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The Day We Killed John Lennon (Born 9 October 1940 – Assassinated 8 December 1980)

We’d finished filming John and Yoko for the video a day or so before he was shot to death. It was their last video, but of course, we didn’t know it at the time. There was film of them holding hands and walking in Central Park in the place that would later become “Strawberry Fields.” We’d filmed them rolling naked in bed together in a Soho Art Gallery where she looked healthy and ample and he looked small and slight, with skin that was almost translucent. I remember being slightly surprised by the fact that Lennon’s need for Ono was so constant and palpable. He was seldom more than two feet away from her side and had the disconcerting habit of calling her “Mommy” whenever they spoke.

My role was as “executive producer” which really meant that I was to stand around with a roll of hundred dollar bills and pay-off the Teamsters and solve other problems with copious applications of money. It was an odd job in more ways than one, but I was grateful to have it at the time.

We’d sent the last of the film to the lab, and my old friend and director Ethan Russell had gone back to Los Angeles to begin editing. The crew had dispersed and I’d taken to my bed racked with pain. The job, this time, had been so tough and high stress that my neck had gone out. I could barely turn my head without feeling as if a sledge was hammering a hot-needle into the cervical vertebrae. I was lying carefully propped on the bed eating Bufferin as if they were Tic-Tacs and trying not to move. My neck was held in one of those tight foam collars. Not moving was the best thing to do at the time and I was doing it with all my might.

It was a small one-bedroom apartment on the East Side of Manhattan. My first wife and I were there after three years of living in London, Paris, the Algarve, and other European locations. She was eight months pregnant with our daughter and looked as if she was trying to smuggle a basketball across state lines for immoral purposes. Her mood, never really cheerful, was not improved by her situation.

The apartment was on loan from her uncle’s girlfriend. I was down to my last few thousand dollars and was looking for a job. The film gig had been a gift from my old friend Ethan, and I’d been glad to get it. But it was over and, with a baby banging on the door of the world, things were not looking up. At the time, the only thing looking up was me since my neck required me to lie flat and gaze at the ceiling. It had been a rough two weeks but I thought things would certainly improve.

And of course, that’s when things got worse. It got worse in the way most things do, the phone rang and my wife called out, “It’s for you.”

Some New York wag once said, “Age fourteen is the last time in your life when you’re glad the phone is for you.”

I groped blindly to the side of the bed and picked up the extension. It was Ethan calling from an editing room in Los Angeles. “John’s been shot. He’s dead.”

I think my reaction then was my reaction now when I wrote out the phrase above. I just stopped doing and thinking whatever I was doing or thinking and stared at the rough plaster ceiling above and blinked slowly in the silence.

Then I said whatever I said. I’m sure I expressed shock, disbelief, and something about how alive he’d been at the filming session the day before, or two days before… whatever it may have been. But Ethan, ever the professional, brought the call back to the reason for it.

“Here’s what has to be done and done now. The footage we shot in the park is now the last footage ever taken of John. It is sitting in a film lab in Manhattan. We’ve got to get control of it, all of it, and secure it until everything is sorted out. There can’t be a bootleg copy floating around for the tabloids and the television shows. It’s probably the property of Yoko but we’ll sort that out later. For now, you’ve got to get it out and safe.”

The call ended and I stood up. Slowly. Dressed even more slowly and watched, as I dressed, the unfolding of the end of Lennon’s life as reported, beat by beat, by all the television stations on the dial.

The next 24 hours are a blur. I remember sitting rigidly in the back of a limo learning to hate the potholes of the New York streets with a passion as each one slammed another heated needle deep into my neck. I somehow got the film out of the lab and took it to a midtown bank and placed it in a safe-deposit box. There were lawyers and paperwork to deal with, phone calls and more instructions.

The street in front of the Dakota was packed with people along both sidewalks and the crowd spilled into the street. The police were keeping it moving in a quiet way. Small seas of flowers flowed across the sidewalk and up the walls and gates of the Dakota. Pictures and scrawled messages of love and loss were taped to the walls and flung into the flowers. Widening puddles of melted wax where hundreds of candles burned lapped at the edges of the flowers. Some people held each other, others walked and wept openly. Some stood to the side and sobbed quietly. A path through the offerings had been cleared at the entrance to the Dakota and to get in you had to wade through the grief.

This spontaneous shrine was a harbinger, as so many things in John’s life and death were. The same motif of flowers, pictures, candles, weeping, and grief would be repeated on a vast scale across the entire city and country some 21 years later on 9/11, but that sort of thing could not have been imagined in December of 1980. This was the largest grief that could then be conceived by us – the killing of one of the Gods of music. “Our music.” Which the “Man can’t bust,” but, as had just been proven by one of our lunatics, we could kill.

Taken large, this was the death of the music in the death of a man in whom we’d invested much of our misplaced faith. Taken larger it was the death of the 60s and all that we once “imagined” it might mean, might become. And all of it happening in a way that would be echoed in later years as the 60s died again and again – and always at the hands of those that lived it. I might have seen it then, if then I could have seen clearly, as a portent of so much that sprung from those fertile blindingly optimistic years that would go wrong and twisted in the years ahead, but “I am no prophet and here’s no great matter.”

On that day, I didn’t see anything clearly — nor would I for decades. I just walked into the courtyard of the Dakota, took the elevator up to the apartment, said some words to the small and aging Asian woman in the white room, dropped off legal papers and keys and went down the elevator, out to the car and had it drive me back to bed across the park.

That’s what I did on that day. Just another walk-on part in the war.

Some days later there was a memorial service for John in Central Park. I went with an old friend from Berkeley, Jon Cott, who’d interviewed Lennon once or twice over the years for Rolling Stone. I don’t remember much about the service. I’m sure “Imagine,” that anthem of dubious distinction, was sung by all of us, and that there were more flowers and candles and crying as is the way of these things.

When it was over, I walked out of Central Park with Cott, one of my amigos from those diamond sky nights in Berkeley, the Haight, “swinging” London, and all the other scenes we’d flowed through in the 60s and 70s. I walked East out of the park towards what would soon become not just my first wife, but my family for 12 years — a whole new life containing all the seeds, good and bad, of the old dead life.

I said goodbye to Jon Cott at the entrance to the subway that would take him downtown to the Village where he’d put aside writing about rock and roll and was now writing a book about children’s fairy tales. Cott was always just ahead of the curve. I watched from the street as he went down under the ground.

I’d never see him again. But then I’d never see the 60s again either. On that day, it all went down under the ground.


The video contains autumn footage that was shot by Russell and our crew just before Lennon’s assassination.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper October 9, 2018, 3:41 AM
  • mickey October 9, 2018, 5:58 AM

    Sometimes I wish I was as angry today as I was that day.

  • JohnTyle October 9, 2018, 6:05 AM

    If one did not know any better, one would think the lyrics to “Imagine,” came right out of Marx’s Das Kapital.
    Of course, Lennon did not deserve to be killed; no decent person does.
    But let’s be clear; he was a pop singer; that’t it. In the not too distant future no one will remember who he is because, frankly, he was just a pop singer.
    He did not change the world; he wrote and sang songs. That’s it.
    He associated with the rich and famous and was seen frequently in the mass media.
    He did not change the world; he did not make it a better place. He just wrote and sang pop songs.
    His music will most likely not live on because, well, they were just pop songs.
    Lennon simply does not deserve the acclaim and “hero-worship” status that he receives. After all, he was just a pop singer.

    Meanwhile, when a Norman Borlaug dies – a man who literally saved the lives of millions of people, the majority of whom were very, very poor – almost nobody pays any attention.
    There are no articles written about him, no memorials, etc.
    He is simply forgotten.

    May Lennon rest in peace

  • Dan Patterson October 9, 2018, 7:11 AM

    Of course no decent person deserves to be killed, and it is wrenchingly sad and isolating when one’s idols are violently taken from the living. There have been many, too many to detail over the years, and all made a positive impression on their fans and left a strong scar when they died.
    But I admit to some confusion when “we” is used to identify the killer. We? Really? Jagger did that in “Sympathy for the Devil” and the theme runs through some pop references of the mid-20th century – especially disturbing when used to compare the wealth of one demographic over another, as if I have anything to do with someone else’s lack of resources or poor motivation. Guilt and shame are powerful tools when used against juveniles and it can take decades to shed the weapons needed to combat their force. Since I never fit in with the KoolKids and had more in common with my grandparents than with my age identified group, the murder of Lennon did not viscerally affect me as it did my school mates. Instead the histrionics on display for decades later makes an interesting subject on human psychology.
    Yes, John Lennon rest in peace. Peace to his family and friends, and to his devoted fans. But I had nothing to do with it.

  • Ann K October 9, 2018, 8:24 AM

    Why did you kill him?

  • Joe October 9, 2018, 8:58 AM

    John got just what he imagined. He ain’t got no possessions. He ain’t got no country. He ain’t got nuttin to live for and sure as hell he died. He sure ain’t hungry, and I sure don’t want to join him.

  • BillH October 9, 2018, 9:00 AM

    Who ‘dis we you talkin’ ’bout?

  • JiminAlaska October 9, 2018, 10:06 AM

    I’ve no outstanding memories of 8 December 1980 but 20 or 30 years later I was wandering around the stadium, Saitama Super Arena, in Saitama, Japan and came across the john Lennon museum that Yoko set up. I didn’t go in but I did sit outside and listen to a few Beatles tunes on my Ipod.

    RIP John, it was cut short but you had a damn good run.

  • Steve in Greensboro October 9, 2018, 11:14 AM

    Was it me that killed him? I don’t remember that. Do I need to go to Two-Door Ford’s headshrinker to recover the memory?

    I didn’t much care for his music, but if I was going to kill musicians I wouldn’t have started with Lennon.

    I probably would have started with Yoko. Or maybe Barbra Midler or Bette Streisand.

  • Richard October 9, 2018, 11:39 AM

    [b]ut if I was going to kill musicians I wouldn’t have started with Lennon.

    For me, it would’ve been whoever was responsible for disco. *shudders*

  • Dorcas October 9, 2018, 12:17 PM

    Tiny Tim must die.

  • ghostsniper October 9, 2018, 1:09 PM

    Calling Lennon’s songs anything other than what they were is just plain goofy.
    I liked the Beatles (and their spin-off’s) songs at the time but haven’t played one in years, maybe 10 or more years, and if I hear one while in the grocery store the lyrics come right back. I was young and malleable during that period so those songs are probably permanent in my brain. Glad I wasn’t young during the (c)rap period. shudder

  • PA Cat October 9, 2018, 1:10 PM

    “I remember being slightly surprised by the fact that Lennon’s need for Ono was so constant and palpable.”

    They were the younger, “hip” version of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, in my opinion– a needy boy-man besotted with a psychological dominatrix. Lennon’s death didn’t affect me all that much other than the compassion I felt (and still feel) for anyone who dies as the result of murder. I never cared much for pop music; I was one of those nerdy kids who discovered Bach, Haydn, and other classical composers in junior high and never looked back. In addition, my religious faith inoculated me against idolizing any human being, however talented, charismatic, or simply hyped by the mass media.

  • OneGuy October 9, 2018, 3:37 PM

    So I realize this question means I’m a shallow person, but. I have never understood What he say in Yoko Ono. I assume he could have had/married a beautiful sexy woman that just the sight of her would make most men fall in love/lust. I certainly would have done that.

  • Vanderleun October 9, 2018, 4:02 PM

    Can’t speak to what was in Lennon’s mind/heart when it came to Ono, but I will say that during the week or so I was filming both of them, he obsessively called her “Mommy” and “Mother”

  • Casey Klahn October 9, 2018, 4:08 PM

    We all believe what we want (said in a fake Liverpudlian accent).

    I believe John did become more conservative as he aged what little he did age.

    I believe Yoko is someone to avoid with certain prejudice. What a shrike!

    December, 1980: I was so involved with Officer Candidate School that the things going on in popular culture were very far from my mind. I had no response to the killing of JL.

  • ghostsniper October 9, 2018, 7:37 PM

    Gerard, did you converse with Lennon?
    How did he seem personality wise?

  • Tom Hyland October 9, 2018, 8:15 PM

    I want to hear more thoughts, Gerard, regarding your time spent in such close proximity. The Beatles were huge to me. I was eight years old when they came to America first time. Suddenly I experienced music as exciting and limitless. I’ve read a lot of Beatles biographies. A couple of months ago I read “John Lennon & the FBI Files” by Strongman and Parker. This is a book filled with very disturbing information. Lennon was purposely assassinated. And the guy who did it was a programmed zombie, a tool…. who had spent the past several years being flown all over the globe on government-paid excursions to mind control camps. The authors present an impressive explanation of how and why Lennon had to be removed permanently. Spooky shit.

  • Nancy Reyes October 9, 2018, 8:26 PM

    Just look at all the lives and families destroyed because Lennon pushed the religion of taking drugs.
    And it was probably karma that his assasin was a boy whose paranoid schizophrenica was the result of taking drugs.

  • ghostsniper October 10, 2018, 4:26 AM

    Nancy, can you name just 1 example of a family destroyed because of your claim that Lennon “pushed” the idea of enjoying drugs?

    I was waist deep in every kind of drug and alcohol way back when and never knew or even heard of anyone being forced to do those things. Every seller always had ample and willing buyers. The whole thing about “pushers” is a fairy tale, never happened – lies from the gov’t/media.

    Been going on 40 years since Lennon was killed and there is no end in sight to the number of people doing drugs. He was more successful, in Nancy’s lights, than he ever “imagine”d.

  • Jaynie October 10, 2018, 5:51 AM

    Fantastic experience for you! Meeting such a huge figure as John Lennon. Creating the last images of him.
    And well, how very odd that he addressed his love as Mommy. Little weird, or perhaps some sort of inside joke… Were Lennon and Ono witty?

  • ghostsniper October 10, 2018, 6:45 AM

    Probably no weerder than hearing spouses refer to each other as “dears”.
    Had an aunt and uncle that did that, us kids would snicker.
    Especially funny when they were arguing.

    “Now dear, it’s my way or the highway and that’s all there is to it!”
    “Don’t take that tone with me, dear, or you can just pack your shit right now!”

    Don’t hear it that much any more but when I do it catches the ear.
    Never been the lubby dubby type.

  • Tom Hyland October 10, 2018, 10:20 AM

    I’ve got a problem with Nancy’s wishful thinking. People didn’t take drugs… and continue upon that path to their imminent demise… because of John Lennon or any other rock n’ roller. I’ll throw in some jazz greats like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Stan Getz while I’m at it. As a teenager I was accused, by parents, of leading various boys down the “road to ruin.” If all these high school buddies of mine were going to follow me to ruin they were going to have to walk there. I didn’t have a car until I was 18 and out of school. They had the cars. These guys literally drove me to drink. Nancy, everybody’s doing exactly what they’re doing with all their might. And nobody’s making them do it. You can add church/religion to the addictions list, too. Some of my closest friends became Jesus freaks and they never snapped out of it. Lost forever babbling a strange dialect, unable to speak of anything else. Sad.

  • ghostsniper October 10, 2018, 11:10 AM

    “And nobody’s making them do it.”

    Right there.

  • Jim October 11, 2018, 12:41 AM

    When Lennon was killed I was on a shipboard deployment in the US Navy and was not aware of him passing until years later, probably the 90s. I’ve wondered from time to time if Lennon, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix were alive today and they had lucid minds and identified with the “progressive” camp. Would the public have to hear their takes on MeToo, flag kneeling, etc? Or was it their death at such youthful age that made them legends?
    Anwar Sadat did more than imagine and had a huge change of heart and mind and was ultimately assassinated for those changes. He died within a year of Lennon. How many today under the age of 50 are aware of Sadat?