Today (December 8th) marks the 35th anniversary of John Lennon‘s death. As is the custom every year, several hundred fans are expected to stand vigil for Lennon across the street from the Dakota building in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields. The triangular patch of land was designated by the city of New York in 1984 to celebrate the former Beatle‘s life and work.
In the fall of 1980, the 40-year-old Lennon had re-entered public life after a self-imposed five-year hiatus to spend time with his young son Sean, travel, and recharge his creative batteries. On November 17th, 1980, Lennon and wife Yoko Ono had released their “comeback” album Double Fantasy, which included such future Lennon standards as “Woman,” “Beautiful Boy,” “Watching The Wheels,” and the album’s lead track and single “(Just Like) Starting Over.”
In 1980, John Lennon was asked if the personal freedom that New York City afforded him convinced him he needed to stay in America: “Yeah, that’s what made me stay here. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just found that I was going to movies, going to restaurants. . . The five years, you think it was just baking bread and the baby — no, because I went to Hong Kong and walked around. And people could not appreciate what it was to. . . When I left England, I couldn’t go on the street. It was still Carnaby Street and all that stuff. We couldn’t walk around the block, ‘couldn’t go to a restaurant, unless you wanted to go with the business of ‘the star going to the restaurant’ garbage. I’ve been walking the streets for the last seven years.”
On the night of December 8th, 1980 — with “(Just Like) Starting Over” sitting at Number Six on the singles charts — Lennon and Yoko returned home to their apartment building, the Dakota on Manhattan’s Central Park West. They had spent the evening at the Record Plant East recording studio mixing a tune of Yoko’s called “Walking On Thin Ice.” Mark David Chapman, who had been stalking Lennon for several days and had received an autograph from Lennon earlier that evening, lay in wait for his return. Chapman, who was living in Honolulu at the time, had made an unsuccessful trip to New York the previous October with the intent of killing Lennon, but couldn’t find him.
Lennon and Yoko returned from the studio at around 10:50 p.m., with their limousine dropping them off in front of the building on 72nd Street, rather than pulling into the building’s courtyard as usual. As the couple walked in, they passed Chapman who called out “Mr. Lennon?” and fired five shots from a .38 caliber handgun, with four bullets entering Lennon’s neck and back. Officers were quick on the scene, arresting Chapman and rushing Lennon in a squad car to nearby Roosevelt Hospital, where doctors worked on reviving the musician, who died from the severity of his wounds.
Dr. Stephan Lynn, the director of Roosevelt Hospital’s emergency room, recalled Lennon’s injures to The New York Post, saying that, “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. There was no way that we could repair them.”
The news of Lennon’s death was broken by a reporter for New York’s WABC-TV, who by coincidence was in the same emergency room after a motorcycle accident. The news was first reported by Howard Cosell during the Monday Night Football telecast: