John Lennon was shot and killed on this day at the entrance of the Dakota building, New York City, where he lived with his wife Yoko Ono. He was 40 years old.
Lennon began 8 December 1980 with breakfast at 7.30am at La Fortuna’s, New York City. At 9am he visited a local barber shop where he had his hair cut into a 1950s-style quiff. At around 9.45am he returned to his home at the Dakota to give an interview to Dave Sholin, Laurie Kaye, Ron Hummel and Bert Keane for an RKO Radio Network show.
The interview lasted 90 minutes. In the early afternoon Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz arrived at the Lennons’ apartment for a photo session, which lasted from 2-3.30pm. One of the images, of a naked Lennon lying on a clothed Yoko Ono, was the last ever taken of the couple together.
Lennon and Ono left the Dakota at 5pm with the RKO team. Before they entered their car, Lennon was stopped for several people seeking autographs, among them 25-year-old hospital worker Mark David Chapman. Lennon signed Chapman’s copy of Double Fantasy, after which he asked, “Is this all you want?” Chapman nodded in agreement. The encounter was photographed by Lennon fan Paul Goresh.
At the Record Plant Studio at 321 West 44th Street they mixed Ono’s song Walking On Thin Ice, which featured Lennon on lead guitar. During the evening session Lennon also telephoned his aunt Mimi in England, and record label owner David Geffen called by with the news that Double Fantasy had been certified gold in its first two weeks on release.
The recording session came to a close at 10.30pm. Lennon and Ono discussed going for a meal at Stage Deli, but decided to first return to the Dakota to say goodnight to five-year-old Sean Lennon. Their son was being minded by Helen Seaman, the aunt of their assistant Fred.
Although it was late on a December night, the outside temperature was unseasonably warm. Lennon and Ono decided to stop their limousine at 72nd Street and walk the remaining short distance, despite a secure courtyard being available to park in at the Dakota.
Lennon walked a couple of paces behind Ono. As he approached the archway leading to the Dakota’s courtyard, Mark Chapman emerged from the shadows. The time was 10.52pm.
Chapman is said to have adopted a combat stance and fired five hollow-point rounds at Lennon from a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver. One bullet missed, passing over Lennon’s head and through a window of the Dakota building. Two struck Lennon in the left side of his back, and two others penetrated his left shoulder. At least one of these pierced his aorta.
Lennon staggered up six steps to the Dakota’s reception area and said “I’m shot,” before collapsing. The tapes from the earlier recording session, which Lennon had been holding, were scattered across the floor. The other witnesses to the shooting were an elevator operator, a New York taxi driver, and the passenger he had just dropped off.
Duty concierge Jay Hastings immediately triggered a police alarm before covering Lennon with his blue Dakota uniform and removing his glasses. Yoko Ono cradled Lennon’s head as he whispered “Help me”, with blood pouring from his mouth. Hastings attempted to reassure him, whispering, “It’s okay John, you’ll be all right.”
Outside the Dakota, doorman Jose Perdomo shook the gun from Chapman’s hand and kicked it out of reach. “Do you know what you’ve done?” he shouted, to which Chapman calmly replied, ‘Yes, I just shot John Lennon.” The gun came to rest in nearby bushes, close to Chapman’s autographed copy of Double Fantasy.
Chapman removed his coat and hat in preparation of the police arriving, and stood to the left of the Dakota archway on West 72nd Street. He began reading a copy of JD Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher In The Rye, inside which he had written: “To Holden Caulfield. From Holden Caulfield. This is my statement.”
John Lennon dies
Monday 8 December 1980
The first NYPD officers to arrive on the scene were Steve Spiro and Peter Cullen, who had been on patrol at Broadway and 72nd Street when the first calls about the shooting came through. Upon their arrival they drew their guns and shouted “Put your hands up” at the Dakota’s duty concierge Jay Hastings, who was kneeling by John Lennon and was covered in blood. “Not him,” Perdomo told them. “He works here. He’s the one,” he said, pointing to Mark Chapman.
Spiro and Cullen forced Chapman against a wall of the Dakota building, searching him for concealed weapons. “Don’t hurt me, stay with me,” he asked the officers. The search revealed keys, the copy of The Catcher In The Rye, and a wallet containing $2,000 in cash. Spiro handcuffed Chapman, and Perdomo recovered the gun and handed it to his co-worker.
Fellow officers Bill Gamble and James Moran arrived and, seeing that the suspect was under control, rushed inside the Dakota. Against Yoko Ono’s wishes, Gamble turned over Lennon’s body to determine the extent of his injuries. “What is your name?” he asked. Although he struggled to reply, John eventually managed to say: “Lennon”.
Realising that his injuries were too severe to wait for an ambulance, Gamble and Moran carried Lennon to their car. Moran took Lennon legs and Gamble carried him by his underarms, and they placed him on the back seat. Gamble kneeled by his side as Moran drove at 50mph speeds to the nearest emergency hospital, St Luke’s Roosevelt on West 59th Street.
Gamble attempted to keep Lennon conscious by talking to him. “Are you sure you’re John Lennon?” he asked. “I am,” came the reply. “How do you feel?” “I’m in pain,” he is reported to have said.
Moran had contacted the hospital as he drove. Behind them was another police car, driven by Officer Anthony Palmer and containing an increasingly hysterical Ono.
Upon their arrival at the hospital a rolling stretcher was waiting. Medical director Dr Stephan Lynn took Lennon into the emergency room, while Ono called the Dakota to check on their son Sean’s safety. Lennon had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, but for 20 minutes Lynn and two other doctors opened his chest and attempted manual heart massage to try and restore circulation.
Despite the hospital’s attempts, including blood transfusions and surgery by highly-trained staff, they were unable to save him. Dr Lynn pronounced John Lennon dead on arrival in the emergency room at the Roosevelt Hospital at 11.07pm on 8 December 1980.
Lynn informed Ono at 11.15pm. “He never stood a chance,” he said. “Nothing we were able to do could revive your husband. We believe the first bullet killed him. It ripped through John’s chest causing irreparable damage to a major artery.” In a state of shock, Ono asked him: “Do you mean that he is sleeping?”
The cause of death was reported as hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume. The hollow-point bullets used by Chapman expanded upon entering the body, causing irreparable damage to Lennon’s organs.
The news of Lennon’s death broke on WABC TV’s Monday Night Football. The producer, Bob Goodrich, told host Howard Cosell, who announced it on-air during a televised match between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins.
NBC announced the news during The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; the show was interrupted by a news bulletin. On CBS Lennon’s death was reported by Walter Cronkite and reporters.
At the Record Plant Studio, producer Jack Douglas had continued work on Walking On Thin Ice. His wife informed him of Lennon’s death at 11.35pm. The news sent him into a state of shock, and he decided to wipe the tapes of studio banter between him and Lennon recorded that day. He has never revealed the precise nature of their conversations.
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