CHICAGO (CBS) — Tuesday marks 40 years since John Lennon was assassinated outside his building in New York.
Chicago was as stunned and grief-stricken as any other corner of the world that night, and so was the CBS 2 newsroom itself.
Deb Segal, who worked as a news editor for CBS 2 for decades, described what happened on the night of Dec. 8, 1980 as that evening’s 10 o’clock news was wrapping up in the newsroom at our old CBS Chicago building at 630 N. McClurg Ct.
“The wire machines were in a closed room because they made such a racket. Four or five times during the show, the (associate producer), Allen Schaefer, dutifully went to check on them, ruler in hand, to tear off the paper neatly. Sometimes it was hard to hear the bells go off when there was a big story,” Segal wrote.
“The news was almost over. We might have been in (recorded) portions on a two-shot. I was in the newsroom when (Scahefer) came back, grim-faced and called the control room, then plunked down, slapped a copy book into the typewriter and started banging away. The word spread rapidly. Stunned shock. Blinking back tears. That lasted about a minute and then everyone swung into action. The assignment editor suddenly had a phone in each ear. People were scrambling for facts, file tape, anything,” she continued.
With the world suddenly in shock, CBS 2 decided to go back on the air after the news had wrapped up. Segal wrote that anchors Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson, “who never left the anchor desk once we knew what had happened, went back on to deliver the news.”
“We had a crew and a reporter, Phil Walters, on a plane to New York almost immediately,” Segal wrote.
On the evening of Dec. 9, a night after Lennon’s life had been taken, Walters was reporting live for CBS 2 in the rain outside the Dakota at 72nd Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. He was holding a CBS 2 microphone that appeared to be borrowed from WCBS-TV, CBS 2 New York.
A throng was gathered outside, singing such Lennon classics as “Give Peace a Chance” and “Revolution.” People kept coming all night and through the next day.
At the time he was shot and killed, Lennon had been walking back to the Dakota from a limousine, on the way back from a recording session with wife Yoko Ono beside him. A man had called his name, and he started to turn.
It was reported at the time that the man, Mark David Chapman, dropped to a combat firing stance and began shooting. There were three entrance and exit wounds – three in the chest, two in the left arm, two more in a back. Lennon staggered into the Dakota’s guard house and said, “I’ve been shot!” He died in an instant.
Police and paramedics rushed Lennon to Roosevelt Hospital – now known as Mount Sinai West Hospital – only 13 blocks away. Ono was taken in a second car. But while the transport from his residence took only several minutes, Dr. Steven Lynn of Roosevelt Hospital said, “I don’t think it would have been possible to resuscitate him by any means.”
Chapman was charged with the murder within 24 hours. He pleaded guilty to Lennon’s murder in 1981 and has remained in prison ever since – having repeatedly been denied parole.
The same day he died, Lennon gave his last recorded interview.
“You have to give thanks to God, or whatever it is up there – the fact that we all survived,” Lennon said. “We all survived Vietnam or Watergate, or the tremendous upheaval of the whole world. It’s changed…. We were the hip ones in the ’60s, but the world is not like the ’60s. The whole map’s changed, and we’re going into an unknown future, but we’re still all here. While there’s life, there’s hope.”
Meanwhile back in Chicago, Bob Sirott reported for CBS 2 on Dec. 9 that WBBM-FM – now known as B96 – spent the day playing Lennon’s music and that of the Beatles, as on-air talent talked about the tragedy with listeners. Lennon and Beatles records sold also briskly at record stores across the city, which saw their busiest day since the death of Elvis Presley about three years earlier.
“We’ve had people coming in front the beginning of our business day looking for John Lennon records, Beatles records, Paul McCartney – anything that had to do with him,” said record store manager Doug Brown. “People are upset, but not crestfallen. But they’re motivated to buy the records and make sure they get it before it’s gone.”
Lennon fans in the record store remained shocked a day after the assassination.
“It’s exactly what I grew up with,” one man said. “It’s something that pervaded my adolescence and becoming an adult. It’s something important.”
In Central Park just in from Central Park West and the Dakota, the Strawberry Fields memorial to Lennon was unveiled in 1985. To this day if you go there on the evening of Dec. 8, you will find people gathered singing Lennon songs.
Lennon was only 40 himself when he was assassinated. On this day 40 years later, Ono issued a tweet in his memory with a message against gun violence.
“The death of a loved one is a hollowing experience. After 40 years, Sean, Julian and I still miss him. ‘Imagine all the people living life in peace.’ Yoko Ono Lennon,” the tweet read.
The death of a loved one is a hollowing experience.
After 40 years, Sean, Julian and I still miss him.
'Imagine all the people living life in peace.'
Yoko Ono Lennon#enoughisenough #peace #guncontrolnow #gunviolence #nra #guns #gunsafety #firearms #endgunviolence pic.twitter.com/TsHWuCdu2Y
— Yoko Ono (@yokoono) December 8, 2020
Their son, Sean Ono Lennon, let an Instagram photo speak for itself.
Lennon’s older son, Julian Lennon, tweeted a simple message.
As Time Goes By…. pic.twitter.com/2qQvYeN7qM
— Julian Lennon (@JulianLennon) December 8, 2020
All I can say is…. ♥️🙏🏻😘 pic.twitter.com/ESOlfJTOwo
— Julian Lennon (@JulianLennon) December 8, 2020
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr also each issued tweets in memory of their former Beatles bandmate.
A sad sad day but remembering my friend John with the great joy he brought to the world. I will always be proud and happy to have known and worked with this incredible Scouser! X love Paul#JohnLennon
📷 by Linda McCartney pic.twitter.com/oNL0ihzhvl
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) December 8, 2020
Tuesday, 8 December 1980 we all had to say goodbye to John peace and love John. I’m asking Every music radio station in the world sometime today play Strawberry Fields Forever. Peace and love. 😎✌️🌟❤️🎶🎼💝☮️ pic.twitter.com/dAEgekrvmW
— #RingoStarr (@ringostarrmusic) December 8, 2020
As CBS New York reported, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offered reflections on that painful day 40 years ago during his daily news conference.
“We were all just shocked, obviously, and I think John Lennon for a lot of us was one of the most important cultural figures of our time. He was one of the people that kind of defined the time we grew up in. And it’s very hard to lose someone like that. I mean he just always felt like he was there. And, you know, someone I certainly admired in so many ways. I thought he was a voice of truth. Someone who was willing to take risks for what he believed was right,” de Blasio said.
“You know, at my inauguration we played the song ‘Imagine,’ which is still one of the greatest, I think, examples of a message to us all of how we could build a better world for each other,” he continued.
Lennon had no direct connection to Chicago, but the Beatles did play three concerts in the city – at the International Amphitheatre on Sept. 5, 1964, and Aug. 12, 1966, and at the old Comiskey Park on Aug. 2, 1965. Chicago was also the site of the 1966 news conference where Lennon was asked to address remarks in which he said the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”
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