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.”
Also on this day...
- 2010: Tributes held worldwide to mark 30 years of John Lennon’s passing
- 1969: Recording: Octopus’s Garden
- 1967: UK EP release: Magical Mystery Tour
- 1966: Recording, editing: When I’m Sixty-Four, Strawberry Fields Forever
- 1965: Live: Gaumont Cinema, Sheffield
- 1964: George Harrison visits Ringo Starr in hospital
- 1963: Live: Odeon Cinema, Lewisham
- 1962: Live: Oasis Club, Manchester
- 1961: Live: Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, Wallasey
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.