July 10, 2006 -- Mitchell Fink, a former New York Daily News gossip columnist and best-selling author, has spent much of his life reporting on the inner lives of celebrities.
In his new book, "The Last Days of Dead Celebrities," he reports on their deaths, examining 15 of Hollywood's brightest stars, many of whom died tragically before their time. His subjects include John Lennon, Lucille Ball, John Ritter, Warren Zevon and Ted Williams.
Despite a harsh-sounding title, the book chronicles each celebrities' physical, spiritual and emotional journeys to their final days.
You can read an excerpt of the book below:
It took a long time for John Lennon to feel comfortable in New York.
Like so many others before him, Lennon had chosen to settle inthe greatest of all American cities after spending a lifetime somewhereelse. New York, in any era, has always promised its new residents livesof unparalleled excitement, round-the-clock action, and enough cultureand contrasting beliefs to keep them on their toes for centuries.In public, Lennon seemed to relish the idea of becoming a NewYorker. "I love New York. It's the hottest city going. I haven't beeneverywhere, but it's the fastest city on earth," was how Beatles chroniclerGeoffrey Giuliano quoted the former Beatle in his book Lennon inAmerica.
Lennon had even told Rolling Stone in 1970 that New York was "theonly place I found that could keep up with me. . . . I'm just sort of fascinatedby it, like a fucking monster."
The trouble with fucking monsters, of course, is that they can oftenappear in the guise of an autograph hound, and if the sixties hadprovided Lennon with anything, it was definitely enough autographhounds to last a lifetime.
Despite his public pronouncements, Lennon was undoubtedlylooking beyond all the noise and fascination of New York on August13, 1971, when he and his wife, Yoko Ono, moved their belongingsinto three suites on the seventeenth floor of one of the city's classicFifth Avenue hotels, the St. Regis.
Lennon wanted something else from New York, something far more precious and comforting than the speed of the city. Being inNew York was a chance, finally, for him to get lost, be anonymous,and walk among thousands of other New Yorkers, free of bodyguards,in a fatigue jacket, sunglasses, floppy hat, and with body languagethat politely suggested how unnecessary it would be to squeal,scream, cry, or demand an encore.
And for the most part, New York complied because of an unwrittenrule that grants all new New Yorkers the benefit of the doubt. The famousand the near famous get it, along with the wannabes and nobodies.You want to be left alone? Fine, New York will leave you alone.You stay on your side of the sidewalk, and I'll stay on mine. Don'tbrush up against anyone else's body, certainly not without saying, "Excuseme," and life on the street will happily go on. Act like a New Yorkerand you become one. Act like a schmuck, and New York will have youfor lunch.
From the moment they got to New York, the Lennons kept mostlyto themselves and never acted like schmucks. Gone were the lavishlyplanned bed-ins and the flip comparisons in popularity to Jesus. Sure,they protested the Vietnam War and started hanging out with AbbieHoffman and Jerry Rubin. But by the early seventies, this was hardlyconsidered radical behavior. As Lennon found out years earlier, whenyou try to force-feed anything to New York, you do so at your ownperil. But ask New Yorkers, rather, to simply "Imagine," and you mayget them for all time. John and Yoko asked little of New York beyondthat, and in return, to paraphrase a Beatles song, New York let them be.
"He liked it when people came up and said hi," Yoko recalled ofthose early days in New York. "We had burnt our bridges in London. Idon't think that my people, the Japanese, were thrilled with our situation-John and Yoko doing Two Virgins, John and Yoko doing bed-ins.And we didn't have many friends. A lot of them turned their backs onus. They didn't like our union. They didn't like the fact that we were sopolitical. A lot of them still blamed me for the breakup of the Beatles.We were different, and we were hoping that New York wouldn't be putoff by that."
There is no evidence anywhere remotely suggesting that New Yorkwas put off in any way by the Lennons. They were just New York'snewest superstars in a town that had seen many. It's not unreasonable,therefore, to assume that Lennon might have been caught off guard byNew York's "so what?" attitude toward his fame. Lennon certainly did say at the time that he needed time to get used to the city, mainly becauseit wasn't his idea to move there. New York had been Yoko's decision,and he went along with it. He was quoted in Giuliano's book assaying, "It was Yoko who sold me on New York. She'd been poor hereand knew every inch. She made me walk around the streets, parks,squares, and examine every nook and cranny. In fact, you could say Ifell in love with New York on a street corner. . . . Not only was Yoko educatedhere, but she spent fifteen years living in New York, so, as far asI was concerned, it was just like returning to your wife's hometown."Nevertheless, if behavior counts for anything, New York had yet tobecome Lennon's hometown by October 10, 1971. It was one day afterhis thirty-first birthday, two days after the release of his landmark soloalbum, Imagine, and nearly two months since their move into the St.Regis. John and Yoko were getting dressed in one of their suites, preparingto go out. At that moment, and most likely unbeknownst to them,a Jewish wedding was in full swing in the hotel's main ballroom. It wasin between courses, or that time during most Jewish weddings when thebandleader picks up the tempo and coaxes guests onto the dance floor.The bride, who was nearing thirty, had one sibling, a twenty-sevenyear-old brother, and he was in no mood to dance, or even feel merry.He just sat at a table looking at his watch, hoping the time would passquickly, counting down to the end of his sister's big day. But he knewthere were still hours to go and very few choices to make. Leaving theSt. Regis and going home was not an option. His mother would havekilled him.
But maybe there was a way out: marijuana, the ultimate and leastoffensive sixties panacea to everything. You want to put on earphonesand tune into a coded message on The White Album, or something obscureon a Richie Havens record? Smoke a joint. On the other hand, ifyou want to tune out your sister's wedding and feel like you're a millionmiles away, even while you're asking a relative to pass the butter, well,that very same joint will likely get you there. And that's precisely whatwas needed here.
The bride's brother had been tipped off during the ceremony thatanother wedding guest was holding some good shit. The brotherthought, if he could talk his sister into giving him the key to the bridalsuite, he and this other guest could go upstairs, get high, and then returnto the festivities and hide in plain sight in a decidedly more tolerantstate. No one would even know they had been gone.
Of course, it never occurred to either man that John and Yoko wereeven at the St. Regis, much less readying themselves to go out. At thatmoment, the only mission facing the two wedding guests was to getinto the bridal suite, smoke their pot, and alter their consciousnessesto the point where perhaps even the dance floor might not seem to besuch a terrible idea.
But an extraordinary thing happened as the bride's brother putthe key in the door to his sister's room: The door to the suite directlyacross the hall opened and John and Yoko stepped out. The boyswould later bemoan the fact that they never had a chance to say hello,much less invite the Lennons inside for a couple of tokes, a perfectlyreasonable thought that came up only in retrospect. As soon as Johnsaw these two strangers, he yanked Yoko back inside and slammed hisdoor shut. It was obvious, even to these two disgruntled, pot-smokingwedding guests, that Lennon appeared threatened by the close proximityof other New Yorkers.
There is an old saying from the sixties that goes something like this:"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not trying to getyou." Lennon had nothing to fear from the two men who were trying toenter another suite across the hall. As the two men remembered it, theyhad their backs to the couple when Lennon opened the door. Certainlyno remotely threatening gestures were made. And yet Lennon's first inclinationwas to retreat and close the door as quickly as possible. Was heparanoid, or simply startled? Did he sense danger in New York in 1971,or was he just being careful? Whatever the case, it was clear that he hadnot yet made peace with his new surroundings.
Then again, maybe it was just the coldness and formality of extendedhotel life that was getting to him. During the more chaoticyears, when he was a Beatle, a hotel had performed essentially thesame function as a prostitute. In, out, and on to the next town. As opulentas the St. Regis was, two months there was proving to be morethan enough. The Lennons needed something a little homier, and onNovember 1 they left the St. Regis for a Greenwich Village apartmenton Bank Street that was both smaller and homier than their hotel suite.The basement apartment had only two rooms, a kitchenette, and a spiralstaircase up to a skylight. But the simplicity of it, along with its tranquilsetting in a classic downtown neighborhood, proved more inkeeping with Lennon's desire to blend into New York.
Photographer Bob Gruen was living in the Village then, in an apartment not far from Lennon's small pad. "I heard about it as soonas they moved into the neighborhood," recalled Gruen. "There wasthis buzz, like 'Hey, guess who just moved in.' But this being New York,nobody bothered them."
On November 6, just five days after their downtown move, theLennons ventured uptown, to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, andgave a surprise performance to benefit the casualties of the recent Atticaprison riots. "I went to the Apollo that night," said Gruen, "becauseAretha Franklin was supposed to be there and I was going to photographher. As I walked into the theater, I heard the announcer onstagesay, 'Ladies and gentlemen, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.' It was incrediblyexciting. I couldn't believe I was actually going to see John Lennon.They did a couple of funky songs. Backstage afterward, they were standingaround waiting for their car, and people were taking pictures ofthem. So I took a couple of pictures of them standing there. At onepoint, John said, 'You know, people are always taking pictures of us andwe never get to see these pictures. What happens to all the pictures?'"I said, 'Well, I live around the corner from you. I'll show you mypictures.'
"And he said, 'You live around the corner? Slip them under thedoor.'
"I said I would, and I made up a couple of prints," said Gruen. "Afew days later, I went by their apartment and didn't quite slip themunder the door. I rang the bell instead, and Jerry Rubin answered thedoor. I said, 'I have something for John and Yoko.'
"And Jerry Rubin said, 'Are they expecting you?' When I said no,he said he would take the pictures and give them to them."
Gruen heard nothing from the Lennons until their names came upa few months later when he was asked to shoot pictures of the couplefor a story that a writer friend was doing on the hard-driving rock groupElephant's Memory. Jerry Rubin had introduced Lennon to the group,and he was planning to record a few tracks with them for their album.
"The writer asked me if I would like to take pictures of John andYoko while he interviewed them," said Gruen. "I said I would definitelydo it, and that's how I actually ended up meeting them."I didn't say anything immediately about me being the guy whowas supposed to slip those other pictures under the door because I liketo stay rather quiet when I'm taking pictures," said Gruen. "So I justtook pictures while they were talking. And because the story was aboutElephant's Memory, I wanted to take a picture of John and Yoko togetherwith the band. They said they were going to the Record Plant thatnight to record with the band. So I asked if I could come along. Theysaid they'd be working, but if I wanted to wait around until the end ofthe night, I could take a picture of them with the band. And that's whatI did. After I took the pictures at the Record Plant later that night, I wenthome, printed the pictures, and sent them to the magazine that was goingto publish the story.
"I figured that my job was done, and no one else would need mypictures," said Gruen. "But then, I ran into one of the members of Elephant'sMemory, and he said they'd been trying to contact me becauseI had the only pictures of them together with John and Yoko in thestudio, and they wanted to see them. He brought me over to [theLennons'] Bank Street apartment and that was the first time we reallygot to talk. I spent the afternoon there, talking and showing them myother pictures. And we just formed a relationship. At the end of thatmeeting, Yoko told me to start coming to the studio so I could take picturesof them. She said she wanted me to be involved with them. Andso that's what I did."
The Lennons obviously liked Gruen's work but, more important,he had earned their trust. He said he would drop off the pictures fromthe Apollo, and he did. He never chased after the Lennons in an attemptto get more work, and he never tried to contact them after theElephant's Memory shoot. He had proved himself without really trying.He was in.
Elliot Mintz's relationship with John and Yoko began in a similarfashion. A veteran West Coast public relations executive, Mintz had aside job in the early seventies hosting a nighttime radio show onKLOS-FM, the ABC affiliate station in Los Angeles. In 1971, he interviewedYoko by phone, and then sent her the tape. "John apparentlyheard it and liked it," recalled Mintz. "Yoko then suggested that he,too, should do a phone interview with me, and he did it. A few dayslater, he called me to say that he was pleased with the way the interviewwent. He just liked the texture of it. Thus we began a telephonicfriendship, John, Yoko, and myself, and we'd all speak virtually everyday or every night for months. I'm an insomniac. I don't sleep. I'm upuntil 4 A.M., Pacific Time. That was their wake-up time in New York. Sowe would talk all the time."
By the spring of 1972, one of the subjects that monopolized these late-night talks was Lennon's desire to see America. And in this regard,he was really on even footing with his wife. Yoko might havethought of herself as a New Yorker by virtue of her fifteen years there,but when it came to the rest of the country, she was as much of atourist as her husband.
"John had seen the United States only from an airplane, as a Beatle,"said Mintz. "And Yoko had never seen the United States, outsideof New York. So they got into this old white Nash Rambler, with adriver, and they drove from New York to Los Angeles, stopping offalong the way to sleep, to go to all-night diners and twenty-four-hourcoffee shops. Imagine yourself in 1972 sitting in an all-night coffeeshop in Nevada and John and Yoko walk in. Well, as they got closer toLos Angeles, they took a wrong turn on the freeway and wound up ina field near Santa Barbara. And they called me and said they wouldlike to meet me. Of course, I knew what they looked like. But they hadnever seen me. I drove up to Santa Barbara, found the white Rambler,got into the car, and we hugged. That's how we met."
Mintz's long phone calls with the Lennons continued unabated afterthe couple returned to New York. He talked them through theirmove from Bank Street to the Dakota, the landmark apartment complexon the corner of West Seventy-second Street and Central Park West.And he came to New York often to be with them for most special occasions,including the birth of their son, Sean, in 1975, and most ofthe traditional holidays. In the process, Mintz, like Gruen, proved to besomeone the Lennons could trust.
"From the time that I met them to the time that he ran out oftime, I spent most of my Thanksgivings, Christmases, and New Year'sEves with them," said Mintz. "I live alone in Los Angeles. I've neverbeen married and I have no children. They were my extended family.But I want to make one thing clear: I never worked for John. There'sprobably been a misconception about that over the years. But no dollarsever traded hands."
The Lennons used some of the money they never gave Mintz toeventually purchase five apartments in the Dakota, two for actual livingand three smaller spaces for employees and storage. The highlightsof their eight years together at the Dakota have been well-documented:In the fall of 1973, John and Yoko separated. He went to Los Angeleswith their secretary, May Pang, while Yoko remained in New York byherself. John said at the time that Yoko kicked him out. She said the separation was inevitable, and added that it might actually do himsome good.
Fifteen months later, in January 1975, John returned to New York,reunited with Yoko, and got her pregnant, in that order. The couple'sonly child together, Sean Taro Ono Lennon, was born at New York Hospitalon October 9, the very same day that his father turned thirty-five.By the time Sean was one, John Lennon was experiencing a newkind of freedom. For the first time since becoming a Beatle, he had norecording contract, having been dropped by his label, EMI-Capitol.Also during that year, he was finally awarded a green card and thepromise of possible U.S. citizenship. And, most important, he hadthis one-year-old baby whom he desperately wanted to be with nightand day.
With no professional commitments hanging over his head, andmoney issues nonexistent, Lennon retired from show business, beginningwhat Mintz described as "John's cocooning period."
"Between '75 and '80, he was with Sean every day," said Mintz."And all those stories you've read about Yoko taking care of businessdownstairs and John being the house husband, in spite of anythinganyone's ever said to the contrary, those stories were all true."Many writers over the years have attempted to debunk the image ofLennon at home doing the chores, most notably Albert Goldman in hisbook The Lives of John Lennon. Goldman always asserted that Lennonmade up this "big lie" about his housebound lifestyle to reinforce thevalidity of his wife's business skills in hopes that the public would takeher more seriously.
For his part, Lennon remained totally consistent about the quieterlife he was leading after Sean's birth. "I've been baking bread andlooking after the baby" was how Lennon began his now-historic 1980Playboy interview with writer David Sheff. Stunned by Lennon's characterizationof himself during the preceding few years, Sheff askedwhether it was possible that Yoko had been controlling him. The questionwas enough to send Lennon into a rage.
"If you think I'm being controlled like a dog on a leash because Ido things with her," Lennon said, "then screw you! Because-fuck youbrother and sister, you don't know what's happening!"Lennon went on to say that his wife was the teacher "and I'm thepupil. . . . She's taught me everything I fucking know. . . . She wasthere . . . when I was the 'Nowhere Man.'"
According to Mintz, Lennon's version of how he and Yoko ledtheir lives in the late 1970s "is 100 percent accurate.""That's what he did," said Mintz. "He cocooned. I don't think thatreading Rolling Stone was so important during those years, and I don'tthink he paid that much attention to trends in music.
"But all during this so-called silent period, John remained incrediblyinterested in current events and politics," said Mintz. "He read thepapers every day, and he used to call me to watch the evening news,which he saw in New York three hours ahead of me. He would tell methings to look for. He watched a lot of television, nonfiction television,primarily the news. He would have had a field day with all the cable talkshows today. He wouldn't have slept. He would have been glued to Foxand CNN. That's all he would be doing, that and sending e-mails,which hadn't been invented yet.
"But he was very up on the politics of the time, and, of course,John's political persuasions are extremely well known, so you canimagine his overall feelings about the emerging Reagan administrationand the conservatism in the country," said Mintz. "And it has alsobeen well documented that John continued to be under constant FBIsurveillance, which he always viewed as a force with which to be reckoned.John and Yoko never told anybody how to vote. And John nevervoted because he wasn't a citizen. So he had no political party affiliation.He basically felt that both parties were about the same. Havingsaid that, I do think that the coming emergence of Reaganism didsend a chill up his spine. Not because of Ronald Reagan himself, butbecause John perceived that the country was moving in a directionthat was the antithesis of the things he embraced in his life, like 'GivePeace a Chance' and the point of view expressed in 'Imagine.' IfRonald Reagan had read the lyrics to 'Imagine,' he probably wouldhave recoiled in horror."
It was one of the few times in Lennon's life, according to Yoko, thathe didn't purposely go out and make waves. "You must understand,"she said, "we had a very difficult time with immigration. But whenJohn finally got his green card, he thought, well, he has a son, he hashis green card. Maybe this is not the time to be too dangerous."Then came the summer of 1980. Against the political backdrop offifty-two Americans still being held hostage in Iran, which greatlydiminished the chances of Jimmy Carter's reelection bid and madeReagan look more and more like the next president of the United States,Lennon traveled with a five-man crew to Bermuda on his yacht, Isis. Hisintention was to rent a house on the island and simply while awayhis time swimming and sailing. But something else happened onBermuda, and it turned out to be a burst of creative energy that saw himwriting more than a dozen songs in three weeks.
He knew Yoko also had been writing songs in New York, and theywould spend days on the phone singing their latest compositions toeach other. It was clear to both of them that they would start recordinga new album as soon he got back.
"He was so excited on the phone," recalled Yoko. "He said, 'I wrotetwo songs.'
"And I said, 'I have two songs. Let's make an EP.'
"And then the next day, he said, 'Now I have two more.'"And I said, 'Well, maybe now it should be an album.' That's howit started. We decided to work on a theme, and he was very excitedabout that. He just kept thanking me and thanking me."
On Tuesday, August 5, John and Yoko entered the Hit Factory, onWest Fifty-fourth Street in New York, to begin recording the album,Double Fantasy. Producer Jack Douglas was at the controls, and photographerBob Gruen was given almost free reign to document thesessions with candid pictures.
"I visited the studio on and off from late summer through the endof the backing track sessions," said Gruen. "I was there a number oftimes while they recorded. We really had no set appointments. I justdid things as the situation came up. John was extremely positive aboutthe music he was making, and excited to be back in the studio. He wascoming from a position of real strength in his life. He had spent fiveyears out of the limelight, and he had taken time to raise his son andlearn about parenting and about living.
"The album was to be about the relationship between a man anda woman," said Gruen. "And in that regard it was very much a Johnand Yoko project, not just John Lennon. A track of his would follow atrack of hers, and then they'd stop to talk about their feelings and dealwith the relationship. To me, he appeared so grounded."
"I had been in a hundred recording studios with different artists,and I'd been with John in various studios, as well," said Mintz. "Therecording of Double Fantasy was unique because in many ways it was ametaphor for the way John's life was coming to completion. All theserecording studios-the Hit Factory, where John and Yoko recorded thealbum, or the Record Plant, where it was mixed-have closed-circuitcameras at the front door. They have this so an engineer can see who isringing the buzzer. A lot of sessions sometimes go on into the middleof the night. The studio may not be in the best neighborhood. So theyneed these cameras for security reasons. One of the things I rememberabout the Double Fantasy sessions was John and Yoko pinning a largephotograph of Sean to the face of the TV monitor above the recordingconsole. You couldn't see who was outside, but for John and Yoko itwas more important to see Sean staring down at the console.
"Yoko also created this small anteroom just off of the controlroom, a white room, twenty by fifteen," said Mintz, "that she made tolook like a mini version of their living room at the Dakota. The lightingin this room was lowered, and it was filled with candles and incense.A Japanese woman named Toshi served tea. It was a room Johnand Yoko would go to when there was a lull in the session. I remembergoing with them into the room. John was wearing slacks and ajacket and a shirt that was open at the collar. In that room, he spokeabout the project softly, tentatively, and rhapsodically. It was a quietroom, unlike any room I'd ever seen at a rock and roll recording session.None of the other musicians or technical people ever enteredthat room. It was mostly a room where John and Yoko could relax."
On Thursday, October 9, a skywriting plane flew over Central Parkand spelled out the smoky message "Happy Birthday John & Sean. LoveYoko." Below the message was a dual birthday party that Yoko threw atWarner LeRoy's famed Central Park restaurant, Tavern on the Green."Mainly we concentrated on Sean," said Yoko. "He had a great timeat the party. It was mostly his friends at the party, kids from school, afew parents, Sean's best friend, Max LeRoy, and his parents, Warner andKay LeRoy. It was John's birthday and Sean's birthday, but John wantedit to be a day for Sean."
Sean's father kept mostly to himself in the cavernous multiroomrestaurant, watching the party as though he were there as an observerand not a celebrant. There was, after all, much to reflect on. He wasnow forty.
"I don't think he felt forty was necessarily a milestone age forhim," said Yoko, looking back at the day. "I mean, he wrote the song,'Life Begins at Forty,' which was a serious song when he first wrote it.Then he listened to his own lyrics, and he said, 'I can't do this. I haveto make it funny.' So he wound up creating a comic song about turningforty. That's how he wanted to look at it, especially that day. I think hewanted to play down his age and focus on Sean."
Mintz made one other trip to New York in early November, specificallyto hear John and Yoko's new album. "The engineer would preparecassettes for John, and he would take them back to the Dakotaand play them on the little stereo in his bedroom," said Mintz. "Hehad none of the fancy equipment at home. He always believed musicshould be listened to the way it comes out on a car radio."
Mintz went back to the Dakota with John and Yoko that night,into what was called the "old bedroom," facing West Seventy-secondStreet. John's primitive hi-fi system was on one side of the bed. At thefoot of the bed was a television, a large-screen TV that John had purchaseda few years before in Tokyo. Mintz was with him in Japanwhen he bought the TV.
"He was one of the first people to import a large-screen TV fromJapan," said Mintz. "But he really needed a large screen, because withouthis eyeglasses on he couldn't see more than four or five feet infront of him."
John and Yoko's bed was nothing more than a mattress on top ofa piece of plywood, supported on each side by two church pews thatthe couple had gotten from an old church in the South. Behind thebed was a brick wall, and in front of it, up against the foot, was thelarge-screen TV. On either side of the television were these two largeold-fashioned dental cabinets, the kind that you might see in a NormanRockwell painting from the 1930s, with twenty or thirty slidingdrawers, basically for clothing and John's ties.
"The whole look was simple, and it just worked," said Mintz."And the room, of course, was either lit by candles or so dimly lit thatyou could hardly see a thing. And that's how I first heard Double Fantasy,in that setting. John put the cassette on and he kicked back inbed. He was in his pajamas, Yoko was in her nightgown, and I sat in awhite wicker rocking chair on Yoko's side of the bed. The music justwafted throughout the open room. And the two of them were verystiff and quiet. The TV was on, with the sound off. John didn't havehis glasses on, so to him everything was completely out of focus. Hereferred to the TV as his electronic fireplace."
When the music was over, Mintz and Lennon talked into the night.Yoko fell asleep. "She usually went to sleep when John and I spoke,"said Mintz. "Yoko does not sleep the way most people sleep. She takesa series of catnaps during every twenty-four-hour period. She'll godown for two or three hours, come up, do what she has to do, andwhen she gets tired she goes to sleep again. She can sleep at the drop ofa dime. She had heard thousands of hours of the John and Elliot dialogue.And with my kind of late-night FM voice, and John mostly talkingabout things Yoko already knew about, I would expect her to fallasleep. And that night she did.
"John was enthusiastic about everything that night, not onlyabout the record coming out, but also about what the record symbolized,and where he was with his family," said Mintz. "A few weeksprior to this he had prepared his first loaf of bread that he baked in hisoven. He sent me a Polaroid picture of the loaf of bread, which to himwas a symbol of pride that he could do such a thing as create a loaf ofbread. I still have the Polaroid of the loaf of bread. I know there's theimpression that his life was very frenetic, very busy, but in fact it wasYoko who was generating a lot of the business stuff and taking thephone calls. John just seemed content with where he was, and completelyat peace in terms of his relationship with Sean. Each night beforehe slept, he would put Sean to sleep by cradling him in his armsand whispering into his ears the various things that the two of themdid that day.
"I asked him about going out on the road and performing live, assumingthe record was a success, and he was affirmative about all ofit," said Mintz. "He basically said, 'Whatever Mother thinks we shoulddo.' In fact, Yoko had already laid the groundwork for a mini-tour, notsomething that would take them around the world on a jet plane, likeMick Jagger does with the Rolling Stones. It was just going to be somekey locations in key cities."
There came a point in the middle of the night when Lennon wasfinally through talking. He wasn't bashful about kicking Mintz out.He just simply said, "Okay, I think I'm going to close my eyes now.""He said, 'Let me walk you to the door.'
"And I said, 'John, I know my way to the door.' But he was insistent,"said Mintz. "So he got up, in his pajamas, and he led me to thedoor. There was a chain of bells hanging on the doorknob, on the insideof their front door. They were Tibetan or Buddhist bells, on a smallchain not much thicker than a woman's large necklace. They rang witha high-pitched tone, not loud, not like gongs. And as we got to thedoor, he turned the knob and opened it, and the bells started ringing.And for no particular reason that I could discern, he smiled at me, andsaid, 'It's our alarm system.'"
Thanksgiving at the Lennon apartment, just a week after the releaseof Double Fantasy, turned out to be a simple celebration, withonly three people in attendance that night: John, Yoko, and Sean."It seemed like we were the only family we had then," said Yoko."Thanksgiving is about collecting your family, and mine was in Japan,and John's was in England. John was an only child, his parents wereboth gone, and Thanksgiving is not an English holiday. So who werewe going to invite? I mean, I could have called Japan, and said, 'Cometo Thanksgiving at our house.' And they would have said, 'What?'"I didn't cook," said Yoko. "We had turkey brought in. But wewere very into the idea of Thanksgiving. This whole idea of a pilgrimage,and the white people learning from the Indians, that was an importantconcept for Sean to learn. He was born an American, andThanksgiving is an American thing. And we were feeling very Americanat that time, especially since John had just gotten his green card.We felt like we were starting over as an American family."
It is no coincidence that the song "(Just Like) Starting Over" becamethe album's first single. "It was not written until very late in theprocess," said Yoko. "It was like it suddenly came from left field. Butwe were starting over in a big way. We had the child we never thoughtwe'd have. We tried so many times, and I was always having a miscarriageor something. So this was a big, important thing to us."
And it became a big disappointment when the single did not doas well in England as the Lennons had expected. "When the single hitBritain, we thought it would go to number one. When it got stuck ateight, I felt very responsible," said Yoko. "I felt I had to make sure thatthis whole project was good for John. And now the record stopped inEngland. I went to John, and I said, 'Look, I'm sorry. It's eight.'"He knew exactly what I meant," she said. "It was eight, and it wasnot going to go up any further. He just looked at me, and he said, 'Hey,you know, I still have my family.' But he also knew that a lot of what wedid over the years was not popular. He had pride in what he was doing,and he was doing something he believed in. He was an avant-gardeartist in that way. You do something not because you think it will bepopular. You do it because you believe in it."
Back in California, Mintz continued his regular phone dialoguewith the Lennons, speaking to Yoko daily, and to John maybe three, four times a week. "With the album still relatively new," said Mintz,"he talked to me about what I thought the public reaction to hisreemergence might be, after all that time away. And I recall asking him,'Do you care? Does it matter?'"He snickered," said Mintz. "He said for years he was always concernedwhen he saw any of the pop stars in the magazines because hewas never one who enjoyed going to places like Studio 54 and havinghis picture taken. Because he had been out of the loop for so long, hewondered whether or not he would even be remembered, andwhether or not the music would still be relevant or significant. I believehis questions to me on the phone were more rhetorical thananything else. He did say that none of his contemporaries had everput their women on the same level as he did with Yoko. That's whyDouble Fantasy was so special to him, because it was not a reemergenceof Beatle John coming back to say hello again, but a statementof where he was in his life.
"By this time he had also given up any kind of drug use," saidMintz. "He was very clear, very in-tune. He would divide his conversationsbetween what was going on with the music, what was going on atthe house, and what was going on in the political world. Whatever occurredon the news he would want me to pay attention. He also told mehe didn't feel tired anymore. There was a long period of time that hecomplained of lethargy and weariness. But in these few conversationshe was all upbeat."
On Thursday night, December 4, Bob Gruen met Lennon at theRecord Plant, on West Forty-fourth Street, where he was mixing Yoko'ssingle "Walking on Thin Ice." The song had been hastily recorded afterDouble Fantasy was completed.
"They did all their mixing at the Record Plant," said Gruen. "I tooka number of pictures of John and Yoko around the studio that night.They posed in front of an eight-foot-tall guitar that John had fabricatedfor an avant-garde festival. It was too big for them to take home, so theyended up loaning it to the Record Plant for a while. I knew he had madeit, so I wanted them posing in front of it.
"Then he told me about this coat he had at home, this fancy goldand red braided jacket with Japanese writing on it," said Gruen. "Hewanted me to shoot pictures of him wearing this coat, so we made anotherplan for me to come back the next night, and I did."While Yoko spent most of Friday night, December 5, putting various vocal effects on her single, Gruen sat with Lennon on the floor ofthe Record Plant and talked.
"For a long time we talked about the future," said Gruen. "He wasvery excited that he had come back, and very excited about what Yokohad managed to do on the album. He was really amused by the factthat she was getting great reviews and that her music was being callednew and interesting, as opposed to his music, which some criticscalled a bit tamer and middle of the road. He was very excited aboutthat because he really liked Yoko's influence. He also talked about takinga couple of weeks off for the holidays, and then he wanted to startrehearsing with a band and record some videos by the end of January.He estimated that they'd probably be performing live by March. Heeven talked about the possibility of doing concerts in Japan. We bothhad a common interest in Japan. We were talking about places wherewe were going to go shopping, and restaurants where we were goingto eat."
It was dawn on Saturday, December 6, by the time Yoko finishedher work in the studio. All during the night Lennon never put on thebraided jacket, and now he was carrying it over his arm as he walkedoutside with Yoko and Gruen.
"It must have been six or seven in the morning when we got outside,"said Gruen. "I asked John if we could take the pictures right then,and Yoko said, 'Oh, I feel tired. Let's do it another time.'"And John said to her, 'Look, you've kept him up all night. Let'stake some pictures.' So he put on the jacket and I took about half a rollof pictures out on the sidewalk. A car was waiting for them. John saidto me, 'See you later,' and they left."
That afternoon, Lennon went by himself to his favorite West Sidehaunt, Cafe La Fortuna, a small Italian coffee shop on West Seventy-firstStreet, just around the corner from the Dakota. John and Yoko were regularsat Cafe La Fortuna, right from the time it opened in 1976. Theywould often go in together, with or without Sean, and there were manymore times that Lennon could be found there by himself, drinking cappuccino,nibbling on Italian-made chocolates, reading the newspapers,and talking with the restaurant's owner, Vincent Urwand.
Lennon viewed La Fortuna as a safe haven, and over time he establishedthe kind of relationship with Urwand that allowed for muchteasing and playful banter. Urwand even teased him that day aboutDouble Fantasy."Look, you've had all those years of wildness and success in theBeatles," Urwand was quoting as saying in Ray Coleman's exhaustivelyresearched John Lennon biography, Lennon.
"You don't need the money," argued Urwand. "What are you doingall this for? You're enjoying being a husband and father!"According to Coleman's book, Lennon responded first by laughing,and then saying to Urwand, "I swore I'd look after that boy untilhe was five, and he's five and I feel like getting back to my music. Theurge is there. It's been a long time since I wrote a song, but they'recoming thick and fast now."
Back at the Dakota that night, Lennon phoned his aunt Mimi, hismother's sister and the woman most responsible for his upbringing,and gushed about the new album. Coleman documented the exchange,quoting Lennon's aunt as saying to him from her home in England,"John, you're an idealist looking for a lost horizon. You would make asaint cry!"
To which Lennon responded, "Oh, Mimi, don't be like that. . . .I'll see you soon and we'll bring Sean. Goodnight, God bless, Mimi."John and Yoko also talked that night about their planned trip toSan Francisco. They discussed leaving New York on Wednesday, December10, which would give them a few days to do nothing prior totheir weekend appearance at a rally to help Asian workers gain the samekind of equal rights and equal pay as their Caucasian colleagues."It was about Asians, and we have an Asian kid," said Yoko. "Johnreally was looking forward to that benefit. When he said, 'Okay, let's doit,' it meant another kind of beginning for us, one where we could onceagain take a political stance in public."
On Sunday night, December 7, Lennon sat down with the cassetteto Yoko's single "Walking on Thin Ice" and proceeded to listen to it overand over again. "He listened to it like crazy, all weekend long," saidYoko. "It almost drove me crazy. There's this room in the apartment,overlooking the park, and he was lying down on the couch, or half sitting,with his legs on the floor. And that Sunday night, he just kept listeningto the song, and listening to the song. I went to sleep. And whenI came back into the room early Monday morning, he was still listening.He said it was the best song I ever wrote, but there was somethingelse going on. The song is really a very strange song. But at the sametime there was something in the air that was starting to accelerate. Ifelt an incredible vibe around us. Not an actual noise, but a strongvibe circling us. I started talking to him over that vibration. I said, 'John,good morning.' And he was still listening to the song."
Later that morning, Lennon had his hair cut at a nearby salon andthen returned home to do a photo shoot with Yoko for photographerAnnie Leibovitz. At 1 P.M., Lennon did a phone interview with a discjockey from the RKO Radio Network. John and Yoko spent the remainderof the afternoon making phone calls and playing with Sean.The only real plan they had was to return to the Record Plant so theycould continue tinkering with Yoko's song.
"It was getting late," recalled Yoko, "and we both said, 'Oh, we bettergo now.' We were getting to be like this old couple who really kneweach other so well, and knew each other's moves so well. I went out thatweekend and I bought some chocolates because John loved chocolate.I had gone out to get something, I don't remember what, and I thought,'Oh, I better get some chocolate for him.' And I did."Then I came upstairs, and before I could open the door, he openedit from the inside, and he said, 'I knew you were coming back.'"I said, 'How did you know that?'"He said, 'I just knew.'"I said, 'I thought of your chocolate, and I got you some.'"Lennon graciously took the chocolate from his wife and set itdown on a table, but he never took a bite.
At approximately 5 P.M. on Monday, December 8, John and Yokocame downstairs and were met outside by two fans, Paul Goresh, a photographerfrom New Jersey, and Mark David Chapman, a twenty-fiveyear-old former hospital security guard from Decatur, Georgia. Goreshhad stationed himself outside the Dakota on several occasions, and asa result his face was recognizable to the Lennons. Chapman, however,was a new face, and when he thrust his copy of Double Fantasy in frontof Lennon in hopes of getting an autograph, John complied. He scribbled"John Lennon 1980" on the album, and then handed it back to itsowner.
John and Yoko knew they were not going to pull another allnighterat the Record Plant. Most of the work on Yoko's song had beendone, and producer Jack Douglas promised that he would have a mastercopy finished by 9 A.M. the following morning. The Lennons weregrateful to get out of the studio at a relatively early hour. As Yoko said,"John wanted to get home early enough to say good night to Sean."Goresh was already gone by the time John and Yoko returned to the Dakota. But Chapman was still there, waiting. The time was 10:49 P.M.Yoko got out of the limousine first, followed by her husband. Chapmansaid hello to her as she walked by, and then, as Lennon passed him,Chapman called out, "Mr. Lennon?"
As Lennon turned around, Chapman pulled out a .38 revolver,dropped into a combat stance, and fired five shots at point-blankrange. The bullets hit Lennon in the back, shoulder, and arm. He managedto stagger up the few steps to the building's front desk beforedropping to the floor and moaning, "I'm shot. I'm shot."
The desk clerk, Jay Hastings, pressed an alarm button that waswired directly to the Twentieth Precinct, and within two minutes policewere on the scene. Lennon was taken by a police car to the emergencyroom at Roosevelt Hospital, on West Fifty-ninth Street. A teamof seven doctors worked feverishly to save Lennon's life, but the bloodloss was too great, and he died.
"It wasn't possible to resuscitate him by any means," said Dr.Stephen Lynn, the hospital's director of emergency services.Chapman, who never left the scene outside the Dakota, offeredno resistance and was taken into custody.
Some years later, Chapman was recorded on audiotape explaininghis actions, portions of which aired on Dateline NBC in November2005. He characterized Lennon as, ". . . a successful man who kind ofhad the world on a chain, so to speak, and there I was, not even a linkon that chain, just a person who had no personality . . . and somethingin me just broke."
The news of Lennon's death was announced to a stunned worldby Howard Cosell during a broadcast of ABC's Monday Night Football."One of the great figures of the entire world, one of the great artists,was shot to death, horribly, at the Dakota Apartments, 72nd Street andCentral Park West, in New York City. John Lennon is dead," Cosell saidon the air. "He was the most important member of the Beatles, and theBeatles, led by John Lennon, created music that touched the whole ofcivilization. Not just people in Liverpool, where the group was born,but the people of the world."
Mintz heard the news, called American Airlines immediately, andflew to New York that night. "I inventoried all of John's possessionsafter his death," said Mintz. "My responsibility at that point was certainlyto Yoko, and she wanted me to inventory his possessions andplace them away for safekeeping. It was an operation that took months.His clothing came home from the hospital in a brown paper bag. Inthe bag was the cassette of 'Walking on Thin Ice,' which suggests to methat on the final night of his life, in the final moments of his life, thatmay have been the last song he ever heard. I always thought there wasa metaphor in the fact that 'Thin Ice' was in his possession when hislife ended at the hands of a man who had obtained his last autograph.Those two things, taken together, must have made for a strangecrossing."
Yoko didn't notice the chocolate she had brought in for her husbanduntil days after his murder. It was still sitting on the table wherehe had left it. "I didn't like chocolate at all," she said. "But after John'spassing, I thought, 'Should I throw it away? No, that would be wasteful.'So I said to myself, 'Well, okay, I'm going to eat the chocolate, youknow. And I did."
Mintz, who remains a fixture in Yoko's life to this day, said thatvery little about her Dakota apartment has changed since Lennon'sdeath in 1980. "Everything looks pretty much the same, except shenow has a new bedroom," said Mintz. "She doesn't sleep in the oldbedroom. For months after John's death she slept in their bed in theold bedroom. For a while, she got solid comfort being in that room.Now she uses it as a guestroom.
"In terms of how Yoko is doing on a day-to-day basis," Mintzadded, "if she's not traveling, she's in that apartment, most of the timeby herself. There's not much going on. She's devoted her life to hismemories, and she just doesn't laugh as much anymore."