Friday, September 8th, 2000

Just Imagine The Assassination of John Lennon

Friday, September 8th, 2000

Nearly 20 years ago, on the 8th day of the month of December, 1980, I was an ear-witness to the assassination of John Lennon.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, in order to bring some amity to my life, I joined a number of other out-of-work New York actors in a weekly poker game. The game moved around somewhat (I hosted, occasionally), but was usually held at the home of our British friend, Ian. I originally met Ian through his then lover, Deborah, and some other mutual friends with whom I had suffered through a ridiculously cold season of winter stock in Lake Placid, New York. I started out as an assistant stage manager, but ended up performing a few roles when a number of actors left the company for better jobs or, as in some cases, were fired.

Ian and I hooked up again some years later when he was cast as King Arthur and joined my future wife, Elizabeth, in a touring production of the musical Camelot. I had a small part in the chorus (Sir Sagramore) and had introduced Elizabeth to the director with whom I had worked a number of times by bluntly telling him that I had secured the perfect Guenevere for his production. He auditioned her and agreed.

Ian's apartment was located at the corner of Broadway and 70th Street in New York City. I think it was Broadway; it may have been Amsterdam Avenue. The confluences of streets in the area of that intersection make it very difficult to determine exactly where you are at any given moment. Somewhere in an old picture box I have a photograph of a street sign that indicates that I was standing at the corner of Broadway and Broadway.

I had told Ian I was tied up that night (I had a rehearsal) and would arrive late if I got there at all. Living north of Ian at Columbus Avenue and 80th Street, my usual trek to the poker game was down Columbus to 72nd Street and then on to Broadway/Amsterdam. It may have been shorter to walk west on 80th Street and then down Amsterdam Avenue, but in those days 80th and Amsterdam was the street-drug sales corner of the Upper West Side and you took your life in your hands just attempting to negotiate through the crowds without buying something. I think I remember it being a rather balmy night for December as I was wearing only a light jacket against the wind.

At any rate, on that fateful night as I passed the corner of 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue, I heard several loud reports that I took to be the normal sounds of New York at that hour - cars backfiring, building construction or possibly gun shots. You learned to ignore those sounds in my neighborhood. Arriving well after the start of evening, I was informed that, shortly after the game had begun, Deborah announced that she was going to bed because of a severe migraine headache. Even considering that she was arguably a better poker player than any of the men, including Ian, everyone had whined bitterly because Deborah was the only woman who regularly attended the game and it most emphatically gave the game a pleasanter aura. She was obviously not feeling well, because wild horses usually couldn't keep her from taking our money.

Unbeknownst to the others at the table, the game was a little more serious for me than it was for them. I was in pretty dire straights during parts of the late 70's and early 80's and winning a little at the poker table was a way for me to actually eat a little more nutritionally. A few years later, I entered some high stakes poker matches and pulled myself out of some pretty tough spots. I wouldn't recommend it as a way of life.

I don't remember how long I had been playing, but I was only up a few dollars when Deborah came out of the bedroom and announced that she had just heard on the radio that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Our reaction was first one of total disbelief and then stunned silence. It may have been me, but possibly someone else, who
suggested we abandon the game. We had tried to play a few more hands, but the camaraderie that made the game what it was just wasn't there. I felt sick to my stomach on the way home and it wasn't until the next morning when I read the New York Times and saw the time of the attack (approximately 10:50 PM) that I realized that I had actually heard the gunshots that had laid John low in front of the Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West only a block from where I had been standing the night before.

I had always had an affinity for John Lennon because he was the first celebrity that I had run into (literally) after moving to New York. Bill M., one of my friends from college, had located a residence for me at the Beacon Hotel (above the Beacon Theatre). Shortly after moving in, I rounded the corner at 73rd and Broadway and abruptly smacked into someone knocking their glasses askew. I started to mutter a 'New Yorker' apology (indecipherable), when I heard an unmistakable Liverpudlian accent say "My fault. Sorry, mate." It might have been "man" instead of "mate." My memory continually changes things like that over the years. I had undeniably caused a small abrasion on the bridge of John Lennon's nose, my first claim to fame.

Although we all know who did it, after John's death, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono made a simple request of John's fans - never repeat the name of John's killer. I have always tried to honor that request. Rest In Peace, my friend. We can only Imagine what our lives would have been like had you not been taken from us.

current music: Imagine

John Lennon

Imagine there's no heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will live as one

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