The most famous murder linked to this book was John Lennon's.
At 11 pm on December 9th, 1980 in New York City, former Beatle John Lennon was getting home to his apartment at the Dakota building on 72nd Street and Central Park. As he got off his limo and walked towards his residence, he spotted a fan for whom he had signed an album only a couple hours before. Lennon kept going and approached the entrance of the building. As he walked past him, the fan took out a .38-caliber revolver and shot Lennon in the back four times. The songwriter, singer, and activist was later pronounced dead at the hospital. The fan who killed him was Mark David Chapman, and besides the gun that took Lennon’s life, he also carried a copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Jared Leto playing Mark Chapman in Chapter 27.
Many times, it's hard to say what drives people to kill public figures. I mean, it could be the result of many factors, like envy, resentment, and mental health – but a novel? The Catcher in the Rye is thought to be behind the murders of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, John F. Kennedy, Lennon, and a failed assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Chapman allegedly kept flipping through the book’s pages after shooting Lennon; John Hinkley had the book laying on his coffee table when police entered his home after his assassination attempt on Reagan; Robert John Bardo was carrying a copy when he murdered Schaeffer; and Lee Harvey Oswald also had a copy on his bookshelf when he shot Kennedy. Coincidence? Some people doubt it.
The original book cover from 1951.
The novel itself isn’t a “How to kill celebrities” or “Murder 101” kind of book. In fact, it is only a book about a rebellious teenage boy who doesn't know where he fits in society. Holden Caulfield, the main character, is a 17-year-old suffering from anxiety, depression, and with a deep disgust of the adult world. Holden does not want to take on the responsibilities that come with adulthood, but at the same time, he smokes, drinks, and pursues sex. He is an outcast, a rebel, and always in trouble for small things. He starts the book by narrating the events that led him to end up at a mental hospital, and his personality is the voice and heart of the book.
Although this novel was meant for an adult audience, it has gained popularity among teens for the protagonist's sense of alienation, devil-may-care attitude, and search for identity. Holden is an unusual character millions of readers identify with: a boy who can’t find happiness and whose surroundings are always reminding him of failure. For many critics, the book's attitude towards depression and mental health does more harm than good. In fact, in 2016, Chapman told the parole board that he suffered from mental health problems, which he described as “a psychotic mind.” It is known that he was obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye and that he even believed he was really Holden. Chapman also argued that God had ordered him to kill Lennon, but his version of the story is never consistent. After talking to the board in 2016, he was denied parole for the ninth time.
The Catcher in the Rye has sold more than 65 million copies, and many people have tried to turn it into a movie, but the author never allowed it. The novel, written in 1951, has inspired movie and book characters, and its influence on pop culture includes the popularity of the verb “screw up.” Whether the story actually makes its readers go from normal people to cold-blooded murderers is hard to prove. What we do know is that three public figures were murdered, and the killers were fans of The Catcher in the Rye. Quite the background for a book that's required reading in school, isn't it?