This remarkable interview, conducted just 12 hours before John Lennon’s assassination, offers an insight into one of the most mythologised men in the history of recorded music. With a runtime of one hour and 47 minutes, the conversation reveals every facet of Lennon’s complex personality, from his jocular inner-child to the thoughtful artist at work.
On the evening of December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was shot dead while leaving his apartment building. The news quickly spread around the world. Stevie Wonder, who was performing in the Oakland Coliseum, stopped mid-song to break the news to the crowd: “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”.
Earlier that day, however, Lennon had stopped by a New York radio station to promote his new album, Double Fantasy – his first offering since the birth of his son, Sean, in 1975. After the morning’s photoshoot, Lennon arrived at the radio studio and sat down with Dave Sholin for a near-three-hour interview, in which the pair talk about everything from the recently released Double Fantasy to Lennon’s creative process and his early life in Liverpool. Yoko Ono was also present and there’s a wonderful moment in the first few minutes when she can be heard reassuring her deeply apologetic husband for being late.
What’s immediately apparent is that, on the day he died, Lennon was in an incredibly good mood. From the off, he’s cracking jokes, making strange voices into the microphone, and generally trying to make people laugh. However, this astonishing interview also features some incredibly haunting moments, the most powerful of which comes when Lennon says: “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”. Of course, death was far closer than he thought.
A timeline of 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.