“Now Daddy is part of God,” Sean Ono Lennon poignantly reflected upon the death of his father, John Lennon, “I guess when you die you become much more bigger because you’re part of everything.” These prescient words struck with tremendous resonance to a grieving world amid the frenzied aftermath of the event.
Lennon was a great many things to millions of people and his loss had a seismic impact. In the immediate hours following the attack, word began to spread. Stevie Wonder was performing at the Oakland Coliseum and was tasked with announcing the news. “I want you all to understand that I’m not a person who likes to be the [bearer of] bad news,” Wonder announced.
Clearly shaken, he informed a shocked audience, “For those of you who don’t know this … it’s been really hard for me to do this show tonight but [I] did it in memory of people like this man. … He was shot tonight. … I’m talking about Mr. John Lennon. … I know that you would want me to continue to express the same feelings as he has in his life.”
Thereafter, people began to focus on how something like this could happen in the first place and America’s views on gun control were called into consideration. As ever, questions regarding the perpetrator, Mark David Chapman, began to enter the conversation and the big questions of how and why begged to be answered.
When the dust settled on the tragedy, the final take home from the senseless loss of a legend was the legacy that he left behind. This is a legacy that Yoko Ono and Lennon’s children have continued to uphold to this day. Yoko Ono herself would recall the happiness that the pair shared with their children in the final weeks of his life, “John and I were gloriously happy in the first week of December,” she reflected. “In our minds, we were a team – old soldiers.”
Below, we are looking at the final 24 hours of Lennon’s life in an exploration of the immediate timeline that led to the tragedy.
A timeline John Lennon’s final 24 hours:
From the beginning…
It was one of the warmest December days on record in New York when Lennon quietly arose and gazed out of his Dakota building apartment over the city’s skyline to the clear azure blue skies beyond.
Ahead of him was a busy day with a photo session and radio interview promoting Double Fantasy. The joint Yoko Ono and Lennon record had been his biggest success for almost a decade. When Yoko Ono emerged in the living room later that morning, she found her husband lost in contemplative thought, looking out over Manhattan.
Lennon and Yoko Ono begin their day with breakfast at the Café La Fortuna. Lennon gets his usual favourite: eggs benedict and a cappuccino.
Prior to his photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, Lennon decides to get a quick haircut.
Lennon arrives at the photoshoot with Leibovitz and pitches an idea – he will be photographed nude clinging to a clothed Yoko Ono.
This concept later becomes the iconic Rolling Stone cover from January 22nd, 1981.
Following the brief shoot, Dave Sholin arrives to conduct a radio interview with Lennon. Their chat lasts for a whopping three hours as they muse on a range of subjects.
Given what followed, the line: “We’re either going to live or we’re going to die. I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried – and I hope that’s a long time” remains the most profoundly tragic.
The first meeting with Chapman
After the conclusion of the interview, Lennon heads towards the subway and encounters his killer for the first time that day.
Mark David Chapman hands him a copy of Double Fantasy and asks Lennon to sign it. Lennon wrote: “John Lennon, 1980. Handing it back.”
Last year, this singed record went on sale. It was believed to have sold for around $1.5 million by the private collector group Goldin Auctions.
‘Walking on Thin Ice’
Yoko Ono and John Lennon take a cab to The Record Factory where they begin work on a song called ‘Walking on Thin Ice’.
During the session, they are informed by David Geffen that Double Fantasy has gone gold. Lennon was so confident that ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ would continue their success that he told Yoko Ono that she had just recorded her first number one.
After leaving the studio at around 10:30pm, a limousine drops Lennon and Yoko Ono off at the Dakota building, Yoko Ono quickly shuffles towards the lobby while Lennon collects cassettes of the day’s recordings and a few pieces of equipment.
As he walks towards the entrance Mark David Chapman calls out “Mr Lennon” then fires four shots into Lennon’s back and a fifth misses.
The immediate aftermath
Lennon is able to crawl up the steps towards the lobby and cries out “I’m shot.”
Meanwhile, Mark David Chapman remains at the scene, removes his coat and begins reading the J.D. Salinger novel The Catcher in the Rye. He is arrested as soon as the police arrive on the scene two minutes later.
The final words
Lennon is asked by an attending officer, “Are you John Lennon?” he is able to reply, “Yes,” but has lost so much blood that he loses consciousness afterwards. These were Lennon’s last words.
Confirmation of death
Seven doctors work on Lennon at Roosevelt Hospital.
They perform an emergency thoracotomy, but his injuries are too severe, and he is pronounced dead.
The tragedy may remain stark when laid out, but more often than not, when we look back, it is a cataclysm subsumed by a legacy that far outstrips the despair of its end.
With music and a mantra that changed the world, the boon he offered is one that could never be taken away. As Yoko Ono would poetically put it, “I saw John smiling in the sky. I saw sorrow changing into clarity. I saw all of us becoming one mind.”