Today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s untimely death at the gates of The Dakota Building, 72nd Street, Upper West Side in New York City. He was shot by Mark David Chapman on December 8th, 1980; as he returned from a mixing session at the Record Plant, with his wife, Yoko Ono.
Lennon was pronounced DOA at Roosevelt Hospital and it was stated by the ER doctor on-call “that no-one could have survived the injuries he sustained.” Ono asked the hospital not to announce his death until she had a chance to tell her son Sean that his father had been killed. There was however a reporter in the Emergency Room that night and he called Lennon’s death into his bosses at ABC, who apprehensively announced Lennon’s death nationally on their Monday Night Football show and soon after, local news stations reported the shooting and crowds began to gather at the Dakota and at Roosevelt Hospital. Sean was not watching TV that night.
Earlier that day, Annie Leibovitz did a photo shoot at the Lennon’s apartment in the Dakota for Rolling Stone. She later recalled that “nobody wanted Ono on the cover” but Lennon insisted that both he and his wife would be on the cover. The now famous photo, of a naked Lennon embracing Ono, would be used as the cover of Rolling Stone’s commemorative issue in January 1981 and the fact that it was taken on the day of the shooting is a strange but fitting coincidence.
Lennon and Ono left their apartment at 5 o’clock to mix “Walking On Thin Ice”; an Ono song featuring Lennon on guitar, at the Record Plant, 321 West 44th Street. As they walked to the limo they were approached by the customary autograph hunters that were constantly waiting for them outside the Dakota. Chapman was among them and he silently handed Lennon a copy of “Double Fantasy” for him to sign. Lennon signed it and asked him “is that all you want?” to which Chapman nodded and smiled in agreement. Another fan took a picture of their first meeting although Chapman had first come to New York to murder Lennon in October, before the release of “Double Fantasy”, but changed his mind and went back to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he worked as a security guard.
Chapman had become a born-again Christian in 1970 and was incensed by Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus“ comment of 1966 and called it blasphemy. He was further angered by songs like “God” and “Imagine” and sang the later with the alternate lyric: “Imagine John Lennon dead.“
John and Yoko spent several hours mixing at the Record Plant before returning to the Dakota at around ten to elevan. They got out of the limo on 72nd Street and not within the secure courtyard behind the gates of the Dakota’s entrance. Ono walked ahead of Lennon and into the reception area. The Doorman and a nearby taxi driver say they saw Chapman in the shadows of the archway into the Dakota’s courtyard. As Lennon passed, he looked at Chapman briefly and continued on his way. Chapman then took aim at the center of Lennon’s back and fired five bullets at him in rapid succession. The first bullet missed passed over Lennon’s head and hit a window of the Dakota. The next two bullets struck lennon in the left side of his back and were the fatal shot’s, hitting his lung and an artery leaving his heart. the final two bullets struck him in the right shoulder. three of the four bullets passed through his body leaving several gunshot wounds. Lennon staggered up five steps to the reception area and said “I’m shot, I’m shot.“ He then dropped an arm full of cassettes and fell to the floor, bleeding profusely from his wounds.
The Concierge attempted to make a tourniquet but realising the extent of Lennon’s wounds merely laid his uniform jacket over his chest and called the police. The Doorman shook the gun out of Chapman’s hands and kicked it away. He then shouted at Chapman: “do you know what you’ve done?”, to which he replied “Yes, I just shot John Lennon.” When the police arrived, one car brought Lennon to the hospital and the other arrested Chapman who was calmly reading a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Chapman pleaded guilty, against the advice of his lawyers, who wanted him to plead insanity and in June 1981 he received a life sentence. He has been denied parole hearings every two years since 2000 and remains an inmate at Attica State Prison.
Lennon’s murder was considered an assassination by many because of his beliefs in political activism and pacifism. It triggered an outpouring of grief around the globe. Ono asked the chanting crowd outside the Dakota to re-convene at Central Park the following Sunday as their chanting was keeping Sean and herself from sleeping. On December 14th 1980, millions of people around the world, 30 thousand in Liverpool and nearly a quater of a million people in Central Park observed a 10 minute silence on request of Yoko Ono to remember her husband and his life.
At least two fans killed themselves after Lennon’s murder and prompted Ono to ask people not to give in to despair. Ono released a solo album in 1981 called, “Season Of Glass” which featured a picture of Lennon’s blood-stained glasses, the pair he was wearing the night of the shooting, on a table looking out a window in the Dakota building apartment across Central Park to the Upper East Side skyline and next to a half full glass of water as its cover art. Ono still keeps the apartment to this day and lits a candle in the window every 8th of December.
In 2009, Ono curated a exhibit in NY’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which included many mementos and personal effects from Lennon’s life as well as the clothes he was wearing on the night of the shooting – still in the brown paper bag she received from Roosevelt Hospital that night.
In 1985, New York City dedicated an area of Central Park, directly across from the Dakota on 72nd Street where Lennon often walked, and called it Strawberry Fields. Countries from around the world donated trees and Naples, Italy donated an Imagine mosaic centerpiece that is said to have some of Lennon’s ashes buried underneath. There was no formal funeral held by Ono and Lennon was cremated on the 10th of December, 1980.
Tags: 1980, 1985, 72nd street, annie leibovitz, assasination, attica state prison, bigger than jesus, catcher in the rye, central park, december 8th, double fantasy, god, imagine, john lennon, john lennon airport, lennon, lennon imagine mosaic, liverpool, mark chapman, mark david chapman, ono, parole, rock and roll hall of fame, rolling stone, rolling stone magazine, roosevelt hospital, sean lennon, season of glass, shooting, strawberry fields, the dakota, the dakota building, the record plant, upper west side, walking on thin ice, woko, Yoko Ono