Today (December 8th) marks the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon's death. As is the custom every year, several hundred fans are expected to stand vigil for Lennon today across the street from the Dakota building in Central Park's Strawberry Fields. The triangular patch of land was designated by the city of New York in 1984 to celebrate the former Beatle's life and work.
In 1980, the 40-year-old Lennon had re-entered public life that fall, after a self-imposed five-year hiatus to spend time with his young son Sean, travel and recharge his creative batteries. On November 17th, 1980, Lennon and wife Yoko Ono had released their "comeback" album Double Fantasy, which included such future Lennon standards as "Woman," "Beautiful Boy," "Watching The Wheels," and the album's lead track and single "(Just Like) Starting Over."
On the night of December 8th, 1980 -- with "(Just Like) Starting Over" sitting at Number Six on the singles charts -- Lennon and Yoko returned home to their apartment building, the Dakota on Manhattan's Central Park West. They had spent the evening at the Record Plant East recording studio mixing a tune of Yoko's called "Walking On Thin Ice." Mark David Chapman, who had been stalking Lennon for several days and had received an autograph from Lennon earlier that evening, lay in wait for his return. Chapman, who was living in Honolulu at the time, had made an unsuccessful trip to New York the previous October with the intent of killing Lennon, but couldn't find him.
Lennon and Yoko returned from the studio at around 10:50 p.m., with their limousine dropping them off in front of the building on 72nd Street, rather than pulling into the building's courtyard as usual. As the couple walked in, they passed Chapman who called out "Mr. Lennon?" and fired five shots from a .38 caliber handgun, with four bullets entering Lennon's neck and back. Officers were quick on the scene, arresting Chapman and rushing Lennon in a squad car to nearby Roosevelt Hospital, where doctors worked on reviving the musician, who died from the severity of his wounds.
Dr. Stephan Lynn, the director of Roosevelt Hospital's emergency room, recalled Lennon's injures to The New York Post, saying that, "We made an incision in the left chest and separated the ribs and found a very large amount of blood. We looked for an injury to the heart or to the blood vessels. But what we discovered was that all of the major blood vessels leaving the heart were simply destroyed. There was no way that we could repair them."
The news of Lennon's death was broken by a reporter for New York's WABC-TV, who by coincidence was in the same emergency room after a motorcycle accident. The news was first reported by Howard Cosell during the Monday Night Football telecast.
Yoko returned home and called "the three people John would have wanted to know" -- his aunt Mimi Smith, who raised him; his 17-year-old son Julian, from his first marriage; and Paul McCartney. Within hours of the news, thousands of fans had flocked to the Dakota to stand vigil for Lennon.
Julian Lennon and Ringo Starr made immediate plans to head to New York, with George Harrison issuing a statement saying, "After all we went through, I had and still have great love and respect for him. I am shocked and stunned. To rob life is the ultimate robbery." McCartney also issued a statement, saying, "I can't take it at the moment. John was a great man who'll be remembered for his great contributions to art, music and peace. He is going to be missed by the whole world."
There was no funeral for Lennon, who was cremated almost immediately in Hartsdale, New York in Westchester County. Instead, tens of thousands of mourners gathered in New York's Central Park the following Sunday (December 14th) to observe ten minutes of silence at 2 p.m. The event was broadcast globally, with many radio stations ceasing all airplay during the memorial.