Photo Finish. The last moments of John Lennon’s Life | by Steven C. Owens | Jan, 2021
The last moments of John Lennon’s Life
Fourteen years prior to John Lennon’s tragic death he lived in great fear of being shot. His first wife Cynthia plainly noted this in her book about her ex-husband called “John”. Ironically this did not stop Lennon from mingling with fans and strangers while living in New York City. Even befriending common folks so he could feel “normal”, did not frighten him. One of John’s last photographs in which he signed his final album “Double Fantasy” for his killer, Mark David Chapman, was taken by amateur photographer Paul Goresh. Goresh hung around the Dakota so much that Lennon asked that he take walks with him everyday rather than only meeting when Goresh wanted to photograph him. They became pretty good friends and Lennon included Paul in some of his professional photo sessions.
John Lennon was himself interested in the psychic world. On many occasions he attended seances and card readings. It is believed that he had a premonition that he would be killed by the actions of a handgun. He even stated that his fear of murder caused the Beatles to break up and not the interference (as stated by his bandmates) of Yoko Ono.
“We were not bored,” he said “and certainly did not run out of songs. I was paranoid about somebody trying to bump us off.” John
Even the Beatles last performance together was on a rooftop in a controlled environment where everyone who witnessed the iconic final gathering were accounted for and authorized. At this point in their careers they had become fully aware of their relevance to the World along with the dangers. The stiff breeze blowing through their flowing long hair was the only thing that made them feel free.
On January 30, 1969, the band, with keyboardist Billy Preston, surprised a central London office district with an impromptu concert from the roof of Apple headquarters at 3 Savile Row. In a 42-minute set, the Beatles were heard playing nine takes of five songs before the Metropolitan Police Service asked them to reduce the volume. Footage from the performance was later used in the 1970 documentary film Let It Be.
The Beatles’ rooftop concert marked the end of an era for many fans. The group would go on to record one more album, Abbey Road, but by September 1969 the Beatles had unofficially disbanded.
Lennon also believed in an afterlife. “I am an optimist about eternity,” he said. “I believe in life after death. I believe that death is not an end but a beginning.”
In 1966, according to his first wife Cynthia, Lennon received a letter from a psychic warning him that he would be shot while living in the United States. From that time onwards, he developed an interest in spiritualism
One of the last songs written by John Lennon is believed to contain premonitions of his death and in the track, Help Me to Help Myself, he mentions being hounded by the ‘angel of destruction’ and sings ‘oh help me, Lord’. He also was given a message from the spirit of Brian Epstein via an Ouija Board that said there would be an attempt to assassinate him.
In 1969, while holidaying in Greece, Lennon was warned that he would be killed on an “island”. Believing that the astrologer was referring to a Greek island, the musician returned home. Years later, his wife Yoko Ono realized that the astrologer was in fact referring to the Island of Manhattan. It seemed that John Lennon lived his whole life in the public eye, in fear of assassination. Despite the warnings of psychics, astrologers, mystics and his own sense that he would die young, he could do nothing to avoid what ultimately was his fate.
There was no hostility or resistance from the would-be victim John Lennon. He was no more hostile than someone anticipating a guest for dinner whom was running a tad late and the host put the ice cubes in a cocktail glass a little too soon. No, he showed signs of being a bit impatient (ironically) for what was about to occur later that night.
The notion that Lennon asked Chapman; “that’s it? That’s all you want?”, after Chapman handed him the Record Album “Double Fantasy” to sign. This almost fulfills the tragic vision John had for himself. Expecting ‘something’ to unfold, expecting Chapman to do something else? The fact his last album was called “Double Fantasy” could be the indication of parallel lives that Lennon was living; one that would go on beyond 1980 and the other that would end tragically on December 8.
Double Fantasy: Lennon’s last studio album. It was this album cover that he signed for Chapman out the front of the Dakota building. It shows a quickly scrawled signature and the year
Stunned that the Beatles icon was so polite, Mark David Chapman began an “Inner tug-of-war” with himself on whether to kill the music legend or back out. Not many people realize that John was not his first choice of celebrity he wanted to kill but he was the most accessible. While none of the three other Beatles were on the list, sources said, Jackie Onassis, George C. Scott and Johnny Carson were among those considered killed. Chapman was able to confront singer/songwriter James Taylor as described by Taylor in an interview with BBC’s Tom Brook the day before Lennon was killed. James Taylor reveals how he met John Lennon‘s assassin Mark David Chapman the day before the murder on December 8, 1980.
“His assassin had buttonholed me in the tube station…He pinned me to the wall, glistening with maniacal sweat, and tried to talk in some freak speech about what he was gonna do, and stuff about how John was interested and how he was gonna get in touch with John Lennon.”
Taylor also remembered that Chapman mentioned Lennon to him, ominously saying he was “going to show him” something.
“He was just talking a mile a minute about something he was going to show John Lennon,” Taylor said.
“He was just someone who knew me who I didn’t know; someone who had an agenda that I knew I couldn’t deal with,” Taylor added. “I just knew that I needed to get away from him.”
The encounter happened approximately a 25-minute walk away from where Chapman would kill Lennon.
Taylor further described hearing the 5 shots the next night as James lived within an hearing distance of where Chapman killed Lennon. The window was open and he had been on the phone and the shots rang-out in mid-conversation. Taylor thought it was the police shooting at a suspect as 5 shots in succession were similar to that of taking down a criminal. He abruptly ended the call to cater to the sinking feeling he had in the pit of his stomach.
“It seems amazing to me now, but I lived in the building one up from the Dakota and I heard [John] shot — five, just as quick as you could pull the trigger, about five explosions.”
This is the most comprehensive timeline of that fateful day . . .
10AM It is an unusually warm and sunny pre-Christmas day in New York. John’s usual morning routine is to have coffee at Café La Fortuna near his home on New York’s Upper West Side. But on Mondays the cafe is closed, so he leaves the family apartment in the Dakota Building around 10am, to get his hair cut in a Fifties Teddy Boy style at a nearby barbershop.
11AM Photographer Annie Leibovitz and her assistant arrive at the Dakota for a photoshoot for Rolling Stone magazine. John tells Leibovitz that he knows Rolling Stone wants him on the cover by himself but it is important to him to pose with Yoko.
The photograph Leibovitz takes of a naked Lennon entwined around Yoko in black, like a child clinging to its mother, is to become iconic. John tells the photographer: ‘You’ve captured our relationship exactly.’
11.45AM Amateur photographer Paul Goresh arrives at the Dakota. Goresh is one of a small group of devoted fans who frequently hang around outside John’s home and whom John has got to know and trust. Also waiting is a stranger — 25- year-old Mark Chapman.
As Goresh recalls: ‘When I got to the Dakota, the only other person there was a guy standing with a long overcoat with a fur collar and a fur hat. He had a scarf on and he was holding John’s album Double Fantasy and he says to me, “Are you waiting for Lennon?”
‘And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “My name’s Mark, I’m from Hawaii.” I said, “I’m Paul, I’m from New Jersey.” ‘He asked, “Do you work for him?” I said, “No.” He told me, “I came all the way from Hawaii to get my album signed.” So I said, “Where are you staying while you’re in the city?” And with that he seemed to change his whole demeanor from like a dope to an aggressive person. And he said, “Why do you want to know?” And I told him, “Go back where you were standing and leave me alone.”
After signing Double Fantasy album for the 25-year-old former security guard, John Lennon is photographed getting into his limousine — and is thought to be the last picture of him alive!
12.40PM A team from RKO Radio in San Francisco, headed by Dave Sholin, arrive at the Dakota to interview Lennon.
‘We drive up to the Dakota, which is a very impressive building,’ says Sholin today. ‘It takes your breath away. And then we were ushered into this incredible space, this beautiful room where you take your shoes off, which is a wonderful custom, sit down on a couch, and Yoko was there. And I looked up at the ceiling and I saw these beautiful clouds that were painted on it.
‘Then the door opens and John appears and does this little jump up in the air and says, “Well, here I am, folks, the show’s ready to begin.”
‘He spreads his arms out and comes over. It was like he wanted to make us feel very comfortable and it worked, because in a matter of two or three minutes we were conversing as if I’d known him for years. It was just that kind of chemistry and it was tremendous. In the three-and-a-half hours we were together, he could not have been more upbeat, more excited about what lay ahead — both musically and with Yoko and Sean.’
1.30PM Sean Lennon and his nanny, Helen Seaman, plus Sean’s bodyguard, return home after spending the weekend on Long Island.
3.30PM Goresh goes into the Dakota to find out if John has signed a copy of his book A Spaniard In The Works, which Goresh has left for him.
‘When I went back to my post outside, the guy with the overcoat was there and he was alone, again on the other side of the archway,’ says Goresh.
‘He came over and said, “I owe you an apology for the way I acted earlier. But you’re in New York. You never know who you can trust these days.” ‘
3.55PM John concludes his interview with Sholin, saying:
‘I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried and I hope that’s a long, long time.’ Lennon
4PM As the RKO radio crew wait outside the Dakota for their limo, John and Yoko come out looking for their car to take them to the Record Plant recording studio in Midtown to work on a new song. Sholin says: ‘John was looking around and for a split second, I’m thinking, “Well, this is pretty amazing — here is John Lennon outside in New York.” I just dismissed it. In this town, I thought, it’s no big deal and that was it.’
And as he was talking to me, the guy with the overcoat approached him from the left. And the guy didn’t say a word, he just held the album out in front of John and John turned to him and looked at the album and said, “Do you want it signed?” And the guy nodded. He didn’t say a word.
‘It looked like a picture, so I snapped a couple of frames and the first picture I took was John signing the album. And the guy nodded and he took the album and he just backed away. And then John turned to me and looked at me as if to say, “That was peculiar.”’
Meanwhile, there is still no sign of John’s taxi. Says Sholin: ‘So John is saying, “Well, our car isn’t here. You’re going to the airport, would you mind giving us a ride?” I said, “Hop on in.” And on the way, I ask him about his relationship with Paul McCartney. [Lennon and McCartney had supposedly been estranged since The Beatles’ breakup in 1971 and had traded insults on their respective solo albums].
‘He says, “Well, he’s like a brother. I love him. Families — we certainly have our ups and downs and our quarrels. But at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, I would do anything for him, I think he would do anything for me.”
And we said our goodbyes and dropped John and Yoko off at the studio.’
5PM John and Yoko arrive at the Record Plant to continue work with record producer Jack Douglas on Yoko’s Walking On Thin Ice, which is to be their next single. The lyrics are a ‘spoken word poem’ by Yoko which, like the song’s title, will turn out to have a eerie significance. They are about John and Yoko and how they will be remembered after their deaths. John loves it and tells her over the studio talkback system: ‘I think you’ve just got your first number one, Yoko.’
The last music John ever records is the guitar work on this track.
‘John was really on top of the world,’ recalls Douglas. ‘We finished the mix that night and I walked him down to the elevator and I said, “I’ll see you at Sterling,” the mastering house, at 9am. And he was all smiles. He had a cassette of the song with him. And Yoko was all smiles. And the elevator door closed.’
10.30PM In the car, Yoko proposes going to the Stage Deli for something to eat before they go home. But John says he wants to go back to the Dakota to see Sean before he goes to sleep.
The December night is exceptionally mild. Instead of driving through the arch into the safety of the Dakota’s inner courtyard, the limo draws up at the curb.
10.45PM As John gets out of the car, Chapman comes forward, still clutching his autographed copy of Double Fantasy. He softly calls out
produces a .38 handgun and, dropping down into a combat stance, fires five shots, four of which hit John. John keeps walking, goes up the stairs into the porter’s vestibule, then collapses, scattering the cassettes he’s been carrying.
A few seconds later, Yoko bursts in screaming:
‘John’s been shot.’
The duty porter, Jay Hastings, rings the alarm that goes through to the police, then kneels beside John to try to administer a tourniquet. This being futile, he removes John’s glasses and covers him with his porter’s jacket.
10.50PM Police patrolman Steve Spiro gets a call in his radio car to say there has been a shooting at 1 West 72nd Street. He and his partner, Peter Collin, get there in less than a minute.
Here’s Chapman account of what happened next, from that interview with Larry King:
He walked past me, I took five steps toward the street, turned withdrew my 38 and fired. What happened before the shooting, before I pulled the trigger and after were two different scenes in my mind. Before everything was like dead calm and I was ready for this to happen. I even heard of voice, my own, inside of me, say, ‘do it, do it, do it, here we go.’ And then afterwards, it was like, the film strip broke. I fell in upon myself. I went into a state of shock. I stood there with the gun hanging limply down on my right side, and Jose the doorman and came over and he’s crying, and he’s grabbing my arm and he’s shaking my arm and he shook the gun right out of my hand. Which was a very brave thing to do, I just couldn’t wait, Larry, until those police got there. I was just devastated.
‘There was a man pointing into the vestibule and he said, “That’s the man doing the shooting,” ‘ says Spiro. ‘We realized this is for real. I peeked in and saw a man with his hands up, so I threw this guy against the wall and at that point the porter says to me, “He shot John Lennon.” And I said, “You what?”
‘I saw two of my fellow police officers carrying a man out, face up with blood coming out of his mouth. I recognized John Lennon.’
10.53PM Patrolmen Bill Gamble and James Moran put John in the back of their car and speed to Roosevelt Hospital at 59th Street near Central Park. Yoko follows behind in another police car.
11PM Emergency Room doctor Stephan Lynn has left for the night, but the hospital calls him back. ‘I actually got there before the patient,’ recalls Dr. Lynn. ‘I didn’t know exactly what was happening. Through the doors, two police officers came in. They were carrying a body over their shoulders. It was lifeless. We were ready.’
Also in the ER, after a motorcycle accident earlier that evening, was a young ABC newsman called Alan Weiss, for whom the events of that night are an indelible memory.
He recalls: ‘The doctor said, “I’m going to take you into X-ray and see what the damage is.” At that moment, the door behind me slams open and a man comes running in yelling,
“We’ve got a gunshot, gunshot in the chest.” And the doctor says, “When’s it coming in?” He says, “Hitting the door right now.”
‘Two police officers came around the corner, one with the body on his shoulder. He was holding him, just like a fireman’s hold, and the other one yelled: “Gunshot wound, no vital signs,”’ Dr. Lynn told CNN.
‘He was lifeless, he had no pulse, no blood pressure, he was unresponsive.’
‘She says, “Alan, I’m sorry, I’ve got to take care of this.” I reply, “No problem, I understand.” And I can hear footsteps and the door opens up and I look behind me and in come I’m not sure quite how many police officers carrying a stretcher.’
Dr. Lynn continues: ‘We positioned the body in front of us on a stretcher in the resuscitation room. It was clear that there were three gunshot wounds in the left upper chest and one to the left arm. It was also clear that there was no circulation, no profusion.
‘We initially didn’t know that it was John Lennon. As part of our normal routine we took his identification out of his clothing and it said John Lennon but the nurses said, “This doesn’t look like John Lennon, it can’t be.”
‘Almost immediately thereafter Yoko Ono entered the emergency department. We knew who we were dealing with. We had a very important person in our midst and it was our job to attempt to resuscitate him.’
Still lying on his stretcher in the corridor outside, Weiss overhears two police officers talking. ‘One says to the other, “Can you believe it — John Lennon?” I open my eyes and I look up and I say, “Excuse me sir, what did you say?” And he says “I didn’t say anything,” and he moves away.
‘Well, did he say John Lennon? Did he say Jack Lemmon? Did he say some other name of somebody we don’t know?
‘And I hear crying. And I look behind me and in comes walking an Asian woman in a full-length mink coat. I knew it was Yoko Ono so it had to be John Lennon.’
As Weiss hobbles to a payphone to alert his news desk at ABC, Dr. Lynn and his team are battling to save John’s life. But they find that Chapman’s bullets — the kind which expand on entering the body — have destroyed all the blood vessels that leave John’s heart, the aorta and all of its branches.
‘We tried to find a place where we could stop the bleeding,’ says Dr Lynn.
‘I literally held John Lennon’s heart in my hand and I massaged it to try to get his heart going again and we transfused blood. But it was clear with all the vessels destroyed there would be absolutely nothing we could do that evening. About 11.10, 11.15pm, we pronounced John Lennon dead.
‘I think every one of us in the room suddenly realized what we were doing, where we were and who we were dealing with. A lot of people began to cry.
‘We reminded the staff not to say anything to anybody until an appropriate Press announcement had been made. We told the staff that they couldn’t sell their uniforms that might be blood-stained. We made certain that all the linens, all the equipment in the room were secured and that the medical record was tightly secured.’
Dr. Lynn realizes that he will have to break the news to Yoko Ono. Weiss — whom security men have by now moved into another corridor — hears the hospital sound system break into The Beatles’ All My Lovin’. Two minutes later, he hears a shriek: ‘Oh, no, no, no.’
Dr. Lynn says: ‘Her first response was immediate, “It’s not true. You’re lying. It can’t be. I don’t believe you.” In my mind it literally felt like this was going on for about five minutes.
‘She was lying on the floor, she was hitting her head against the floor. I put my hands behind her head to try to prevent damage to her.
‘Yoko Ono was incredibly emotional for quite a long time. And in fact it was when one of the nurses who brought in John Lennon’s wedding ring and gave it to her.
‘And I was touched by the first thing she said. What she said was, “My son, Sean, is still awake. He’s probably sitting in front of the TV set. Please delay making the announcement 20–25 minutes so I can get home and make certain that I tell him what happened before he sees it on TV.” ‘
Thanks to the efforts of Weiss, it is ABC that breaks the news of John’s death. Sports commentator Howard Cosell stuns millions by announcing it live during coverage of a Monday night American football game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots.
Fans begin gathering outside the Dakota Building in their hundreds, then thousands. Some even go on to commit suicide. There are spontaneous vigils in New York and Liverpool. It is the beginning of a wave of grief which will engulf the world.
Her hand touched John’s cold fingers as they curled slightly under his palm and were noticeably turning pale by the minute. The finger nails took on a yellow hue almost translucent but definitely see-through. These are the hands Yoko touched a million times but none so profound as to this moment. She imagined for a second that they were lying in bed and she reached over to grab John’s hand to let him know she was waking up for a new day. Yoko held tight to this memory squeezing her eyes shut almost willing it to be true. Cascading tears rolled down her cheeks as a reminder that it was not a dream but truly a nightmare. Her right hand clutched intensely the wedding ring that Dr. Lynn had given her minutes prior. The outline of the ring made a temporary in-print into the palm of her hand. She wished at that moment that the in-print could be branded into her hand forever. Yoko bowed to give proper respect to the passing of her husband only to fall farther onto the forehead of the Beatles legend. She cried massive tears that streamed onto Lennon’s forehead. Ono only knew him as “her John” and not as the brilliant rock star that so many strangers revered. For this, she mourned deeply.
The attending nurse entered where Yoko was spending her last few minutes with her husband. A single light over John was the only light source creating a shadowy vail in the oblong shaped corners of the room.
“Mrs. Lennon. You may stay as long as you need”, the nurse whispered in a barley audible voice so not to break Yoko’s stare.
Yoko nodded slightly while still looking at John. She brushed his hair back and out of his face so she could view any evidence the he was at peace after such a sudden jolt from the world he so desperately loved being part of. At this point Lennon’s face relented into a sunken, stoic, reality of when your soul begins to recognize that it is no longer part of it’s body. However, there is a feeling that the essence is not quite ready to move on so it hangs around to be with those closest to them.
When the time came for Yoko to leave John she kissed him on the forehead and touched the side of his right cheek with her left hand.
“Goodnight my love”, she whispered into his ear.
Yoko walked out of the room passing the nurse she had spoken with earlier and toward Dr. Lynn the physician who had treated John. She touched his arm and blinked slowly in acknowledgement of his efforts. He nodded slightly in defeat as he was sorry he could not save her husband. Waiting was good friend and Record producer David Geffen who escorted Yoko out into the waiting crowd of sorrowful fans.
Lennon’s autopsy report said Lennon was shot four times. Two bullets entered the left side of Lennon’s left back, traveling through the left side of his chest and his left lung before exiting from the body. A second bullet also passed into the left side of his chest and through his left lung, then lodged in his neck. Two more bullets hit Lennon in his left shoulder. Lennon’s fear had become a gruesome and harsh reality.
In 1977, John Lennon wrote and recorded the song ‘Free as a Bird’. Fifteen years after his death the surviving three Beatles, Paul, George and Ringo, gathered together to add their voices to the track. Throughout the recording, the three men felt the presence of John, even claiming to hear his name as the song faded out. It was the photoshoot afterward that brought the real surprise, though. During his lifetime, John promised to send his loved ones a white feather as a sign when he passed away. As the photographer snapped the group, a rare white peacock wandered into shot to the amusement of the three bandmates. Paul McCartney later stated,
“I said to the other guys, ‘That’s John!‘ Spooky eh? It was like John was hanging around. We felt that all the way through the recording.”
When John Lennon told his young son Julian that a white feather was a sign that he was watching over him, he couldn’t have realized the poignancy or the impact his words would hold in the years that followed.
Julian once stated:
“One thing Dad said to me should he pass away, if there was any way of letting me know he was going to be ok, the message would come to me in the form of a white feather. Then something happened to me about ten years ago when I was on tour in Australia. I was presented with a white feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder, which definitely took my breath away. One thing for sure is that the white feather always represented peace to me.”
Convinced that as promised, the spirit of his father was sending him a message, Julian set up The White Feather Foundation which embraces humanitarian and environmental issues for the betterment of all life.
Paul Goresh, who famously snapped the only photo of John Lennon with his killer — died January 9, 2018. He was 58. Mark David Chapman is still imprisoned at the Wende Correctional Facility, a New York state prison east of Buffalo. He has been there since August 25, 1981. His next parole hearing is 2022 which will likely be denied and has been since he was eligible in 2000.