Yoko Ono, center, is aided by a policeman and David Geffen, right, of Geffen Records as she leaves Roosevelt Hospital in New York late Monday night, December 8, 1980, after the death of her husband John Lennon.
Today's post is about 37. 37 minutes of time, 37 years ago today, the murder of John Lennon. 37 years ago the world was left wondering, as Yoko Ono once eloquently put it, "He was an
artist. Why would you kill an artist?"
Unfortunately, there is no way to consider John's life in its entirety without
recounting those 37 minutes that transpired one night 37 years ago. Indeed, for a good number of
those who have ever lived - particularly the famous - their lives are
largely seen through the prism of their deaths. Just off the
top of my head I can think of Elvis Presley, John Kennedy, Robert
Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Michael Jackson, Liberace, Rock Hudson,
John Belushi..... When you think of their lives, invariably it is often
through the lens of how their lives ended more so than how they lived those lives. That is just the way it is.
on this 37th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination [and, let's be
clear, that's what it was. Many mistakenly believe that 'assassination'
is only the murder of political leaders. The Webster's definition of
'assassination' is, "to kill suddenly or secretively; to murder
premeditatedly and treacherously"], I'm compelled to write about
December 8, 1980.
Specifically, the last 37 minutes of his life.
evening of December 8, 1980, was about to become a painful one for Alan
Weiss. Weiss was working for WABC-TV in New York City and won two Emmy's
before his 30th birthday. After a long day at work, he jumped on his
motorcycle and headed home.
The evening of December 8, 1980, was
the end of a 30-hour shift for Dr. Stephan Lynn, head of the Roosevelt
Hospital Emergency Room in New York City. He was exhausted and looking
forward to sleep. He headed home for a quick hug of his wife and two
young daughters and a nice warm bed.
The evening of December 8,
1980, was just beginning for New York City Police Officers Pete Cullen
and Steve Spiro, who did the night shift on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Not necessarily a 'cush' job, but better than 99% of the other ones
available to a New York City cop in 1980.
The night of December
8, 1980, was a typical one for Jay Hastings, working as a doorman at the
Dakota. Earlier that night, a friend of one of his highest profile
residents, John Lennon, had stopped by to drop something off for the
former Beatle. Hastings had seen Bob Gruen with John Lennon just a few
days ago, so he took the package and promised Gruen that he would give
it to John when he returned that evening. Police would later open the
package - as part of their investigation - to find it containing some
tapes of the The Clash that John had asked Gruen to make for him [Gruen
had told John that he would love The Clash and John "wanted to take a
listen"], as well as some of the negatives from a photo session Gruen
had done with John and Yoko two days earlier. All of that would be
later, however. For now, though, all was quiet as Hastings watched Monday Night Football on a tiny black and white television propped up on the counter of the front desk.
lives of these five men would converge unexpectedly and suddenly in a
violent collision with the last night of John Lennon's life.
night of December 8, 1980, was the completion of a task Mark David
Chapman had set out to accomplish a month earlier. He'd come to New York
in November 1980, to kill John Lennon but got cold feet and returned
home to Hawaii. He was back now and determined to finish what he'd set
out to do. It was an unusually warm evening for early December in New
York City. Despite that, Chapman stood patiently in the dark outside the
Dakota wearing a winter's coat - attire not suited for Hawaii but
perfect for the conditions that he thought he'd find in December on the
East Coast. Instead, in the heavy winter gear Chapman stood out. Chapman carried a well-worn copy of The Catcher In the Rye,
the J.D. Salinger tale of disaffected youth. In his pocket was a
five-shot Charter Arms .38-caliber revolver - the ammunition provided by
an unsuspecting old friend of Chapman's, whom the 25-year
old Chapman had suddenly visited in October 1980.
The evening of
December 8, 1980, was a pleasant and accomplished one for John Lennon.
The day had been hectic - a photo session with photographer Annie
Leibovitz, a three-hour interview with R.K.O. Radio, and a five-hour session at the Hit Factory Record Studios to tweak a song by Yoko called "Walking on Thin Ice".
John and Yoko's rented limousine stopped on 72nd Street at the ornate
gate of the Dakota [John had told the driver to stop there rather than
inside the courtyard - and past Chapman - which was more the standard
route on a cold December evening....which this was not], Lennon grabbed
the reel-to-reel tapes of the evening's sessions, placed them under his
arm, and followed Yoko out of the car. It was 10:50 p.m.
wanted to stop for a bite to eat at The Stage Deli, but John wanted to
go home. So, as they emerged from the limo, John strode ahead of Yoko as
they entered the gate. He was eager to check in on his 5-year old son,
Sean. While the boy would [hopefully] be asleep, John hadn't seen him
for a few days, as Sean had spent the weekend with his nanny's family in
Pennsylvania. After that, John would go into the kitchen to get a bite
to eat - knowing that, as usual when the kitchen door opened, his three
cats would come bounding forward to greet him.
There is some
dispute as to whether Chapman really said, "Mr. Lennon?!" as he stepped
out of the shadows about five strides after John had passed him unseen.
For years that was the story; recently, though, Chapman has said he said
nothing. It is possible, in fact, that he is right. John never stopped
walking, nor did he turn around - headed instead in the direction of the
door some 50 feet away. Had his name been called so loudly and
unexpectedly in the dark of night, one would assume that the startled
Lennon would have turned to face the sound.
What is indisputable
is that Chapman now stood in a combat stance a few feet from Lennon and
Ono with his handgun leveled at the back of John's midsection. Very
quickly, Chapman fired four bullets, three of which pierced John
from the back through the lungs, the chamber around his heart, and his
shoulder. The fourth missed John and hit the glass window by the
front door of the complex.
Although at first in shock, John
immediately knew what had happened and screamed, "I'm shot!" Despite a
massive loss of blood - even in just the few seconds that had passed -
John started to jog forward toward the door. He stumbled up the steps
and fell face first onto the marble lobby floor in the foyer, somehow leaving his glasses unbroken - albeit bloodstained - as they, too, hit the floor. Somehow, the reel-to-reel tapes he'd been carrying had
stayed lodged under his arm. They now crashed to the floor beside his
Startled by the broken glass - initially he'd assumed
the firing of the gun to be a car backfiring - doorman Hastings ran from
behind the desk just as Lennon came stumbling through the door. Despite
the blood and his own shock, Hastings knew immediately that the
grievously wounded man at his feet was John Lennon, as Yoko quickly came
to the door at a gallop screaming. Hastings rang the alarm that
connected the Dakota to the police. He then went back to John and
instinctively removed his own jacket and placed it over John's crumpled
torso. Also instinctively, although he was unarmed, Hastings ran out the
door to approach the shadowy figure 50 feet away who was still in a
combat position. Although the gun was still in Chapman's hands, he'd
lowered his arm to his side with the gun pointed toward the ground.
Incredulous, Hastings approached Chapman and screamed, "Do you know what
you just did?!".
"I just shot John Lennon," Chapman replied softly.
At 10:51 p.m., Officers Cullen and Spiro were the
first to answer the report of shots fired at the Dakota. As he got out
of the patrol car, Cullen was struck by the lack of movement: the
doorman, a Dakota handyman who had run out of his basement apartment at
the sound of Lennon's body hitting the floor above him, and the killer,
all standing as if frozen.
"Somebody just shot John Lennon!" the doorman finally shouted, pointing at Chapman.
Lennon?" Cullen asked. Hastings pointed to the nearby vestibule in
which John - with blood pouring from his chest - lay dying. Cullen ran
to Lennon's side as Spiro threw Chapman against the stone wall and
Two other officers soon arrived to lift John up and
take him to a waiting police car. As they did, one of the officers would
recall his stomach sickening as he heard the unmistakable cracking of
Lennon's shoulder blade as they lifted him up, the bones shattered by a
bullet. As they were carrying him to the waiting police car, Lennon
vomited up blood and fleshy tissue.
With Lennon placed gingerly
on the backseat of the patrol car, one of the officers jumped into the
back to hold his head while the other two officers jumped in the front
seats and sped downtown to Roosevelt Hospital, located exactly one mile
away. In the midst of the chaos, Cullen spotted Yoko Ono. "Can I go,
too?" she asked as her husband disappeared. A ride was quickly arranged.
Lennon's head, the officer in the backseat of the speeding patrol car
looked into John's glassy eyes. Breathing heavily, with the gurgling of
blood audible to all in the car, Lennon was fading. The officer tried to
keep Lennon conscious, screaming at him. "Do you know who you are?!?!
Are you John Lennon?!" John - who, with the other Beatles had
popularized the 'yeah, yeah, yeah' phrase 16 years earlier - uttered
what would be his last word: "Yeah...." He then lost consciousness and
his breathing stopped.
Meanwhile, back at the Dakota, Officers
Spiro and Cullen were trying hard to remain professional. Avid Beatles
fans, both had often seen John, Yoko and Sean walking the neighborhood.
Although they'd never spoken to John, both felt as though this was a
family member or friend that Chapman had just shot. Trying to control
the urge to hit Chapman, Spiro thought of the only thing he could think
of: "Do you have a statement?!" Chapman pointed with his cuffed hands
down to the ground nearby where his copy of Catcher in the Rye
lay. Spiro opened the book and saw the inscription, "This is my
statement." Spiro fell into a brief shocked daze at the scrawl. He was
startled back into reality when Chapman - answering a question that
hadn't been asked - said, "I acted alone."
Cullen and Spiro then
roughly loaded Chapman into their car for a trip to the 20th Precinct.
"He was apologetic," Cullen recalled in a 2005 interview - but not for
shooting Lennon. "I remember that he was apologizing for giving us a
Nearby, unnoticed and - for the next 12 hours, untouched - was the copy of Double Fantasy that
Lennon had signed for Chapman six hours earlier. Chapman had placed it in
a large potted plant at the side of the gate, where it would be
inadvertently discovered by one of the scores of officers who would be
called to the Dakota for crowd control as word of Lennon's shooting
Dr. Stephan Lynn's 30-hour shift
at Roosevelt Hospital had ended twenty-five minutes earlier when, as he had literally just walked through the door
and sat down on the sofa, his phone rang. Picking it up, a nurse
asked him if he could come back to the hospital to help out. A man with a
gunshot to the chest was coming to Roosevelt.
Lynn walked back out the door and hailed a cab to the hospital. It was 10:55 p.m.
at Roosevelt Hospital at that moment, TV producer Weiss was lying on a
gurney wondering how his night had turned so shitty so quickly. An hour
earlier, Weiss' Honda motorcycle had collided head on with a taxi.
Somehow, Weiss seemed to have escaped with what he suspected to be
cracked ribs. It was as he was lying on the gurney in an emergency room
hallway contemplating his ruined evening and awaiting x-rays that Weiss
was about to get the news scoop of a lifetime.
BOOM! The doors of
the hallway where Weiss lie burst open with a gunshot victim on a
stretcher carried by a half dozen police officers, who passed Weiss as
they brought the victim into a room nearby. As doctors and nurses flew
into action, two of the police officers paused alongside Weiss' gurney.
"Jesus, can you believe it?" one officer rhetorically asked the other.
Weiss was incredulous. He immediately rose from
the gurney and grabbed a nearby hospital worker. Realizing he couldn't
walk, Weiss shoved $20 into the man's hands and told him to call the
WABC-TV newsroom with a tip that John Lennon was shot. As it turned out,
the money disappeared, and the call was never made.
By 11:05 p.m., Weiss was doubting the news instincts of the bribed
hospital worker. As he was contemplating this, Weiss was startled by what
he later described as a strangled sound. "I twist around and there is
Yoko Ono on the arm of a police officer, and she's sobbing," Weiss
recalled in a 2005 interview.
With the sight of Yoko, Weiss decided he had
to make the call to WABC-TV himself. He finally persuaded a police
officer to help him up and walk him to a hospital phone, under the ruse
that he had to call his wife to tell her he was in the hospital.
Instead, out of earshot of the officer, Weiss reached the WABC-TV
assignment editor with his tip about John Lennon. Before hanging up the
phone with Weiss, the editor on the other end of the phone was able to
check and confirm a reported shooting at Lennon's address.
By 11:10 p.m., Lynn and two other doctors had been working on the victim for nearly ten minutes. The
man lying on the table had no pulse, no blood pressure, and no
breathing. Lynn did not know that the man on the table in front of him
was John Lennon. "We took his wallet out of his pocket," Lynn recalled
in 2005. "The nurse immediately chuckled and said, 'This can't be John
Lennon'. Because it didn't look anything like John Lennon."
Whether or not it was Lennon, Lynn was not quite sure. What he did know,
though, was that, "He was losing a tremendous amount of blood," Lynn
remembered. "And he had three wounds in his chest. We knew we had to act
quickly. We started an IV, we transfused blood. We actually did an
operation in the emergency department to try to open his chest to look
for the source of the bleeding. We did cardiac massage - I literally
held his heart in my hand and pumped his heart - but there was complete
destruction of all the vessels leaving his heart."
After nearly 30 minutes, the three doctors gave up. It was 11:27 p.m. The damage was too great. Lennon was
dead. Lynn recalled that Chapman's marksmanship was extraordinary. "He
was an amazingly good shot," Lynn recalled. "All three of those
bullets in the chest were perfectly placed. They destroyed all of the
major blood vessels that took the blood out of the heart to all of the
rest of the body." As a result, "there was no way circulation of blood
could take place in this man and there was no way that anyone could fix
Weiss continued watching in disbelief as the doctors
frantically worked on Lennon. It took him a moment to realize the song
that was playing on the hospital's Muzak system - the Beatles' "All My
Meanwhile, Dr. Lynn made the long walk to the end of the
emergency room hallway where Yoko was waiting in a room with record
mogul David Geffen, who had rushed to the hospital after receiving a
call that John had been shot. It was now Lynn's job to deliver the word
that John Lennon, Yoko's soulmate and spouse, was dead.
refused to accept or believe that," Lynn recalled. "For five minutes,
she kept repeating, `It's not true. I don't believe you. You're lying."'
Lynn listened quietly. "There was a time she was lying on the floor,
literally pounding her head against the concrete, during which I was
concerned I was going to have a second patient," Lynn remembered. "Many,
many times she said, 'You're lying, I don't believe you, he's not
dead,' " he added. "[Geffen] was helpful in getting her to calm down and
accept what had happened. She never asked to see the body, and I never
offered. She needed to get home [to tell Sean], and she did."
the time Yoko left the hospital, Weiss' tip had been confirmed and given
to Howard Cosell, who told the nation of Lennon's death during Monday Night Football.....which was still on the screen of the little black and white television on doorman Hastings' front desk counter.
brought a throng of reporters to Roosevelt Hospital, leaving Lynn to
inform them that Lennon was gone. "John Lennon...," Lynn began before
pausing for a moment. He then went on, "....was brought to the emergency
room of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital...He was dead on arrival." With
that, a collective groan emanated from the normally cynical assembled
After finishing with the media, Lynn returned to the
emergency room. Thinking remarkably clearly - and with great foresight -
Lynn arranged for the disposal of all medical supplies and equipment
used on Lennon - a move to thwart ghoulish collectors. "I said, 'Not a
piece of linen with Mr. Lennon's blood is to leave this department
except in a special bag,' " Lynn recalled. "I had to tell the nursing
staff that they could not sell their uniforms, which might have been
stained with John Lennon's blood." He personally supervised the disposal
By the time Lynn was done, it was 3:00 a.m. He
decided to walk home, heading up Columbia Avenue. "I was afraid that
someone would run up to me and say, 'You're the doctor who didn't save
John Lennon and allowed him to die,' " Lynn said.
Back on the 25th
anniversary of the murder, Lynn stated that he believed that - despite
medical advances in the ensuing quarter century - John's gunshot
injuries would still be untreatable in 2005. "There was no way of
repairing that damage then and, to my knowledge, there's no way to
repair that amount of damage today," Lynn said. "There was absolutely
nothing we could do."
For days afterward, up in Apartment
72 of the Dakota, whenever the kitchen door opened, three cats came
bounding forward to greet a man who was never coming home.....