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Music

The moment Keith Richards found out John Lennon was killed

@SamWKemp

On December 8th, 1980, Keith Richards was in downtown New York, walking along Fifth Avenue. Just a few miles north, John Lennon was walking too; strolling beneath the archway of The Dakota apartment complex when five hollow-point bullets hit him in the back. The Dakota’s doorman, Jose Perdomo, in a stunning act of bravery, accosted the gunman (Mark Chapman) and shook the pistol from his hand.

While Perdomo restrained Chapman, a concierge ripped off a square of Lennon’s shirt to fashion a tourniquet, but on seeing the blood pouring from his chest, covered the musician’s wounds with a leather jacket and called the police. In the dark cloister of The Dakota, the metallic ring of those five bullets still hung in the air.

For those who were closest to him, the news of Lennon’s death was inconceivable, as Kieth Richards recalled in 2000: “I was downtown on Fifth Avenue in New York. The first bit of news I got, I thought: ‘He’ll make it. It’s just a flesh wound.’ And then, later on, the news really came. He wasn’t just a mate of mine, he was a mate of everybody’s, really. He was a funny guy. And you realise that you’re stunned. You really don’t believe it. And you think, ‘God, why can’t I do anything about it?’ I got well drunk on it. And I had another one for John. Then there was the confusion, the phone calls, trying to find out if Yoko was OK.”

Richards and Lennon crossed paths many times over the course of their respective careers. For the Stones guitarist, Lennon’s death wasn’t simply a tabloid headline, it marked the end of a friendship that had begun way back in the 1960s, at a time when both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were just beginning to make their mark on the world of music. “There were the Beatles, and there was John,” Richards said.

Adding: “As a band, they were a great unit. But John, he was his own man. We got along very well. We didn’t see each other very often. But he would sort of turn up at your hotel. Usually, if I was in the city, I’d stay at the Plaza. If John turned up, that meant he wanted to party.”

“He didn’t come there to discuss, you know, philosophy, although it would end up like that,” the guitarist continued. “I would just get into town, and there’d be a knock at the door: ‘Hey, mon, what is going on around here?’ We would get the guitars down and sing. And, in our spare time, discuss world domination. He’s rubbed off on me as much as anybody. A bit of me rubbed off on John, too, you know. He took it with him. My father just passed away, and he winked at me just before he died. I really feel a lot better about death now. I’m getting off on that wink. I’d give the wink to John.”

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