The Dec. 22, 1980, cover of TIME
By Lily Rothman
December 8, 2015

In the days after Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, the area around the gates of the Dakota, Lennon’s apartment building in New York City, quickly turned into a makeshift memorial. Flowers and signs from fans quoting Beatles lyrics were displayed alongside the more official remembrances, as world leaders made their way to honor an artist whose life had been ended too early.

The killing was shocking not only for its senselessness, but also because Lennon managed to escape many of other pitfalls of rock stardom. “He beat the rock-‘n’-roll life,” TIME’s remembrance quoted Steve Van Zandt saying the day after Lennon died. “Beat the drugs, beat the fame, beat the damage. He was the only guy who beat it all.”

So it makes sense that, as the story reported, flowers and signs were just the beginning of the aftershock:

Ringo Starr flew to New York to see Yoko. George Harrison, “shattered and stunned,” went into retreat at his home in Oxfordshire, England. Paul McCartney, whom Lennon plainly loved and just as plainly hated like the brother he never had, said, “I can’t tell you how much it hurts to lose him. His death is a bitter, cruel blow—I really loved the guy.” Having no wish to contribute to the hysteria that always follows the grief at such public mournings. McCartney, who has hired two bodyguards to protect himself and his family, said he would stay home in Sussex, England, even if there was a funeral. There was not. Lennon’s body was cremated in a suburban New York cemetery, and Ono issued a statement inviting everyone “to participate from wherever you are” in a ten-minute silent vigil on Sunday afternoon.

Before that, it had been a week of tributes. Radio stations from New Orleans to Boston cleared the air waves for Lennon and Beatles retrospectives. In Los Angeles, more than 2,000 people joined in a candlelight vigil at Century City; in Washington, D.C., several hundred crowded the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in a “silent tribute” that recalled the sit-ins of the ’60s. Record stores all over the country reported sellouts on the new Lennon-Ono album, Double Fantasy, their first record in five years, as well as the back stock of Lennon’s previous records.

Some reaction was tragic. A teenage girl in Florida and a man of 30 in Utah killed themselves, leaving notes that spoke of depression over Lennon’s death.

Read more from 1980, here in the TIME Vault: When the Music Died

Write to Lily Rothman at


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