“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing,” the great writer C. S. Lewis once stated. “We were promised sufferings,” he continued. “They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
It is perhaps better to refer to others when attempting to define a singular take on the feeling of loss and grief. While almost every single person will encounter personal feelings of their own after the death of a loved one, the feeling of emptiness, suffering, hopelessness and, as Lewis added, ‘fear’ will ring true for almost everyone. Perhaps it is in that final emotion, in fear, that Ringo Starr felt most profoundly after the shocking death of his close friend and former bandmate John Lennon.
Gunned down by a crazed fan outside his New York home, the actions of Mark David Chapman’s murderous plot are still reverberating today. Lennon was just 40 years of age when he was fatally wounded by Chapman on December 8, 1980, in the archway of The Dakota, a home he shared with his wife, Yoko Ono. It was a murder that triggered an unprecedented outpouring of grief the world over.
While C. S. Lewis is correct in his assessment of loss and grief on a personal level, what can be appropriated to the feelings of those closest to John Lennon? Those at the height of fame, those who lived fast and shoulder to shoulder with the Beatle, those now dealing with an abhorrent reality of a gruesome and callous murder? “I just wanted to be in a band,” Geroge Harrison famously stated in reaction to Lennon’s death. “Here we are, 20 years later, and some whack job has shot my mate. I just wanted to play guitar in a band,” he added.
While both Harrison and Paul McCartney attempted to put on a unified front, to show glimpses of their suffering but maintain a level of privacy with their public expression, The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, was unravelling in front of everyone’s eyes. After rushing to New York to be with Lennon’s family after the murder – the first one to do so – Starr made a gut-wrenching appearance on television to be interviewed by Barbara Walters.
“I was staying at the Plaza; we went over to New York for a while. I hadn’t seen him for a while because, you know, we see each other wherever we are. And he came over with Yoko for an hour. And we had such a great time, cause they stayed five hours,” he explained with a forlorn and desperate look on his face.
“It didn’t matter that it was a year between we didn’t see each other, it was always fine when we did – but it was a particularly great time that we, that I had, anyway,” he added.
Clearly struggling with the line of questioning, Starr, almost typically, attempted to divert the conversation to the music, describing how it was always the focus of the band’s attention. However, suddenly taken over by the realisation that Lennon was no longer with him, the drummer made his own personal opinion known before stating: “You’ll have to ask the other two,” in regards to their opinion on the matter in hand. It is in that moment, as the saddened look across his face becomes more apparent, that Starr added: “Isn’t it funny when you say that now,” cutting off the interviewer’s next question with a raw moment of contemplation. “You know it’s so new to me that it sort of clogs you up a bit. I used to say ‘ask the other three’ but now we can only ask two which is a drag but I’m sure he’s OK.”
After a period of pause, a silence that feels more real than anything else said in the interview, Ringo simply fills the space by stating: “I’m really sad. I still miss John a great deal, I’ll always miss him you know. But it’s still brand new.”
It’s clear to see by the wretched expression across his face, his drooping eyes and the lump in his throat that this conversation is too difficult. After explaining how he found out about Lennon’s death, explaining that he received a phone call about the shooting, Starr cuts the answer short with a simple: “Do you want to stop that now?” with an almost desperate plea to move on. “It doesn’t help and it always gets me upset,” he explains.
Signing off his thoughts, Ringo added: “And then the asshole appeared,” he said, referring to murderer Mark David Chapman. “There’s no understanding it. You think about it, but I’m telling you, you never understand it. The world has lost a wonderful man.”
See the interview, below.