John Lennon Was ‘Scared Stiff’ to Visit the U.S. After Making 1 Controversial Remark: ‘I Thought They’d Kill Me’

When John Lennon thought The Beatles had reached peak popularity, he made a controversial remark that was widely protested. Though he said the comment was misinterpreted, some former fans didn’t accept his apology. And the backlash reached such a fever pitch that Lennon feared for his life — particularly in the United States.

What did Lennon say that left him “scared stiff” that someone might kill him? And were his fears unfounded, or was he rightfully scared?

John Lennon, pictured with Paul McCartney in 1968, was scared to visit the United States after making a controversial remark
(L-R) John Lennon and Paul McCartney | Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As reported by Rolling Stone, Lennon led the band into hot water with a controversial remark about Christianity he made during a 1966 interview. The “Give Peace a Chance” songwriter said, “[Christianity] will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. …”

Lennon supposedly hardly remembered the comment after he said it. But it was reprinted in an American magazine, and chaos ensued for the Fab Four.

John Lennon’s controversial remark stirred protests in the United States

Many people, including Paul McCartney, waved the comment off as having been misinterpreted. “In England, nobody took any notice,” Lennon later said (per Rolling Stone.) “They know this guy’s blabbing off – who is he?”

But some fans were irredeemably miffed. They burned records and staged protests, particularly in the southern United States. Lennon eventually gave an apology but still defended himself against the backlash. “I wasn’t saying what they’re saying I was saying,” he explained.

“I’m sorry I said it – really,” he said at a press conference. “I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing.”

He added, “I apologize if that will make you happy. I still don’t know quite what I’ve done. I’ve tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then – OK, I’m sorry.”

Lennon later admitted he didn’t want to go to that press conference in Chicago. “I didn’t want to talk because I thought they’d kill me, because they take things so seriously [in the States],” he shared. “I mean, they shoot you and then they realize it wasn’t that important.”

He confessed, “I was scared stiff.”

John Lennon’s eventual assassin was a former fan who was supposedly upset by his controversial remark

As it would turn out, Lennon’s fears about being shot and killed in the U.S. after his remark came true. It just happened more than a decade after he said it.

A former fan from Texas, Mark David Chapman, held a grudge that turned violent under the pressure of mental illness. Friends said he felt betrayed by the comment, and his anger became an obsession that eventually boiled over (per Rolling Stone.)

On Dec. 8. 1980, Chapman waited for Lennon outside his New York City apartment building. He met his young son, Sean Lennon, and got an autograph from the former Beatle. Then, hours later, he shot and killed him.

While sources said Chapman had longstanding obsessive hate toward Lennon, the gunman later said he also considered targeting Johnny Carson and Elizabeth Taylor. But he found the musician was most easily accessible (per CBS News.) “If it wasn’t Lennon,” he claimed, “it could have been someone else.”

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