John Lennon was a British musician who gained worldwide fame as one of the founders of The Beatles, for his subsequent solo career, and for his political activism and pacifism. He was shot by Mark David Chapman at the entrance of the building where he lived, The Dakota, in New York City on 8 December 1980. Lennon had just returned from Record Plant Studio with his wife, Yoko Ono.
Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where it was stated that nobody could have lived for more than a few minutes after sustaining such injuries. Shortly after local news stations reported Lennon’s death, crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota. Lennon was cremated on 10 December 1980 at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York; the ashes were given to Ono, who chose not to hold a funeral for him. The first report of Lennon’s death to a U.S. national audience was announced by Howard Cosell, on ABC’s Monday Night Football.
The Dakota’s doorman, ex-CIA Agent Jose Sanjenis Perdomo, and a nearby cab driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway. As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman, appearing to recognize him from earlier. Seconds later, Chapman took aim directly at the center of Lennon’s back and fired five hollow-point bullets at him from a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver in rapid succession. Based on statements made that night by NYPD Chief of Detectives, James Sullivan, numerous radio, television, and newspaper reports claimed at the time that, before firing, Chapman called out “Mr. Lennon” and dropped into a “combat stance”. Later court hearings and witness interviews did not include either “Mr. Lennon” or the “combat stance” description. Chapman has said he does not remember calling out Lennon’s name before he fired but he confirmed taking a “combat stance” in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters. The first bullet missed, passing over Lennon’s head and hitting a window of the Dakota building. Two of the next bullets struck Lennon in the left side of his back, and two more penetrated his left shoulder. Lennon, bleeding profusely from external wounds and also from his mouth, staggered up five steps to the security/reception area, saying, “I’m shot, I’m shot”. He then fell to the floor, scattering cassettes that he had been carrying. The concierge, Jay Hastings, first started to make a tourniquet, but upon ripping open Lennon’s blood-stained shirt and realizing the severity of his multiple injuries, he covered Lennon’s chest with his uniform jacket, removed his blood-covered glasses, and summoned the police.
Outside, doorman Perdomo shook the gun out of Chapman’s hand then kicked it across the sidewalk. Chapman then removed his coat and hat in preparation for the arrival of police—to show he was not carrying any concealed weapons—and sat down on the sidewalk. Perdomo shouted at Chapman, “Do you know what you’ve just done?” to which Chapman calmly replied, “Yes, I just shot John Lennon.” The first policemen to arrive were Steve Spiro and Peter Cullen, who were at 72nd Street and Broadway when they heard a report of shots fired at the Dakota. The officers arrived around two minutes later and found Chapman sitting “very calmly” on the sidewalk. They reported that Chapman had dropped the revolver to the ground and was holding a paperback book, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Side view of Dakota entryway showing steps Lennon climbed before collapsing in the lobby
The second team, officers Bill Gamble and James Moran, arrived a few minutes later. Realizing the extent of Lennon’s injuries, they decided not to wait for an ambulance and immediately carried him into their squad car and rushed him to Roosevelt Hospital. Officer Moran said they placed Lennon on the back seat. Reportedly, Moran asked, “Are you John Lennon?” to which Lennon nodded and replied “Yes.” There are conflicting accounts of this, however. According to another account, Lennon nodded slightly and tried to speak, but could only manage to make a gurgling sound, and lost consciousness shortly thereafter.
Dr. Stephan Lynn received Lennon in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital. When Lennon arrived, he had no pulse and was not breathing. Dr. Lynn and two other doctors worked for nearly 20 minutes, opening Lennon’s chest and attempting manual heart massage to restore circulation, but the damage to the blood vessels around the heart was too great Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival in the emergency room at the Roosevelt Hospital at 11:15 pm by Dr. Lynn, but the time of 11:07 pm has also been reported. The cause of death was reported as hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume.
The surgeon also noted—as did other witnesses—that at the moment Lennon was pronounced dead a Beatles song (“All My Loving”) came over the hospital’s sound system.
As Lennon had been shot four times with hollow-point bullets (which expand upon entering the target and severely disrupt more tissue as they travel through the target), Lennon’s affected organs were virtually destroyed upon impact. Lynn stated: “If [Lennon] had been shot in the middle of the operating room with a team of surgeons ready to work on him, he wouldn’t have survived his injuries”. When told by Dr. Lynn of her husband’s death, Ono started sobbing and said, “Oh no, no, no, no … tell me it’s not true.” Dr. Lynn remembers that Ono lay down and began hitting her head against the floor, but calmed down when a nurse gave Lennon’s wedding ring to her. She was led away from Roosevelt Hospital by Geffen Records’ president, David Geffen, in a state of shock.
Monday Night Football
Ono asked the hospital not to report that Lennon was dead until she had informed their son, who was at home. Ono said he was probably watching television and did not want him to learn of his father’s death from a TV announcement.
Before long, due to a producer for ABC’s flagship NYC station, WABC-TV and its news program, Eyewitness News, Alan J. Weiss being rushed in to the same hospital (because of a motorcycle accident) and seeing Lennon on a stretcher, word reached Roone Arledge, who was the president of ABC News. At the time, Arledge was also president of ABC’s sports division and was the executive producer of Monday Night Football. That night’s game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots was still being played when Arledge received the news, and Arledge suggested to the broadcast team, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, that they immediately announce Lennon’s death on air. When the news was relayed, the Patriots were driving to potentially score the game-winning points as the score was tied; the following transcript of what was said begins with thirty seconds remaining in the game as Cosell sets the stage for his announcement:
Cosell: … but (the game)’s suddenly been placed in total perspective for us; I’ll finish this, they’re in the hurry-up offense.
Gifford: Third down, four. (Chuck) Foreman … it’ll be fourth down. (Matt) Cavanaugh will let it run down for one final attempt, he’ll let the seconds tick off to give Miami no opportunity whatsoever. (whistle blows) Timeout is called with three seconds remaining, John Smith is on the line. And I don’t care what’s on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth.
Cosell: Yes, we have to say it. Remember this 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. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take. Frank?