John Lennon Biography

With the exceptions of Marilyn Monroe and possibly Michael Jackson, more has been written about the life and untimely death of John Lennon than any celebrity in this survey. As founder of the Beatles, the most popular and influential group in the history of rock 'n' roll, Lennon (with fellow-bandmate and writing partner Paul Mc- Cartney) provided the sound track to much of the 1960s and beyond. The artist's contribution to popular culture is incalculable. As a solo artist with second wife Yoko Ono he actively opposed the Vietnam War and became an outspoken, if eccentric, advocate for peace. Hand in hand with his widely documented commercial success, however, Lennon's personal life was marked by profound human loss, mercurial behavior, periods of intense substance abuse, a search for spirituality and social commitment, and an attempt to redefine himself as a husband and father. At the time of his murder on December 8, 1980 by Mark David Chapman, a schizophrenic former fan, the 40-year-old rock star was triumphantly emerging from a nearly five-year period of self-imposed creative exile. Lennon's death extinguished the promise of new music yet to come including, perhaps, the long cherished hope of Beatles fans for a reunion of rock's greatest band. More tragically, it left a devoted wife without a husband and two children without a father. John Winston (later Ono) Lennon was born at Oxford Street Maternity Hospital in Liverpool, England during an air raid alert on October 9, 1940. Father Alfred (Freddie) Lennon was a ship's steward and mother Julia Stanley listed her occupation on the marriage register as "cinema usherette" principally because she loved going to movies. As a merchant seaman, Freddie was often away from home and stopped sending support money 18 months after the child was born. Julia, fun-loving and social, wasted no time lamenting over her deadbeat husband and soon became pregnant by a soldier on leave from the war in 1944. The man's name is not known, but Julia gave the unwanted infant up for adoption through the Salvation Army. Julia was employed as a cafe waitress in Penny Lane when she met John (Bobby) Dykins, a hotel manager, in early 1946. Although still legally married to Freddie Lennon, Julia and five-year-old John moved into the man's one-room flat. The woman's family was scandalized by the immoral living arrangement. As matriarch of the clan, Mary Elizabeth Smith, Julia's oldest sister and John's "Aunt Mimi," demanded that she turn the child over to her to be raised in a more stable environment with her husband, George, a dairyman in Woolton. Mimi met Julia's curt refusal with a call to social services alerting the agency of the couple's unmarried status and demanding that the child be placed in her care. The social worker investigated the complaint, but saw no grounds worthy of breaking up a loving mother and her son. Undeterred, Mimi learned that John did not have his own room and was forced to sleep in the same bed as his mother. The determined woman placed another call to social services and this time John was taken from Julia and given to his Aunt Mimi until such time as his mother and Dykins could find more commodious living arrangements. Once the devoted couple (they later had two children of their own) found a roomier place, everyone agreed that John should stay with his aunt to avoid the psychic trauma of being uprooted from a stable home. As if on cue, Freddie Lennon reappeared on the scene to play his role in the roiling domestic drama. In July 1946, Julia took John to Blackpool to visit with his father recently returned to England from a long voyage. Tensions escalated to the point between the troubled couple that Fred - die angrily shouted an ultimatum at his five-yearold son-choose between your mother or me. John chose his absentee father, and a heartbroken Julia agreed and left. She was walking down the road when her sobbing son ran up and begged her not to leave him. Julia took John back to Liver - pool to live with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. Freddie Lennon did not re-enter his son's life for 18 years and then only at the height of Beatle - mania when he exposed his relation to the famous rocker in the media. Although understandably suspicious of the man's motives, Lennon was nevertheless cordial, blessed his father's upcoming marriage to a 19-year-old woman, and even bought them a house and put his "stepmother" on the payroll as a secretary. The hurt, however, was just too deep. Lennon and wife Yoko Ono were in primal scream therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov and the seismic event of October 30, 1970, at Tittenhurst Park, the couple's mansion in Ascot, Berkshire, could possibly be explained as a necessary milestone in the healing of the rocker's damaged psyche. On his 30th birthday, Lennon informed Freddie that he was cutting off all financial sup - port and explained in excruciating detail the pain caused by his father's abandonment. John Lennon no longer wanted this man in his life. Father and son would not reconcile until John phoned him shortly before Freddie Lennon died from cancer in a charity ward at a hospital in Brighton on April 1, 1976. John Lennon was raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George in their middle-class home, Men - dips, at 251Menlove Avenue, in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. Julia, though she remained a vital presence in his life, was relegated to the role of a distant relative while Aunt Mimi supplanted her as the child's mother. Personality-wise, the two strongest female influences in the young child's life could not have been more dissimilar. Julia was warm, outgoing, and quick to show affection. She loved music and as a banjo player taught John his first chords on guitar. John was permitted to play music in the house Julia and Dykins shared with their two daughters, while Mimi insisted he play only on the glassed-in porch at Mendips. Undemonstrative in showing affection, but equally loving in her way as Julia, Aunt Mimi raised the youngster according to strict middle-class values. She encouraged him to read and nurtured his early interest in drawing. Uncle George expressed no such reserve in his love for the child and John adored him. The 14-year-old Lennon was shattered when his beloved uncle died of a brain hemorrhage on June 5, 1955. At five, John attended Dovedale Road Primary and was considered a bright if headstrong student. Even at this early age the seeds of Lennon's inherent distrust of authority were apparent in his unwillingness to be anything but an individual. In September 1952, the 11 year old entered Quarry Bank High School, a state suburban facility. Administrators and teachers quickly identified Lennon as a behavior problem who had no interest in studying or showing respect to authority. He became the class clown and used his bitingly sarcastic wit to lash out at anyone he felt to be weak taking a special delight in tormenting cripples and those with deformities. A talent for art manifested itself in a series of devastating line drawn caricatures of teachers and classmates. Multiple disciplinary canings dished out by school administrators over the years did nothing to curb Lennon's penchant towards disrespect and disruption. Within months after the sudden death of Len - non's beloved Uncle George at 52 in June 1955, the American film Rock Around the Clock played Britain in 1956. The movie featured performances by U.S. rock 'n' roll acts like Bill Haley & His Comets and helped inspire the teddy boy craze in the United Kingdom. Soon, 16 year old boys (including John Lennon) were wearing their hair greased back in a "duck's ass" and dressed in tight stovepipe pants and jackets. While Aunt Mimi opposed the music, Julia bought Elvis Presley's singles and she and John danced to them in her kitchen. Rock 'n' roll gave Lennon the perfect natural outlet for his resentment of authority and love of attention. Inspired by Presley and British musician Lonnie Donegan, Lennon formed a skiffle band (the Blackjacks later changed to the Quarry Men) and purchased his first guitar for ?5 from a mail order catalog. Julia later bought her son a ?17 model after his cheap guitar fell apart from constant use. The Quarry Men played skiffle (because of its popularity and the simplicity of the music and instruments-washboard, jugs, teabox chest bass) in churches, youth clubs and carnivals in the areas. On July 6, 1957, undoubtedly among the most important dates in the history of rock 'n' roll, the Quarry Men played a garden fete at St. Peter's Church in Woolton. Lennon, nearly 17 and sporting teddy boy gear and slicked back hair, downed a few ales for courage before the show. Though slightly inebriated when he joined the other Quarry Men on an outdoor platform set in a field away from the church he impressed the audience, especially Paul Mc- Cartney, with his raw energy and stage presence. McCartney, at 15 a year and eight months younger than Lennon, attended the show with a friend who was eager to introduce him to the leader of the Quarry Men. Unlike Lennon, McCartney was a talented musician who was raised in a musical family. After the show, their mutual friend made the introductions and McCartney instantly impressed the older Lennon by tuning his guitar (a skill John had yet to learn). More noteworthy, McCartney possessed encyclopedic knowledge of the lyrics to dozens of Lennon's favorite songs. A short time later, Lennon through a friend offered McCartney a spot in the band after overcoming his fear that the younger boy's superior musicianship and knowledge of rock 'n' roll might one day prove to be a possible threat to his leadership of the band. Lennon, however, saw in McCartney a powerful ally in moving the Quarry Men away from skiffle to the rock 'n' roll he wanted to write and play. George Harrison, nearly 15, was Paul McCartney's friend and classmate at the Liverpool Institute, and a talented lead guitarist devoted to his instrument. Although eight months younger than McCartney and three years Lennon's junior, Harrison joined the Quarry Men in early 1958. Not surprisingly given his disdain for academe, Lennon failed his general certificate education exam, but on the strength of a letter of support from a friendly teacher at Quarry Bank High School was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art in September 1957. Lennon loved the freedom of college life and devoted himself full-time to drinking, womanizing, and wearing teddy boy outfits accessorized by a guitar slung across his back. The charismatic loner went out of his way to offend teachers and classmates alike and was renowned and feared for his witty, sarcastic, and deeply hurtful remarks. One saving grace of the art college was its location just around the corner from the Liverpool Institute where McCartney and Harrison, 15, were students. The pair spent lunch hours with Lennon in a spare room at his school where they played hits of the day and worked on their own songs. On July 15, 1958, the 17 year old suffered the most traumatic event in his life. Mother Julia, 44, and Aunt Mimi were still close and together had raised an anarchic, but loving son. After having tea with Mimi at Mendips, Julia was crossing Menlove Road on her way to the bus stop two hundreds yards away when she was struck by a car and instantly killed. The novice driver, an off-duty policeman, was drunk and inadvertently hit the gas pedal instead of the brake when he saw her crossing. The cop was acquitted at trial and received only a reprimand and brief suspension of duty from the job. Lennon was devastated by the loss, but Paul Mc- Cartney well understood the pain of losing a mother. His had died of breast cancer when he was 14. A few months after Julia's death, Lennon met Cynthia (Cyn) Powell in a lettering class he was forced to take by teachers who refused to have him in their classes. The pair started dating and would make love in the one-room flat of Lennon's closest friend and classmate, Stuart Sutcliffe, a brilliant student and artist who dreamed of becoming a painter. Lennon was insanely jealous and possessive of Cynthia and when she informed him years later in July 1962 that she was pregnant he readily married her on August 23, 1962. Their son, John Charles Julian Lennon, was born on April 8, 1963. The Quarry Men played their earliest shows in places like the Casbah Club, a venue in the cellar of a house in the Liverpool suburb of West Derby owned by Mona Best. The woman set up the nonalcoholic club as a place where her son, drummer Pete Best, could meet and perform with his mates. The group (without a drummer and with stand-in guitarist Ken Brown) played the opening of the Casbah Club on August 29, 1959, in front of a crowd of three hundred. In attendance was Mal Evans later to be the number one roadie (later road manager), gofer, and fixit man for the Beatles until their breakup in 1969. It was Evans, the "6th Beatle," who set off the alarm clock in "A Day in the Life" and banged the anvil on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." After the group split, Evans lost his identity in a haze of depression. On the night of January 4, 1976, Evans, 40, picked up a .30- caliber rifle and started to chase his 26-year-old girlfriend, Fran Hughes, around the rented duplex they shared at 8122 West 4th Street in Los Angeles. Hughes called the LAPD on her flipped out fiancee and when they responded Evans pointed the gun at them. Four of the six shots fired by the cops struck Evans killing him in - stantly. On November 15, 1959, the Quarry Men (briefly renamed Johnny and the Moondogs) auditioned at the London Hippodrome for Carroll "the Starmaker" Levis, a local promoter who booked several acts in an around Liverpool. The band lacked a drummer and Levis was unimpressed. Around this time, John Lennon and Paul McCartney formed an agreement that any songs they wrote together or separately would be listed as by "Lennon and McCartney," a tacit understanding of the importance each individual played in the songwriting process. In early 1960, Lennon convinced his art school friend Stu Sutcliffe to join the Quarry Men as a bassist. Sutcliffe, though possessing the good looks of a young James Dean, was a hopeless musician who often turned his back to the audience so they could not see how little he was playing. McCartney, the band's keyboardist, incessantly criticized the amateur and pressured Lennon to sack him. Allan Williams, owner of the Jacaranda, a club near the Liverpool College of Art, was tied into the local music scene and showcased rising talent like Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a band that featured Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey) on drums. In late 1959, Lennon and McCartney were changing the group's sound away from skiffle to the rock 'n' roll currently racing up the charts. To go along with the band's new sound, Lennon needed a new name. As an homage of sorts to his idol Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the rocker called his band the Beetles, quickly renamed the Silver Beetles with input from the other members of the former Quarry Men. Through Williams, the Beetles got an audition with Larry Parnes, a local promoter who had discovered Tommy Steele and Elvis wannabes like Billy Fury, Vince Eager, and Duffy Powell. They failed the audition even with drummer Tommy Moore, a 36-year-old forklift driver, and McCartney was more than ever convinced that Sutcliffe's playing was holding back the Silver Beetles. Parnes, however, offered the group a oneweek gig in May 1960 at the sum of ?18 each to back up singer Johnny Gentle on a tour of northern Scotland. The tour exposed the weakness of Sutcliffe's playing to the point that Lennon was openly critical of his friend, no doubt to the delight of McCartney who had been lobbying for months to get rid of the artist. Tommy Moore left the band immediately after the tour. Back in Liverpool the group (with Pete Best on drums) was becoming local favorites at ?10 a night gigs at the Casbah. On June 2, 1960, the band played a show at the Neston Institute under its new name-the Beatles. The next month, Lennon was officially expelled from the Liverpool College of Art. Desperate to make the band into a career, Lennon pestered Allan Williams for more and better paying gigs. The promoter came through with a sixweek engagement at a club in Hamburg, West Germany where British pop acts were enjoying huge popularity. McCartney, now openly at war with Sutcliffe, still played piano in the group, but clearly wanted to supplant Lennon's best friend on the bass. In fact, at this point in the band's career, McCartney could outplay anyone in the group on their instrument. The Beatles (Lennon, 19, McCartney, 18, Harrison nearly 17, with Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe) arrived in Hamburg in mid–August and played the Indra, a former strip club, on August 16, 1960. The band was moved days later to the larger Kaiserkeller club to alter - nate sets with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Liverpool's biggest group. Onstage from 8:00 P.M. until 2:00 A.M., the Beatles earned only 15 pounds a week each for doing six 45 minute shows a night in front of rough German crowds filled with working class drunks and prostitutes. To keep up with the frenetic pace of performing, Lennon and some other band members gobbled amphetamines just to keep awake. During the so-called "Hamburg experience," the Beatles developed a polish and stage presence with Lennon particularly exuding confidence while shouting insults from the stage at the largely non–English speaking crowd. Word of mouth spread in the city about the English group's dynamic stage performances and the wild man fronting the band. It was in Hamburg that the group changed their hairstyles to their signature mop tops and traded in their teddy boy outfits for black leather jackets with matching turtlenecks. The Beatles played the Kaiserkeller for four months until authorities were notified that George Harrison at 17 was under the legal age of 18 to work in Germany. The lead guitarist was deported back to Britain where the rest of the Beatles joined him in mid–December 1960. Back in Liverpool the Beatles became a local sensation knocking down ?60 a night and were recognized as the second-best group behind Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Driven by a loud, pulsating beat and dressed in black leather, the group looked and sounded unlike any band in town. On March 21, 1961, the Beatles played the Cavern club in Mathew Street in Liverpool's city center. Formerly a bastion of jazz, the club was forced by economic reality to book rock 'n' roll acts. The Beatles packed fans of the popular new music into the cramped dark cellar and over the next couple of years played there 292 times earning 25 shillings a set for lunch and evening shows. The band was a sensation performing frenetic versions of the popular hits of the day. Though the aloof Lennon was the clear leader and still directed caustic comments to the crowd, McCartney, the popular crowd pleaser, was sharing singing duties and involved in every aspect of the band. Their run at the Cavern club was interrupted by a second trip to Hamburg in the mid-summer of 1961. After the gigs, Stuart Sutcliffe informed the band that August that he would be staying in Hamburg with his German girlfriend to study art. Sutcliffe, Lennon's best friend, would die there on April 10, 1962 at the age of 21 from a cerebral hemorrhage. The Beatles resumed their popular run at the Cavern unaware that their fortunes were about to change dramatically. Brian Epstein, 27, operated his family's record store, NEMS (North End Music Store), located down the street from the Cavern. Epstein, a closeted homosexual, would become closest to Lennon in the band sparking ongoing speculation that the pair was sexually involved. On the advice of a friend, Epstein visited the Cavern at lunch time on November 9, 1961. Though the group was sloppy, raw, and undisciplined onstage, their charismatic stage presence and musical proficiency was undeniable. The group believed Epstein when he told them with his help they would be bigger than Elvis Presley, Lennon's idol. On December 3, 1961 Epstein became the Beatles' manager. Weeks later on Jan - uary 24, 1962, the band entered into an official management contract with Brian Epstein after agreeing to a list of his non-negotiable ground rules. The band must be punctual and profes - sional at all times (Lennon, Best, and Harrison were late for the initial meeting). The band would limit itself to rigid one hour shows and perform only its best repertoire. No more eating, drinking, or smoking onstage. Lennon was forbidden to curse or verbally abuse the audience. Tee-shirts, jeans, and leather jackets were to be replaced by coordinated suits and ties for a cleaner, more professional image. They could keep their music, he just wanted to package and promote the product. Girlfriends were okay, but Epstein demanded that the lads keep them in the background and not publicize the fact (as in Lennon's case) that they were taken. Female fans needed the illusion that their idols were available. Lastly, Epstein would receive 25 percent of the group's earnings while initially paying all their costs. Epstein relieved drummer Pete Best of his added responsibility of finding bookings for the group. As their new promoter, he held out for better venues and higher fees while trying to land the band a coveted recording contract. As proof of how hard he would work for the band if they signed an exclusive management contract with him, Epstein had earlier set up an audition for the Beatles at Decca studio on January 1, 1962. The band played none of their own material and waited three months to hear the bad news. The Decca rep did not like the group's sound and besides, guitar bands were on the way out. Epstein kept pressing and in May 1962 he got demo tapes of the group's original compositions "Hello Little Girl" and "Till There was You" to George Martin, a producer at Parlophone, a small label within the EMI empire. A classicallytrained musician, Martin agreed to give the group an audition at EMI studio in St. John's Wood in May 1962. In the audition, the band played a mix of its own compositions and popular covers. On Martin's recommendation, the Beatles were signed to a five year deal with Parlophone on June 4, 1962. There was just one stipulation-Martin (sources differ) did not think Pete Best was a steady enough drummer for the group. Fellowband members welcomed this opportunity to eliminate Best from the group. The darkly handsome drummer looked like a real pop star and his popularity with female fans overshadowed and threatened Lennon and McCartney. Epstein performed the unenviable task of firing Best on August 16, 1962 while the remaining band members avoided him. Two days after the sacking, Ringo Starr (not cursed with Best's good looks) was hired as his replacement. Starr, 22, recently between bands after leaving Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, knew the lads from the Liverpool scene and the Hamburg experience and personality- wise was a perfect unthreatening fit. Epstein told the drummer the only condition of his employment was to wear his hair down like the rest of the band. Under the management of Brian (the "5th Beatle") Epstein and guided by the production genius of George Martin, the Beatles (already a craze in Liverpool, but virtually unknown outside the port city) would become the biggest rock 'n' roll band in the world within two years of recording their first single, "Love Me Do," on September 4, 1962. The single climbed to Number 17 on the charts. The band's follow-up, "Please Please Me," re - leased in mid–January 1963 was Number 1 by February. The band's debut album, Please Please Me, was recorded in one 11 hour session on February 11, 1963, and was a smash hit. Epstein carefully controlled the group's image booking the Beatles on top British television shows and live performances. In one memorable appearance in the Royal Variety Performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London on November 4, 1963, Lennon irreverently suggested the wealthy audience members in the expensive seats should just rattle their jewelry instead of applauding. On February 7, 1964, the Beatles launched the "British Invasion" landing at New York's Kennedy Airport amid thousands of screaming fans. Their iconic appearance two nights later on The Ed Sullivan Show (in which they played their Number 1 U.S. hit, "I Want to Hold Your Hand") was viewed by an estimated 73 million people and firmly cemented the Beatles status as the most famous rock ‘n' roll band in the world. Until their highly publicized breakup in 1ate 1969 the Beatles redefined rock music with classic singles, albums, and three motion pictures (Hard Day's Night, 1964; Help!, 1965; Yellow Submarine, 1968). In 1968, John Lennon, rock star and multimillionaire, was clearly a restless man searching for some type of personal fulfillment. In August of 1967, his close friend and the band's troubled manager Brian Epstein, 32, died a probable sui - cide from a drug overdose. Lennon, as well, was abusing alcohol and drugs like LSD, cocaine, and heroin. In February 1968, Lennon, with fellowband members and an entourage in tow, traveled to India to study advanced meditation techniques with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru the rocker had proclaimed to be a "holy man." Lennon's spiritual quest ended in disaster when he learned the Maharishi was allegedly coming on to females in the group. The rock star unceremoniously left India in April and denounced the "holy man" as a fraud in the media. Lennon had first met Yoko Ono (born 1933), a Japanese performance artist, at an exhibition of her work at the Indica Gallery in London on November 9, 1966. Mutually intrigued by one another's intellect the pair kept in touch and became lovers in May 1968. Cynthia Lennon was granted an uncontested divorce on the grounds of adultery on November 8, 1968. For the next decade Lennon did little to see their son, Julian, finally reconciling with him in 1978. Ono became an omnipresent force during the 1968 recording sessions for The Beatles [White Album] and helped bring to the surface long simmering antagonisms between the band's two main creative elements, Lennon and McCartney. Meanwhile, Lennon and his new lover forged their own creative paths releasing their first collaboration, Unfinished Music, No. 1: Two Virgins, in November 1968. In early 1969 during the tortuous filming of Let It Be (the album of the same title would be released in 1970) Lennon announced he was through with the Beatles. For the next several years Lennon and McCartney took pot shots at one another in their solo albums while their business empire was contentiously picked over by their attorneys. Freed from the Beatles, Lennon devoted himself to several multi-media events with Ono and used his world-wide celebrity in creative ways ("bed-ins") to speak out against the Vietnam War. The couple married on Gibraltar on March 20, 1969. In 1971, the Lennons moved to New York City, and over the next five years waged a legal battle with the U.S. government to remain in the country. Arrested for cannabis possession in London in October 1968, Lennon (largely because of his outspoken political beliefs) had been classified as an "undesirable alien" and marked for deportation. In July 1976 his application for permanent residency status was approved after years of costly legal wrangling. By 1973, however, the John and Ono marriage was in trouble. Lennon was abusing alcohol and Ono insisted on a trial separation. In October 1973, the rocker began his legendary "Lost Weekend" in Los Angeles accompanied by May Pang, Ono's secretary and a woman handpicked by the performance artist to serve as her watchdog and Lennon's concubine. For months Lennon caroused with singer Harry Nilsson and broadcasting personality Elliott Mintz and generally exhibited violent drunken behavior that set a new standard for decadent rock star excess. After a nearly two year exile (including a year spent living apart from Ono in a New York apartment with Pang), Len - non returned home to his wife in January 1975. The couple now lived on the sixth-floor of the Dakota, an exclusive apartment building located on Central Park West at 72nd Street. After several miscarriages, Ono gave birth to a son, Sean Taro Ono Lennon, on October 9, 1975, the same month and day as Lennon's birthday 35 years earlier. When the rock star's contract with EMI expired in February 1976 he decided not to renew it. Over the next five years, Lennon entered a period of creative self-exile to devote himself full-time to the care of his son. Lennon, the house-husband, remained at home with Sean while Ono managed their business affairs. During this exile, however, persistent rumors circulated that Lennon was heavy into narcotics, especially cocaine and heroin. In November 1980, the 40-year-old ended his creative exile with the release of Double Fantasy on Geffen Records. The collaboration between John and Yoko was an overt reaffirmation of their love and a testament to the importance of the life he shared with his family. Meanwhile, the rock star's refusal to be a prisoner of celebrity was putting his life in jeopardy. Lennon's residence in the Dakota turned the venerable apartment building into a tourist attraction and mecca for his fans, but he still enjoyed relative freedom. The couple loved the ease and convenience of walking to - gether in Central Park across from the Dakota and visiting neighborhood restaurants and bars. In London, glimpsing the former Beatle on the street would have caused a riot. Tragically, Lennon's naive lack of concern for his personal security would end in his murder at the hands of a deranged former fan who blamed the star for ruining his life. Mark David Chapman was born on May 10, 1955, at Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. The relationship between his father, David Curtis Chapman, a Staff Sgt. in the U.S. Air Force, and mother, Diane Chapman, a nurse, was reportedly marred by abuse. As a child, Chapman dreamed of killing the man who made their homelives unbearable. To escape his father's criticism, the youngster created a fantasy world populated with "Little People" subject to his total control. Routinely picked upon at school, the dumpy, overweight youngster vented his frustration by push - ing an imaginary button on his sofa tied to explo sives. The detonation blew up the homes of the Little People killing hundreds of thousands of them. Chapman's other emotional outlet was music. He worshipped the Beatles, especially John Lennon, and plastered the walls of his room with posters of the band. Discovering drugs in 1969 while a high school student in Decatur, Georgia, the 14 year old routinely dropped LSD and found the kaleidoscopic swirl of lights the acid produced in his head replaced the Little People. Letting his hair grow, playing guitar, and listening to rock music gave the teen an identity. In 1970 he briefly ran away from home and spent time in Miami looking to hook up with "freaks." Within a year of returning to Decatur, Chapman became a born-again Christian through a girl he liked and her friends who played in a Christian rock band. On October 25, 1970, Chapman gave his life to Christ and weaned himself off drugs. In his new persona as religious zealot, the teen turned his back on the Beatles and was especially rankled with John Lennon whose comment in 1966 that the band was more popular than Jesus greatly angered him. Chapman cut his long hair, replaced his Hippie clothes with black trousers, black shoes, and a white shirt, and began handing out Bible tracts. The born-again Chapman was attending two different prayer meetings a week when an incident occurred that ended his commitment to Christianity. The enthusiastic teen was at a meeting and anxious to perform a song he had written about Jesus, but was told there was no time. Chapman closed his Bible, stopped praying, and started listening nonstop to the music of Todd Rundgren, a performer then in the beginning of a well-publicized feud with John Lennon. For the next six years (1970–1975), Chapman replaced prayer and meetings with a fervent commitment to the De Kalb County Young Men's Christian Association in Decatur, first as a counselor, then as an assistant program director. The kids adored the nerdy man they called "Captain Nemo" (a character in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), and Chapman's outstanding service earned him a nomination in 1975 to the YMCA's international program. With two other counselors, Chapman was assigned to work a summer in Beirut, Lebanon, then in the midst of a bloody civil war. Within a short time, the workers were evacuated and Chapman found himself back in Decatur, Georgia. As an alternative, the 20 year old was offered a $200 a week position at a YMCA–run resettlement camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, counseling "boat people" displaced by the Vietnam War. Chapman worked 16 hour days helping the refugees and was moved by their suffering. In October 1975, the counselor renewed his acquaintance with Jessica Blankenship, a former grade school classmate he got to know better during his stint as a born-again Christian. The couple became engaged after she visited him at Fort Chaffee and he made plans to join her at Covenant College, a fundamentalist Presbyterian school in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. A few weeks earlier Chapman, 20, had lost his virginity to a town woman and felt incredible guilt over the episode. As penance, he worked even longer hours at the camp prior to its closing at the end of 1975. In the spring of 1976, Mark David Chapman joined his fiancee at Covenant College and enrolled in classes. Plagued by depression triggered by a class he took on human warfare and the refugee problem he had experienced first-hand at Fort Chaffee, Chapman suffered a nervous breakdown. He dropped out of one class, struggled through the rest, said goodbye to Blankenship, and returned to his old job at the YMCA in Decatur. Chapman quit in the middle of the summer and took a job as a night security guard at the Atlanta airport. Isolated for long stretches of time, Chapman's depression deepened and his sense of identity, never strong, weakened. As a YMCA counselor in Lebanon he had enjoyed prestige and responsibility, now he was just a lowly paid security guard driving alone around an airport at night. In 1977, Chapman, 22, flew to Hawaii with a single thought in mind-commit suicide in a beautiful tropical setting. He had spent months planning and reading about the islands and upon arrival called Blankenship to say goodbye. Though no longer interested in the unstable man as a future husband, she did not want his death on her head. Chapman returned home just long enough to realize it was over with Blankenship and to argue with his family. He returned to Hawaii this time with a plan to carve out a life in the islands. Once there, however, his attitude quickly changed. Chapman burned through his savings and attempted to support himself in Honolulu by working a variety of odd jobs including peeling rotten potatoes at a snack food factory. Within two months of vowing to start a new life, Chapman was suicidal. The 22 year old spent his last dollar to rent a compact car and drove to a deserted stretch of beach. He fastened a plastic hose to the car's exhaust, snaked the tubing in through a slightly opened window, turned on the ignition, and waited to die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Chapman would have died and John Lennon lived had only the plastic hose not melted on the car's hot exhaust pipe. Suffering from acute depression, Chapman was admitted to Castle Memorial Hospital in Kalilua on June 22, 1977, and placed under a suicide watch. In less than a week his depression lifted and he was happily playing guitar, chatting up hospital personnel, and leaving the hospital grounds on day passes. Excited about his future, Chapman was discharged on July 5, and hired part-time at the hospital as a housekeeper and maintenance man. Well-liked at the facility, he was accepted by staff and made several friends in the community including the Rev. Peter Anderson, a minister at a local Presbyterian church. The pastor was so impressed with the recovered mental patient that he invited Chapman to take up residence at the home he shared with his wife. In 1978, Chapman decided he needed a change of pace. He had saved his money for months to go on an around the world cruise and contacted his travel agent, Gloria Abe, a shy 27-year-old Japanese-American. Chapman visited the woman often at her office and showered her with deliveries of flowers. Abe reciprocated his interest. On July 6, 1978, Chapman embarked on his world tour visiting countries like Japan, Thailand, and India. In Geneva, Switzerland he attended the World Alliance of the YMCA returning to Hawaii in August 20, 1978. Gloria Abe was waiting for him at the airport. The pair became inseparable. Abe, aware of Chapman's trouble with depression, was willing to cope with any problems because she found him to be so sensitive and spiritual. In early 1979 the couple's courtship was complicated by the re-emergence of Diane Chapman into her son's life. The 48-year-old woman announced that after nearly 25 years of marriage she was divorcing her husband and moving to Hawaii. After Chapman and Gloria were married on June 2, 1979 in a ceremony conducted by the Reverend Anderson, the woman became a constant, smothering presence in their lives. Gloria complained about the situation and was informed by her new husband that a son's first duty was to his mother. At the end of 1979, Chapman was given a better job at the hospital as a public relations assistant and print shop worker. In his new positions, the former patient conducted hospital tours, photographed visiting dignitaries, and designed and produced brochures. The print shop was situated in the basement of the hospital and Chapman found the work isolating and boring while the constant smell of chemicals gave him headaches. To cope with the twin pressures of work and marriage, he binged on junk food (causing his weight to balloon) and became argumentative and confrontational with staff. In late 1979, a tense interaction between Chapman and a nurse who complained to him about a late printing assignment ended badly when he was given the choice to resign with a glowing recommendation or be fired without one. Chapman resigned and severed all connection with the facility and friends he had known since 1976. On December 26, 1979, the 23 year old started a new job working nights as an unarmed security guard at a high-rise complex at 444 Nahua Street near Waikiki Beach. In debt, bored, and feeling an extreme sense of isolation, Chapman started drinking heavily and began to converse with the Little People in his head, returned after a multiyear absence. He informed his wife that the Little People would help him reorganize his life and get them out of debt. On October 23, 1980, Chapman quit his security guard job and signed out as "John Lennon." Frustrated, angry, and lacking a coherent sense of personal identity or direction, Chapman only found comfort in his daily visits to the Honolulu Public Library where the ordered rows of books helped him to cope. Sometime in 1980, he remembered having read as a teen J.D. Salinger's coming of age novel The Catcher in the Rye. Since its publication in 1951, the book's protagonist, 16-year-old "Holden Caulfield," had become a symbol a teenage alienation and his fight against the phoniness of life had strongly appealed to other "lone gun" type stalkers like John Hinckley, President Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin, and Robert John Bardo, the man who murdered television star Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989. Unable to secure the popular book at the library, the 25-year-old bought a copy and instantly reconnected with Holden Caulfield. Over the next months, he became obsessed with the novel re-reading it several times and committing long passages to memory. He bought an extra copy for his wife and inscribed it from "Holden Caulfield." While at the library scanning the shelves, Chapman ran across a copy of Anthony Fawcett's book, John Lennon: One Day at a Time, featuring photographs of the rock star on the roof of the Dakota, his New York City residence across from Central Park. The more he read the angrier he became. In true Holden Caulfield–type logic, Chapman concluded Lennon was a phony who had lied to a generation of kids. While Lennon sang a philosophy of imagining no possessions, he was living in a multimillion dollar apartment situated in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Lennon was laughing at people like him who had built their entire lives around the lies in his music. The rock star had ruined his life. As Chapman later explained to a prison psychiatrist, "The Catcher in the Rye was the stove and the Lennon book was the fire." The tipping point came when he checked Lennon's album John Lennon-Plastic Ono Band from the library and gave it a close listen. In the song "God" the rock star flatly stated he did not believe in anything ( Jesus, Buddha, the Beatles, etc.) other than himself and wife Yoko Ono. The rock star's lack of religiosity angered Chapman. He could find his identity in a phony world only by killing its preeminent prophet, John Lennon. In conference with the Little People, Chapman meticulously planned the ex–Beatle's murder. On October 27, 1980, Chapman paid $190 for a .38-caliber Charter Arms Special pistol at a Honolulu gun shop. At the police station, he lied on the gun permit application as to whether he had ever been hospitalized for a mental illness. No computerized background check was run. Chapman, however, did not purchase ammuni - tion reasoning that if he was arrested with an unloaded weapon the punishment would not be as severe. He later learned that New York's gun laws (among the most rigid in America) do not even permit a licensed handgun to be brought into the city. Buying ammunition legally in New York was out of the question. Chapman told wife Gloria that he was going to New York City to clear his head and with $5,000 in cash borrowed from his father-in-law made his first flight to the Big Apple on October 29, 1980. Over the next few days, he cased the Dakota attempting to become friends with the doormen and glean information as to Lennon's movements. The doormen, trained not to discuss the building's celebrity tenants, were cordial, but non-committal. Fans and autograph seekers were permitted to wait for Lennon and other star tenants (Gilda Radner, Leonard Bernstein, Mia Farrow, Lauren Bacall), but not to block the sidewalk or cause a disruption. Unable to legally purchase ammo, the 25 year old visited an old friend, a sheriff 's deputy in Henry County, Georgia, in the Atlanta area on November 5. Chapman spent the day with his unsuspecting friend shooting at targets in the woods. The sheriff 's deputy demonstrated a combat stance employing a two-handed grip to steady the weapon for a more accurate shot. Chapman explained his situation. He brought a gun with him from Hawaii for protection in New York City, but now could not purchase ammunition. Unwittingly, his friend gave him five .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Plus P hollow-points designed to fragment on impact. Chapman returned to the city and con - tinued to stalk the Dakota for days without glimpsing Lennon. After being moved by the film Ordinary People, he called Gloria and tearfully informed her that he had planned to murder the phony rock star, but not now. Her love had redeemed him although he had proven to himself that he possessed the power to kill Lennon whenever he chose. Chapman returned to Hawaii on November 12, 1980 a dangerously sick man. He terrorized Gloria, pushing her against a wall and spitting on her if she deigned to disagree with him. He phoned in a bomb threat to a luxury hotel and placed anonymous harassing phone calls to people in authority like his former landlord and a doctor at Castle Memorial Hospital. On the street, he confronted Hare Krishnas until someone told him they could get violent if provoked. On Saturday, December 6, 1980, Mark David Chapman made his final trip to New York City. Landing at La Guardia Airport, he took a cab to the Dakota, cased the building, and checked into a $16.50 a night room at the West Side YMCA, a ten minute walk from Lennon's residence. On the morning of Sunday, December 7, Chapman bought a copy of Lennon's recently released album, Double Fantasy, at a record store near the Dakota and relocated to Room 2730 at the upscale Sheraton Centre at Seventh Avenue and 52nd Street. For the next three hours, the assassin stood clutching the album outside the gate of the Dakota in the company of other fans waiting to see the rock star. Tiring, he visited a bookshop and purchased a copy of the January 1, 1981, issue of Playboy featuring an in-depth interview with Lennon and a photograph of "Dorothy" and the "Cowardly Lion" in The Wizard of Oz. Back in his room at the Sheraton, Chapman called an escort service, but when the hooker arrived he told her he was not interested in sex. He just wanted to give her a soothing massage. She left hours later with $190 for engaging in mutual masturbation. Afterwards, he phoned wife Gloria collect and informed her of his need to get Christ back in his life. Ringing off, Chapman picked up the room copy of The Bible, turned to the Book of John and wrote in pen "Lennon" after the words The Gospel Accord - ing to John. The assassin woke early on the morning of Monday, December 8, and before leaving his room carefully arranged a tableau on the dresser for the authorities to find after he murdered John Lennon. In a semicircle arrangement, he placed his passport, an eight-track tape of Todd Rundgren tunes, The Bible opened to the amended The Gospel According to John ("Lennon"), a letter of commendation from his YMCA supervisor at Fort Chaffee, and photographs of himself surrounded by smiling Vietnamese children. He put the recently purchased photo of "Dorothy" and the "Cowardly Lion" in pride of place in the center of the arrangement. Returning to the bookstore, Chapman bought another copy of The Catcher in the Rye and a black Bic pen. On the inside cover of the book he wrote his twisted explanation for the heinous act he was about to commit-"This is my statement. Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye." Walking to the Dakota with his copy of Double Fantasy under his arm, Chapman milled around with other fans. Remarkably, he missed Lennon step out of a cab and enter the building earlier in the day. Later, he briefly interacted on the street with Helen Seaman, Sean Lennon's nanny, and her charge, the rock star's five-yearold son. Chapman made a point to shake Sean Lennon's hand. Around 5:00 P.M., Lennon and Yoko Ono emerged from the Dakota in the midst of their entourage to take a limousine to the Record Plant, a recording studio on West 44th Street. Free lance photographer Paul Goresh caught the eerie image on film of Lennon graciously signing a copy of Double Fantasy for the man who would kill him six hours later. The photographer left around 8:00 P.M. leaving Chapman to await the rock star's return with Jose Perdomo, the Dakota doorman stationed at the sentry booth. Around 10:50 P.M., the limousine carrying Lennon and Yoko pulled up to the Dakota. Yoko got out first and walked up the driveway under the archway toward the steps. Lennon followed carrying a tape recorder and some loose cassettes and walked by Chapman. The rock star was a few steps inside the archway when the assassin pulled the .38-caliber pistol from his coat pocket, dropped into a two-handed combat stance and pumped five shots at Lennon's back. The first two hollowpoints struck the former Beatle in the back, spinning him to face his killer as two of the next three bullets slammed into his shoulder, and exploded in his body wreaking deadly havoc in his chest cavity and severing his windpipe. Lennon staggered up the five stairs to an interior guard office and fell face-down on the floor. Chapman let Perdomo shake the gun out of his hand and was intermittently sitting on his coat and pacing up and down on the sidewalk reading his copy of The Catcher in the Rye when police arrived minutes later. Taken into custody, he begged officers not to hurt him. Police carried the mortally wounded rock star to their patrol car and sped him to Roosevelt General Hospital. In the emergency room, a team of seven doctors worked furiously to save Lennon, but he had lost 80 percent of the total volume of blood in his body. Lennon, to many the voice of his generation, was pronounced dead at 11:07 P.M. At the police station, his 25-year-old killer signed a handwritten confession and told psychiatrists that the book he signed was his only statement. Lennon's remains were cremated on December 10, 1980 at a crematorium in Hartsdale, New York, and the ashes given to Yoko Ono. On December 14, 1980, the unprecedented outpour - ing of grief at Lennon's senseless murder was shared by millions of his fans. At 2:00 P.M. EST all stood united in a ten-minute silent vigil observed world-wide in memory of the martyred rock star. Chapman was charged with second-degree murder and ruled competent to stand trial after being examined by psychiatrists at Bellevue Hospital. Fearful that outraged fans would storm the hospital and lynch Lennon's killer, authorities moved him to Rikers Island. At a hearing in January 1981, Chapman pleaded "not guilty by reason of insanity." In his solitary cell at Rikers the troubled assassin experienced a "revelation." He killed Lennon to promote the reading of The Catcher in the Rye. Chapman had boxes of the novel brought to his cell so he could inscribe them with his name (adding under it, "The Catcher in the Rye"). Lennon had to die so he (Chapman) could be the "Catcher in the Rye" for his generation. Chapman later gave up his insanity defense in June 1981 after the Lord "spoke to his heart" and instructed him to plead guilty. He later regretted doing so. Chapman's murder plea was accepted on August 24, 1981 and he was sentenced to a prison term of 20 years to life. Currently incarcerated in a protective custody unit in Attica to prevent his certain killing were he to be placed in general population, Chapman has been denied parole five times since October 2000 although he insists he is "ashamed" of the murder and is no longer a threat to the community. The 55-year-old killer is scheduled to be interviewed by a three-member parole board panel during the week of August 9, 2010. Yoko Ono, as she has done since the murder, opposes Chapman's release. Given his erratic mental state and the fact he killed one of the most beloved and recognizable people of the twentieth century it seems highly unlikely that "The Catcher in the Rye" will ever be released.

Tags: UK, Singer, 1940-1949

Comments