How The Beatles reacted to news of John Lennon's murder

6 December 2023, 13:52

John Lennon was mindlessly murdered on 8th December 1980. But how did the rest of The Beatles react to the loss of their former band mate?
John Lennon was mindlessly murdered on 8th December 1980. But how did the rest of The Beatles react to the loss of their former band mate? Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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December 8, 1980, is a day we'll never forget.

It's the day when the unthinkable happened - when John Lennon was murdered in cold blood by a deranged fan called Mark Chapman.

As people were gearing up for Christmas, Lennon himself had just finished a recording session before heading back to his New York home at The Dakota apartments.

Waiting for him was Chapman - who John had signed an autograph for earlier that day - who shot the former Beatle legend in the back.

A new documentary series, John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial, will re-examine the tragedy that made the world re-evaluate our relationship with fame and the famous.

Mindlessly murdered at the age of 40, just as he was on the precipice of reviving his career after a five-year break with Double Fantasy, he was robbed of his life whilst his son Sean Lennon and wife Yoko Ono were robbed of a father and a husband.

John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial as well as featuring unseen crime scene photos, eyewitness interviews, and conversations with Lennon's friends, and Chapman's lawyers, will also reveal the 'Imagine' icon's final words.

Jay Hastings, who worked on the front desk at the Lennon's apartment block heard the last words he uttered, revealing John cried out "I'm shot" as he entered the building before falling to the floor with blood coming from his mouth.

It was an incident which shook the music world to the core. But how did the rest of The Beatles react to the murder of their former bandmate?

How did George Harrison react to John Lennon's murder?

George Harrison and Ringo Starr discuss the death of John Lennon

George Harrison was working on his own album when John was murdered, and was informed of his death as he was in bed.

Discussing Lennon's death with Michael Aspel in 1988 - alongside Ringo Starr - George said his initial reaction was to fall back to sleep after being notified.

"I was in bed at the time, in England. The call came through sometime in the morning, four or five in the morning. I didn’t take the call. Olivia took the call, and she said, 'John's been shot."

"And I thought, 'Oh, how bad is it?' I just thought maybe a flesh wound or something like that, but she said, 'No, that's it, he's dead.'

He continued: "I just went back to sleep, actually. Maybe it was just a way of getting away from it. I just went to sleep and waited to see what it said the next morning, and he was still dead the next morning, unfortunately."

George Harrison and John Lennon in 1967. (Photo by Stephen Shakeshaft/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
George Harrison and John Lennon in 1967. (Photo by Stephen Shakeshaft/Mirrorpix via Getty Images). Picture: Getty

George Harrison 'All Those Years Ago' (Official Video)

George's beliefs about life and death meant that he wasn't being aloof or disrespectful in any way, as he went on to explain.

"In the Bhagavad Gita it says there was never a time where you didn't exist, and there will never be a time where you cease to exist. The only thing that changes is our bodily condition. The soul comes in the body, and we go from birth to death."

"We had a lot of experiences. I know John - he knew who he was, that he was a soul that happened to be in this body for this period of time," Harrison added.

"I think it's unfortunate the way he went out, but it doesn’t really matter. He's OK, and life flows on within you and without you."

George felt this way about his own life, in the lead up to his death in 2001. He reworked the lyrics to 'All Those Years Ago' as a tribute to John, as that was the song he was working on in the studio at the time of his murder.

He issued a statement the day after John's death which stated: "After all we went through together, I had and still have great love and respect for him. I am shocked and stunned."

"To rob a life is the ultimate robbery in life," Harrison wrote. "The perpetual encroachment on other people’s space is taken to the limit with the use of a gun. It is an outrage that people can take other people's lives when they obviously haven't got their own lives in order."

How did Ringo Starr react to John Lennon's murder?

Ringo Starr tells 1981 about the last time he saw John Lennon

Ringo Starr was in the Bahamas when he was first notified of John Lennon's murder on 8th December 1980.

In the same interview with Michael Aspel in 1988, he revealed: "I still miss the man, I love the man, I was close to the man."

"He went out in such a stupid way and the guy is famous now for God's sake. We were in the Bahamas at the time and my stepdaughter Francesca, Barbara's daughter, called and she said 'there is some kind of news about John. A shooting and things like that'."

"Then they called back and they said he [had actually died]. So we sat around and were just devastated. I was just down," he admitted.

"So five o’clock in the morning I ordered the plane and flew to New York. Just to see if there was anything you can do, but you can’t. You know, when you get to that position or situation, you just do something and that’s what Barbara and I did. Because you couldn’t have a holiday after that."

John Lennon and Ringo Starr dancing together.
John Lennon and Ringo Starr dancing together. Picture: Alamy
Ringo and John filming 'Help' in 1965. (Photo by Stan Meagher/Express/Getty Images)
Ringo and John filming 'Help' in 1965. (Photo by Stan Meagher/Express/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

In 1981, only a year after John was murdered, Ringo revealed to Barbara Walters that he was the last of The Beatles to see John alive.

He recalled their getting together, saying: "I was staying at the Plaza. We went over to New York for a while. I hadn't seen him for a while because, you know, we see each other wherever we are."

"And he came over with Yoko for an hour. And we had such a great time, cause they stayed five hours. It didn’t matter that it was a year between we didn’t see each other. It was always fine when we did."

"But it was a particularly great time that we, that I had, anyway," Ringo admitted. "And then the asshole appeared. There's no understanding it. You think about it. But I’m telling you, you never understand it. The world has lost a wonderful man."

How did Paul McCartney react to John Lennon's death?

Paul McCartney's FULL reaction to John Lennon's death.

"Drag, isn't it?" That was Paul McCartney's initial response when asked by a reporter what he thought about the murder of his long-time songwriting partner and childhood friend John Lennon.

Given the pair changed popular culture with their collaborative musicianship, people were expecting a slightly less nonchalant answer.

In fact, fans of The Beatles immediately criticised McCartney for being fairly callous after finding out his former cohort had been murdered.

But Paul was understandably bereft, and at that point couldn't wrap his head around what happened.

In 1984, Paul and Linda McCartney were interviewed by Playboy magazine, where Paul fully opened up about his instant reaction to the shocking incident.

"With John's thing, what could you say? The pain is beyond words. You can never describe it, I don’t care how articulate you are."

"We just went home. We just looked at all the news on the telly, and we sat there with all the kids, just crying all evening."

Asked to clarify his "drag" response, Paul said: "I had just finished a whole day in shock and I said: 'It's a drag.' I meant drag in the heaviest sense of the word, you know: 'It's a DRAG.' But, you know, when you look at that in print, it says: 'Yes, it's a drag.' Matter of fact."

Paul McCartney and John Lennon performing alongside one another in 1961.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon performing alongside one another in 1961. Picture: Alamy
The breakdown between John and Paul's relationship was one of the main reasons The Beatles broke up, but they reconciled before John was murdered in 1980.
The breakdown between John and Paul's relationship was one of the main reasons The Beatles broke up, but they reconciled before John was murdered in 1980. Picture: Alamy

Talking on radio station SiriusXM in 2022, Paul reflected on the days after John's death, admitting the intense grief he felt saying "I couldn't really talk about it."

"When John died, it was so difficult," McCartney told host Tom Frangione. "It was difficult for everyone in the world because he was such a loved character and such a crazy guy. He was so special."

"I remember getting home from the studio on the day that we'd heard the news he died and turning the TV on and seeing people say, 'Well, John Lennon was this and what he was was this."

"It was like, I don't know, I can't be one of those people. I can't just go on TV and say what John meant to me," he explained. "It was just too deep. It's just too much. I couldn't put it into words."

Paul McCartney - Here Today (Music Video)

Explaining how he wrote the 1982 hit 'Here Today' as a tribute to his relationship with Lennon, Paul revealed that "once the emotions had sort of settled a little bit" he found a make-shift studio and "just sat on the wooden floor in a corner with my guitar and just started to play the opening chords".

He then discussed the references in the song, saying: "'The night we cried,' that was to do with a time when we were in Key West down in Florida, and for some reason, I think it was like a hurricane."

"Something had been delayed, and we couldn't play for a couple of days, so we holed up in a little Motel. So what would we do? Well, we'd have a drink, and we would get drunk."

"We got drunk and started to get kind of emotional," he continued. "On the way to that, there was a lot of soul-searching. We told each other a few truths, you know, 'Well, I love you,' 'I love you man,' 'I love that you said that,' and we opened up."

"So that was kind of special to me," McCartney said. "I think that was really one of the only times that ever happened."