded with this comment:

In Queens, meanwhile, a rabbi addressing a youth group inveighed against the “deplorable, immature adoration showered on the…four unkempt, untalented noisemakers” and pleaded for a return to behavior “that does not border on the fringe of lunacy.”

Beatle Fans Steal Show, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 February 1964

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 February 1964, page 38

This newspaper review article emphasized the crazed reaction of the Beatles’ studio audience:

Throughout their two appearances during the show, the 721 members of the audience—mostly young girls—kept up a steady stream of squeals, sighs and yells.

The four British imports, appearing for a total of about 20 minutes on the hour-long show, may well have ended up with second billing.

Camera crews were lavish in their shots of the audience, showing young girls leaping from their seats, throwing their arms into the air and staring bug-eyed. Some appeared as if on the verge of coma, staring open-mouthed.

At one point before the program, there was some doubt that the four singers would be able to make their way into the studio through the masses of teenage fans trying for a glimpse of their idols.

But hundreds of Manhattan police, including mounted officers, shoved back the eager fans and cleared a path for the four entertainers.

If you have memories of the Beatles’ 1964 arrival at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport February 7, or their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show February 9—or any of the Beatles’ subsequent appearances in America—please share them in the comments section.

Do you love American music? Discover song lyrics, get the details of famous musical appearances, and find out more about the lives and careers of your favorite musical artists in historical newspapers. Read news articles about several genres of music across every American era dating from the Colonial period up to modern day times in GenealogyBank’s extensive online archives.