THE FINAL HOURS OF JOHN LENNON December 8, 1980. Five gunshots ring out in New York, ending the life of one of the world’s most influential musicians and sending millions of fans into mourning. John Lennon had been living quietly in the city and had just made his comeback after five years away from the studio. “John and I were gloriously happy in the first week of December,” his widow later recalled. “In our minds, we were a team – old soldiers.” So exactly what happened on that fateful day? Here are the final 15 hours of the ex-Beatle’s life before he was so senselessly murdered by Mark David Chapman.
7:30am: As the sun rises over Central Park, 40-year-old John Lennon gets out of bed and slips into his black kimono. Leaving his wife Yoko Ono sleeping beneath the sheets, he creeps into the living room and stares out at the Manhattan skyline. Yoko finds him lost in thought as sunlight floods into the stark, whitewashed room. Both are on a high. After five years out of the limelight, their new joint album, “Double Fantasy,” is riding high in the charts and they are busy recording a follow-up. Today is one of the warmest December days New Yorkers can remember. But John and Yoko don’t have time to enjoy it – they have a full day’s work ahead, including a photo session and a radio interview. Meanwhile, 20 blocks across town, at the Sheraton Center Hotel on 7th Avenue, Mark David Chapman is also contemplating his day. The security guard flew into the city two days ago intending to kill John Lennon. Over the weekend, he’d spent hours outside the Dakota building, where John and Yoko live.
9:00am: John and Yoko leave the Dakota and have breakfast at the Cafe La Fortuna, on West 71st Street. John eats eggs benedict and follows it with a cappuccino and Gitane cigarette. He then decides to get a haircut, after which the couple return to their sprawling 34-room apartment and welcome photographer Annie Leibovitz inside.
11:00am: John, who is thrilled to be working again, tells Annie he has an idea for the Rolling Stone magazine photo shoot she is there to complete. He tells her he knows the magazine will probably want just him on the cover, but he is hopeful they will include Yoko. He then tells her his idea for the cover shot. He wants to be photographed naked, clinging to a clothed Yoko. Leibovitz has no problem with that, and the photos are taken. The resulting picture makes the cover of Rolling Stone magazine weeks later.
1:00pm: San Francisco radio producer Dave Sholin arrives to conduct what becomes John’s last interview. During the three-hour session, the musician poignantly says: “We’re either going to live or we’re going to die. I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried – and I hope that’s a long time.”
4:30pm: Sholin offers John and Yoko a lift to the recording studio. Outside the Dakota, the pavement teems with office workers heading for the subway. Among them is Mark Chapman, 25, determined to kill Lennon, who he sees as a “phony” – a left-wing activist with a millionaire lifestyle. Despite the mild weather, Chapman wears thermal underwear, green trousers, a shirt and sweater, and a long green overcoat, complete with a fake fur hat, gloves and a green scarf. A Charter Arms .38 snub-nosed revolver is concealed in the inside pocket of his coat.
He hands John a copy of “Double Fantasy” to sign. Wearing a black leather jacket over a blue sweater and red T-shirt, John writes: John Lennon 1980. Handing it back, he looks his killer in the eye and asks: “Here, is that what you want?” before hopping into the car. John and Yoko spend four-and-a-half hours working at The Record Factory. They are working on a song called “Walking on Thin Ice.” It is scheduled to be released as a single by Yoko, and John tells her she has just recorded her first number 1 song. During the session, David Geffen, head of the label John and Yoko have signed with, visits the couple at the recording studio to tell them “Double Fantasy” had just gone gold. Lennon left the studio a happy man — probably as happy as he’d ever been. John arranges to return at 9am the next day, turning to producer Jack Douglas and smiling: “See you tomorrow morning, bright and early!”
10:35pm: Their limousine takes them up Eighth Avenue to Columbus Circle, continues north along Central Park West and then left into 72nd Street. Chapman is still loitering in front of the Dakota, where he’s struck up a conversation with doorman Jose Perdomo.
10:48pm: There is a vehicle parked directly in front of the entrance to the Dakota, so John’s limo stops outside the building’s gateway and Yoko climbs out, followed by John carrying a tape recorder and cassettes. John stares at Chapman as he passes by and, as he moves off, the killer springs into action. As John walks by, Chapman says, “Mr. Lennon.” John starts to turn just as Chapman, dropping into a combat stance, pulls out the gun. The first two shots hit John in the back, spinning him around, while another two hit him in the shoulder. A fifth misses. Each bullet passes through the body and slams into a wood and glass windbreak behind him.
As Chapman looks on in silence, Lennon staggers up the five steps into the building’s office, mumbling “I’m shot” before falling face-down. Night man Jay Hastings had been reading a magazine but, when John stumbles in, he hits the alarm button under the desk, summoning police. Yoko rushes to cradle her dying husband and screams for a doctor. Outside, Chapman removes his coat – so police will see he isn’t armed – and begins flicking through a copy of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Within two minutes, the street is full of sirens. As Chapman is cuffed, two officers hoist the musician on to their shoulders and place him in the back of a squad car. Jay remembers hearing John’s bones creak as they pick him up. As his partner runs red lights heading to St Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, Officer James Moran turns and asks John, “Are you John Lennon?” As he slips away, John nods slightly and moans: “Yes.” It is the last thing he ever says.
11:01pm: When John is wheeled into the emergency room; he has lost 80 per cent of his blood and has virtually no pulse. Dr. Stephan Lynn, Emergency Room Director, has rushed back to the hospital just moments after ending his shift. “To provide any chance for him to survive, we needed to do an emergency thoracotomy. So we made an incision in the left chest and separated the ribs and found a very large amount of blood. We looked for an injury to the heart or to the blood vessels. But what we discovered was that all of the major blood vessels leaving the heart were simply destroyed. I literally held his heart in my hand and I pumped. But every time I pumped, most of what I pumped simply came out of all the holes. It was totally ineffective” Although seven medics have desperately tried to revive him, John is finally pronounced dead. The official cause is shock, produced by massive haemorrhaging.
(John Lennon, moments after being pronounced dead 11:30PM – 12/8/80)
11:15pm: On ABC Monday Night Football, Howard Cosell announces John’s death to the world. “This, we have to say it, is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival.” Two days later, as the world mourns the senseless killing, his body is cremated at the Ferncliff Mortuary, in the suburb of Hartsfield. After being told of his father’s death, 5-year-old Sean Lennon says: “Now Daddy is part of God. I guess when you die you become much bigger because you’re part of everything.” Eight months later, Mark David Chapman, having pleaded guilty to murder, was sentenced to 20 years to life in jail. Refused parole for the fifth time in October of this year 2012, Prisoner 81A2860 is kept in solitary confinement at Attica State Prison, New York.