Thirty years ago, there was no Twitter or MSNBC or Fox News (or Fox for that matter), so news coverage of that cold night in New York City came in the form of breaking news alerts from older, veteran newsmen, who delivered the sad news with their trademark gravitas. Ted Koppel for ABC, a crusty BBC anchor and even Bill Kurtis (of ‘Cold Case Files’) broke the news to viewers of Chicago’s CBS affiliate. The most widely seen and enduring announcement of the tragedy came from Howard Cosell in the ‘Monday Night Football’ broadcast booth. Watch that and other vintage news alerts.
On the morning of December 8, 1980, John Lennon was happy in New York, his adopted home, and looking forward to the future.
Having recently turned 40, he had finally recovered from the years as a Beatle that he so hated. His controversial love affair with Yoko Ono had survived, weathering even John’s drunken and womanising 18-month bender in Los Angeles that he’d called his ‘Lost Weekend’.
After a five-year ‘retirement’ as a house-husband, bringing up his son Sean, he had gone back to making records. And he had just learned that his new album in partnership with Yoko, Double Fantasy, had gone gold.
In the words of his old Liverpool friend Gerry Marsden: ‘John had found peace at last.’
But by the end of that day, 30 years ago this Wednesday, John would be dead at the hands of deranged former fan Mark Chapman and the world would be in mourning.
During the past six months I have been the executive producer of a major documentary for ITV1, The Day John Lennon Died, in which we have interviewed all the key witnesses – from the fan who took the last photograph of John to the policeman called to the scene of the shooting and the doctor who held John’s heart in his hands and battled to save him.
This, arguably, 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 demeanour 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.” ‘
Yesterday and today: Mark Chapman’s 1980 mugshot, above left, and another taken this year. He has been repeatedly denied parole, and will have the opportunity to apply again in 2012