Human Interest

Journalist who saw John Lennon die looks back 40 years later

By Helen Cook

New York, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- Being hit while riding his motorcycle through New York’s Central Park is how a young television journalist came to break the news of the Dec. 8, 1980, assassination of John Lennon.

“It was on a very cold night in December and I had a motorcycle and I was driving through Central Park and I was hit by a taxicab and I went flying over my handle-bars, crashed onto the roadway,” Alan Weiss tells Efe a few days before the 40th anniversary of the former Beatle’s murder.

Then working as a news producer at WABC-TV, Weiss was taken to Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, near Lennon’s residence at The Dakota, the city’s most famous apartment building.

“I’m lying down on a gurney and behind me a door opens up and a man comes running in, shouting ‘we’ve got a gunshot, a gunshot in the chest,'” Weiss says.

“I had my eyes closed and I’m lyin’ there and two police officers come out and they’re standing right next to my gurney and one says to the other: ‘can you believe it? John Lennon’ and I opened up my eyes and I looked up and I said ‘excuse me, officer, what did you say?’ and they said ‘we didn’t say anything’ and they walked away.”

Weiss recalls wondering whether he misunderstood the cop’s words.

“It’s incredible. Could it possibly be John Lennon? Shot? It’s inconceivable. I must have heard it wrong, maybe it’s (actor) Jack Lemmon or some other name that I don’t even know,” he says, describing what was going through his mind on that night.

Stuck on his gurney, Weiss tried to get an orderly to telephone the news desk at WABC and let them know about the possible attack on Lennon, but a security guard interceded to say that the gunshot victim was not the music icon.

“And then I hear crying, and again it’s coming from behind me, and again I’m able to twist around and look. And in comes walking an Asian woman in a mink coat, crying hysterically on the arms of a police officer,” he recounts.

“I’ve been a Beatles fan all my life and I certainly know who Yoko Ono is, and I was fairly sure it was her, but I wasn’t absolutely positive it was her,” Weiss says.

The producer eventually managed to call his colleagues at the television station and they told him that they had received information about a shooting in front of The Dakota.

After making the call, Weiss returned to his gurney, from where he could see doctors working frantically to save Lennon.

“It’s a scene that even though it’s 40 years later, I will never forget. Lennon was lying, they’d taken all his clothes off, he was lying on his back … surrounding him in a semicircle were the medical staff and Lennon’s chest was open. Blood everywhere.”

“One of the doctors had his hands inside Lennon’s chest and I could see by the way his hands were moving that he was pumping Lennon’s heart,” Weiss says.

A few minutes later, the producer was wheeled out of the emergency room to another part of the hospital where, by chance, an instrumental version of the Beatles song “All My Loving” was playing over the public address system.

“The song ends and a minute or so later, a woman’s voice screams: ‘oh no, oh no, no, oh no’ and I look up and the door’s open in the new room I’m now in and out comes Yoko Ono sobbing on the arms of David Geffen, record producer David Geffen.”

Soon after that, the doctor treating Weiss acknowledged that Lennon had not survived and he persuaded her to let him contact WABC and confirm the singer’s death.

“This story touched me in ways no other story ever did,” Weiss says. “First, because I was rarely at the location as the tragedy unfolded. Usually, as a journalist, you get there it’s the aftermath, so you have a chance already to internalize it before you can get there. But I was a Beatles fan. I loved the Beatles. I grew up with the Beatles. The Beatles were the most important music group in my life and – I think most people agree – the most important music group ever.”

Reflecting on the events of four decades ago, Weiss says that the media should have minimized any mention of Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, who stalked the former Beatle for months, going so far as to get his autograph hours before he shot him.

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