December 8, 1980 : The 36th Anniversary of John Lennon’s Death

We all know far too well the tragic events of the night of December 8, 1980 when John Lennon was shot and killed outside of the Dakota apartment building where he had made his home for over six years. There was a previous post on this blog about the Dakota entitled “The Famed Dakota: The Lennon Residence (1973 – 1980)” “.

We must remember that John Lennon’s murder occurred before the advent of widespread 24 hour cable news. In 1980 the public was 16 years away from the internet becoming mainstream and 25 years before social media. Cable News Network was only a few months old and carried on a minimal amount of cable systems. The news of the murder was first announced to the public at 11:50 pm EST during a broadcast of Monday Night Football, the famous weekly football show on the ABC Network. People on the East Coast of the U.S. had already had their 11:00 pm news and if they were not watching Monday Night Football, they would find out in the morning from newspaper, radio or television report.

At the hospital, Yoko Ono asked that the news not be released until she was able to get home and inform her son Sean, as she thought he was likely up watching tv with his nanny and did not want him to find out the devastating news from a television report.

The way the announcement of Lennon’s death got out was just by coincidence. Alan J. Weiss, the producer of WABC-TV News, the local ABC affiliate station in New York City, had a motorcycled accident and was in the emergency room waiting to be treated by a doctor. Weiss saw Lennon get wheeled in surrounded by eight or nine NYPD officers.

Weiss called the WABC news room and told the assignment editor on duty, and the news immediately went out to ABC News president Roone Arledge, who coincidentally had the duo role of being the executive producer of Monday Night Football.

That night Monday Night Football featured the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. When Howard Cosell was informed of the news and told to announce it, he balked at first, stating that he did not think that Monday Night Football should not break such devastating news to the American public. Finally, after discussing it with sidekick Frank Gifford, Cosell made the first public announcement of Lennon’s murder. This is the video from that famed 1980 broadcast:

Ironically, six years before in 1974, John Lennon joined Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football as a guest commentator. Having never seen an American football game, Lennon gave his analysis. He stated of the madness of the football crowds that “it makes rock concerts look like tea parties.” This is the video of Lennon’s 1974 appearance on Monday Night Football:

As can be imagined, the New York City Police Department kept a massive group of officers guarding Mark David Chapman because they were aware that John Lennon was so loved by so many that the NYPD did not want an incident similar to Jack Ruby’s shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.