On March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono flew from Paris to Gibraltar, where they were secretly married. The couple dressed in white, and the groom stood with one hand in his pocket, smoking a cigarette throughout the short civil ceremony. Although no fans witnessed the wedding, millions saw the honeymoon a few days later when the couple flew to Amsterdam to stage the first of their “bed-ins” for peace. Thai, two months after that, they descended on Montreal to launch another week of in-bed interviews and to record John’s now-famous pacifist chant, “Give Peace a Chance.” Like their public statements, the song found an instant audience in a nation grown weary of the Vietnam war, and Lennon quickly emerged as one of the most visible of peace activists. Yet his political commitment would be short lived, says Albert Goldman, author of the searing new biography, The Lives of John Lennon. In the excerpt that follows, Goldman limns a soul locked in battle with personal demons, a man within whom little real peace could be found.
In February 1970 John Lennon suffered a quiet nervous breakdown. He didn’t crack up: he simply took to his bed and refused to see anyone but Yoko. When he lapsed into a similar state years later, he provided a striking description of his condition: “I’d lie in bed all day, not talk, not eat, just withdraw. And a funny thing happened. I began to see all these different parts of me. I felt like a hollow temple filled with many spirits, each one passing through me, each inhabiting me for a little time and then leaving to be replaced by another.” Nobody could have explained better what it means to go to pieces.
John Lennon’s breakdown was exacerbated by his drug addiction. Mistakenly assuming that getting off drugs entailed nothing more than abstinence, he had made an heroic effort to kick heroin back in August 1969 when he first moved into his new home, Tittenhurst Park. He had had himself roped to a chair, leaving only one arm free to hold a cigarette. Pinioned in that position, he had sat for three whole days, alternately burning and freezing, crying out in agony or begging for release.
Soon John was back again on junk, a relapse that inspired him and Yoko to put themselves into the hands of Dr. Michael Loxton, a specialist in the use of methadone. A synthetic opiate, methadone will sate the junkie’s craving for horse but produces many of the most alarming side effects of its deadly rival, including the fatal dangers of an overdose or a prenatally addicted newborn baby. In time to come, John and Yoko would complain bitterly about their enslavement to the drug that was supposed to set them free.
On March 5, 1970, the Lennons checked into the London Clinic, an expensive private hospital where wealthy addicts could safely change their drug habits. After the famous couple returned to Tittenhurst, on March 29, the press announced that Yoko was two months pregnant and expecting a baby [which later miscarried] in October.
The final blow to the already prostrate Lennon was delivered by Paul, who rang up one day to announce that he was leaving the band and bringing out an album on his own. John was stunned. First, it enraged him because when he had wanted to announce his break from the Beatles, he had been prevailed upon to keep his mouth shut in the interests of the group. Just as disturbing was the recognition that Paul’s defection meant the band was gone for good. If Paul, the one who had fought the hardest to keep the group together, was quitting, then there was obviously no hope of a reconciliation.
Nothing that happened to John Lennon after his marriage to Yoko Ono made so great a difference in his life as his removal to New York. On August 13, 1971, the Lennons settled into the opulent St. Regis Hotel charged with a sense of special purpose. They had set their sights on becoming the new leaders of the New York avant-garde. This bold ambition had been spawned by Yoko’s tales about her early years on the downtown scene. Yoko’s role in this world, according to her own account, had been that of brilliant but unacknowledged innovator. Single-handed, she had invented Concept Art, the Happening, Minimalist film, Flower Power, and, as a cofounder, Fluxus, the most way-out art movement since Dada. Sad to say, she had been denied the credit she deserved by a cabal of homosexual artists and gallery owners, who resented the fact that the greatest mind among them belonged to an Oriental woman. Now, with John Lennon’s help, she would attain at last her rightful position.
Immediately the Lennons unleashed from their command post high atop the St. Regis an astonishing blitzkrieg. By dint of working around the clock, hiring highly motivated people, and employing every artifice of media manipulation, John and Yoko established themselves overnight as the hardest-charging of avant-gardists.
Basic to the Lennons’ high-pressure operation was the limitless service provided by their newly indentured bondswoman, May Pang, a young Chinese-American girl, who was a gung-ho rock fan. So that she could be at her masters’ beck and call 24 hours a day, May had moved into the room adjacent to the Lennons’ suite. Her day would begin at ten, when she would knock on the Lennons’ door and then call room service. John and Yoko could not get out of bed until they had received their methadone, illegally prescribed by Dr. William Zahm, a neighborhood physician introduced to them by manager Allen Klein. (The good doctor also provided his famous clients with B-12 shots—vitamins laced with speed.) Once John and Yoko were “up,” they would inspect their production line.
Extending down the marble-lined corridor from the master suite were a whole series of bed-sitting rooms that had been converted into ad hoc offices, labs, and shops. Here labored unstintingly all the technicians who were charged with the great task of realizing John’s and Yoko’s concepts. Another room on the 17th floor of the St. Regis served as the photo studio of Iain Macmillan, a pale, puffy-eyed young man who had shot (from Paul’s specification) the famous cover for Abbey Road.
Iain had been flown in from England to realize Yoko’s inchoate scheme for a one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art. Not an actual exhibition, this was to be a Concept Art show—but Yoko could never come up with the concept. Then, one day, sitting up in bed with John, holding court, she got into her obsession with flies and suddenly plucked the idea out of the air. She ordered that a bottle full of flies, equal in volume to her body, be released in the sculpture garden of the MOMA. As the flies escaped, Macmillan was to follow them and photograph them all over the city. When he asked how he would know which were Yoko’s flies, she replied that they would be scented with her favorite perfume, Ma Griffe.
Fly became the title of Yoko’s next album, which was a tit-for-tat complement to John’s Imagine. Most of the same musicians were employed, but Yoko injected the novelty of a band of crude mechanical instruments—self-beating drums and violins that hung from music stands. When the album was released, John outdid himself in the extravagance of his praise for Yoko’s music, comparing her with Little Richard.
Acknowledging that Yoko was in no wise his peer as an artist was simply intolerable to John because their relationship was founded on the idea that they were the same soul in two persons. Parity was an indispensable condition for their symbiosis. So ultimately, it didn’t matter what Yoko was by objective standards. She had to be what John imagined her to be: his fellow genius.
May Pang recalls that she was sitting at her desk one morning in 1973 in Apartment 72 of the Dakota (the nine rooms that the Lennons were then renting from actor Robert Ryan, and would buy the following year for $105,000). She looked up and beheld Yoko standing before her in a long, blue-checked flannel nightgown. “Listen, May,” she said. “John and I are not getting along. We’ve been arguing. We’re growing apart.”
It had been obvious to May for weeks that the Lennons were going through a bad patch. They never seemed to be together, and if their paths did cross, they would not acknowledge each other. There had even been talk of their attending the Masters and Johnson sex clinic.
Recently John had humiliated Yoko at Yippie Jerry Rubin’s flat by taking Jerry’s girl into an adjacent room and going to bed with her. It was probably this outrage that inspired Yoko to adopt a drastic but characteristic solution to her problem. She had grown up watching her father nipping off to enjoy his geisha. So what could be more natural than getting a geisha for her husband, some nice young Oriental woman whom Yoko could totally control? As she reflected on the matter, she recognized that she had the ideal woman already in her employ—little May!
During the three years that May Pang had slaved for the Lennons, she had been put through every conceivable test for obedience and loyalty. She had sacrificed her whole life to her employers, working recently, for example, all day for Yoko at the studio and then returning to work all night on John’s new solo album, Mind Games. Reared in a Catholic parochial school, May was a goody-goody who regarded Yoko as a mother and had never exhibited the slightest romantic interest in her husband.
In her book, Loving John, she describes how startled she was when Yoko said: “John will probably start going out with other people. May, I know he likes you.”
May sputtered a protest, but Yoko continued, unperturbed. “May,” she said reassuringly, “it’s OK. I know he likes you. If he should ask you to go out with him, you should go.” May was aghast. She was a naive girl whose sexual experience had been confined to one affair—with the drummer of Badfinger. The thought of Yoko Ono, whom she regarded virtually as a mother, handing over her husband—who was the greatest man in the world, John Lennon!—was enough to make May’s granny glasses frost over. Speaking in that hard, resonant tongue used in the streets of Spanish Harlem, where May had grown up, she started reciting all the reasons why it was definitely not OK.
Now Yoko shifted her ground slightly and started coming on like May’s aunt, an older, wiser woman concerned about May’s personal happiness. “Life isn’t all work. You’re entitled to some fun. You should have a boyfriend. Wouldn’t you rather see him with someone like you than someone who would treat him rotten?”
When Yoko saw that May would not listen to reason, she decided to act as if her suggestion had met with complete agreement. “I think tonight when you go to the studio would be a good time for you to begin,” remarked Yoko calmly. “Don’t worry about a thing,” she added. “I’ll take care of everything.”
To May’s relief, nothing happened that night. The following night, however, John acted like another man. No sooner did the pair step into the elevator at the Dakota than he seized May and kissed her passionately. “I been wantin’ to do this all f———day,” panted Lennon as May shrank back in shock.
For three nights running, John insisted on taking May home. Two nights she warded him off, but on the third he dismissed the limo and took May uptown to her flat in a cab. After pleading to be admitted to her apartment, he pressed home his advantage once he was inside the door. After a bout of tears and the usual expressions of anxiety—which John countered by telling this powerless girl how anxious the encounter was making him feel—May allowed John to climb with her into the sack.
Once her initial resistance had been overcome, May Pang recognized that there was nothing she wanted more than John Lennon. She decided that she would take what was offered so freely. After a couple of weeks of making love every night with mounting pleasure and passion, May was obliged to concede that she owed the undreamed-of happiness entirely to her lover’s wife.
Early in September 1973 Yoko went off to a feminist congress at Chicago. John seized the occasion to fly the coop. Attaching himself to Harold Seider, his financial and legal adviser, he insisted on accompanying Seider home to Los Angeles, taking along May Pang.
John might have had a wonderful time in L.A., but he could not go a day without running his head into a noose. The first thought that entered his mind was to cut a new album with Phil Spector, a collection of Fifties rock classics, the songs that John had loved when he was a kid. Soon after he arrived, John was laying out this plan to Phil.
During the month that elapsed before John and May were summoned to the studio, they put together their new life on the Coast. Lou Adler, the famous record producer, offered Lennon the use of a house in Bel Air. The young lovers got wheels when John bought May on her 23rd birthday an $800 1968 Plymouth Barracuda. They even obtained an assistant when May’s friend Arlene Reckson, a New York designer, offered to come out and help in exchange for room and board. A lot of local people, including many celebrities, sought to meet Lennon, but he remained aloof, associating exclusively with Spector, who would come over at night with his guitar and his amyl nitrite to run through old rock tunes.
The illusion of freedom John and May enjoyed when they arrived in L.A. was soon dispelled by Yoko’s insistent presence on the telephone. She called day and night. She also sent her informers to find out what was happening. Above all, she gave John and May endless orders concerning how they were to comport themselves in public. Basically what Yoko was seeking was protection for her cherished image. John was instructed to tell the press that Yoko had kicked him out for misbehaving. He was likewise forbidden to do anything that might suggest that he and May were having an affair.
During the tense hours before the first recording session, early in November, John found himself being distracted by endless calls from Yoko. First she announced her intention of cutting a two-record album. Then she informed John that she had booked a week at a club on the Upper East Side, where she would work with a studio band fronted by guitarist David Spinozza. At the same time, she kept deriding the rock ‘n’ roll album and attacking Phil Spector. By the end of the day Yoko had shaken John so badly that he asked May Pang: “Do you think I’m doing the right thing?”
The session began with Spector making a characteristically dramatic entrance, arriving late and wobbling into the studio atop his lifts, a pistol showing prominently in a shoulder holster. He was followed by a big middle-aged man with a beard, his minder, George, the only bodyguard in the world whose basic job was to protect people against his employer. Although Spector had spent more than a month putting this session together, not even the simplest preparations had been made at the studio. As the clock ticked on, orders had to be issued to provide the players with chairs, music stands, and lead sheets.
Spector’s entrance on the second night was even more dramatic. This time he appeared before the astonished musicians costumed as a clinician, with a long white lab coat and a stethoscope hanging about his neck. Brandishing his pistol in one hand and a bottle of Mogen David in the other, he wobbled around the studio, talking manically to the players.
Lennon had done very little drinking during the first session, though he had armed himself with a flask of vodka. Now he started passing a gallon of Smirnoff back and forth with Jesse Ed Davis, a full-blooded Kiowa Indian and the former guitarist of Taj Majal. As May Pang and Arlene Reckson looked on in dismay, the musicians got loaded and John began to act rowdy. He swaggered over to May and kissed her macho style, running his hand up inside her blouse. Then he went into the booth and yelled at Spector, who was driving everybody crazy with his time-consuming procedures. When Spector ignored John’s complaint, John picked up a headset and smashed it on the console.
The violence that had been building all night came bursting out the moment he left the studio. Two cars took off for Lou Adler’s house, and as they sped along through the hushed streets of Bel Air, May could hear John screaming in the car behind her: “May! Yoko! May! Yoko!” The moment that John had realized that he had been separated from May, he had gone berserk. He had tried to kick out the windows of the car and pulled out drummer Jim Keltner’s hair by the handful. When the cars screeched to a stop before the house, Arlene jumped out and ran toward May, shouting, “John’s gone mad!”
May wanted to put John to bed at once. Spector ordered her to sober him up first with coffee. He warned that John was still highly dangerous. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than John lunged for the producer’s throat. Big George seized Lennon from behind and frog-marched him upstairs to the bedroom. Bang! went the door. May heard John screaming, “Gimme back my glasses, you Jew bastard!” Inside the bedroom, George was tying Lennon’s hands to the bedposts with neckties from the closet.
The implacable Spector was not satisfied until Lennon had been firmly secured. Then Phil gave the signal for a fast pullout. As he went through the house door, he turned his little shaded face up at the terrified girls and said: “Wasn’t it a terrific session?”
Suddenly May and Arlene heard sounds of rending and tearing upstairs. Then there was the crash of broken glass. John had gotten loose and hurled something through the window. The next moment he appeared at the top of the staircase. Without his glasses, he looked blind and weird. The neckties that had bound him were trailing from his wrists. Squinting down the stairs, he screamed: “Yoko, you bitch! You wanted to get rid of me! All this happened because you wanted to get rid of me! Yoko, I’m gonna get you!”
Finally help appeared in the form of PR man Tony King, whom May had called while Spector was having John pinioned. Pointed in the right direction, he approached Lennon, calling out, “What’s the matter, John?” The sound of a sympathetic English voice must have relieved John’s fears because he broke down immediately and started sobbing. Tony took John into his arms, as one would a frightened child. Rocking and soothing him, he quieted John’s spastic motions.
Finally John’s fit ended in a flood of tears. “Nobody loves me,” he sobbed. “Nobody loves me!”
By December 1973 the John Lennon/ Phil Spector rock ‘n’ roll sessions had become the talk of Hollywood. One of the best witnesses to the final phase of this ill-starred collaboration was Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John. “There was nuthin’ that Spector could do,” says Rebennack. “He would try to dole out the lush to John—and the cat would have it smuggled in. Next night Phil would get somebody to make sure that John didn’t drink more than a certain amount. Then the cat wouldn’t cut till he had had his taste. But when he had his taste, he couldn’t cut! He bit guitarist Danny Kortchmar on the nose. He knocked a tooth out of Jesse Ed Davis’s mouth. One night he had some hustling chicks from Hollywood come over to deliver drugs. There could have been a bust from cops following those girls because they were always on the edge of trouble. John was the kind of cat-who would invite trouble to the session. He wanted to be part of the street, but he didn’t see that there was elements in the street that could destroy him.”
December 1974 marked the moment of greatest alienation between John and Yoko. Knowing only too well that cutting Yoko’s phone line is like cutting her lifeline, John began refusing to take her calls or slamming down the phone in the midst of the conversation. What must have alarmed her even more than these insults were the signs of mounting strength and stability in the enemy’s camp, especially the news that John and May were preparing to buy a stone house in Montauk, Long Island. If John Lennon was buying a home with May Pang, things were getting serious. In January Yoko rang up John at the Sutton Place apartment he and May were then sharing, and according to May, made a surprising announcement: She had discovered a new and absolutely effective cure for smoking: hypnosis!
Lennon was ready to try anything because he was suffering from a hacking cough produced by smoking two packs of Gauloise a day. What made Yoko’s offer even more beguiling was the way she now began to play mind games with John, calling him up and announcing that she had made an appointment for him with the smoking therapist, only to call back a few days later to cancel and reschedule his appointment with this mysterious wonder worker. After Yoko had played this game for two weeks, May Pang pointed out to Lennon that he was being teased. John didn’t object. He liked being teased.
On Friday when John’s appointment fell due, he made light of the whole business, assuring May that he would be home in time for supper. Then tomorrow, he told her, they would drive out to Montauk and take one last look at the house before they bought it. It was not until Monday afternoon that May finally came face-to-face again with John Lennon.
They had booked successive appointments with a dentist several blocks from their apartment, and when May walked out of the dentist’s office, she discovered John sitting in the waiting room. “His eyes were red-rimmed and there were bags under them,” she reported. “He looked at me vaguely and seemed dazed. His eyes were dilated and his manner [was] weird.”
May waited for John, and when he came back to the reception room, she asked him if he was coming home. He blinked and said, “Uh…right…OK.” When they got inside their flat, John said: “I guess I should say this to you now. Yoko has allowed me to come home.”
” What!” cried May.
John repeated the formula verbatim. Then he turned to pack a few things in a bag.
May was convinced that John had been brainwashed, but she couldn’t think of any way to undo this weird spell. “When did she tell you you could come home?” she asked.
“I don’t know…it just happened,” mumbled Lennon, like a bad boy caught out.
Finally May got to the real issue. “What about the love we felt for each other?” she demanded. “When did that stop?”
John’s reply astonished May. “Yoko knows I still love you,” said John. “She’s allowed me to continue to see you. She said she can be the wife, and you can continue to be the mistress.” At this point he jumped up and retrieved his coat, from which he removed two tiny bottles filled with fluids. “Yoko sent you a present,” he explained. “One is for you, and one is for me. I’m supposed to put some on you.” With that he opened the bottle and smeared on May a horrible-smelling oil. Then he dabbed himself with the other oil, which smelled like roses. Reeking of these essences, they got into bed and made love.
When it was over John smoked a cigarette. Then he announced: “I have to go home now.” Throwing on his clothes, he ducked out the door, caroling: “Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
May took her oil to a botánica, a shop that sells cult figures and charms. The proprietor sniffed it and explained that it was a mixture of sulfur, arrowroot, and chili powder. “Whoever gave it to you,” he warned, “must really hate you.”
May Pang never discovered the cause of John Lennon’s abrupt about-face. In April she was sent off to London to work at Apple. When she returned the following month, she was fired.
We’re pregnant!” Yoko giggled girlishly one day in March 1975, as she skittered into the Black Room where John was discussing his next album with Bob Mercer of EMI. Just back from an examination by her gynecologist, Yoko was big with news of immense importance for her marriage. John was beside himself with glee.
Everything John Lennon ever said about Sean testifies to his vision of this second child as being radically different from his firstborn. Sean was a love child, conceived at a moment of reconciliation. His first name is the Irish form of John, and clearly, in Sean Ono Taro, John Lennon recognized the ultimate opportunity to fulfill his fondest wish: to start all over again.
The first unmistakable sign of Lennon’s determination to play his marriage da capo was his decision to remarry Yoko on their anniversary. He was manifestly relieved to be back behind the sheltering walls of the Dakota. As a boy who could never say no, John Lennon longed for a protective presence, a firm negator, who would stand between him and the world, rejecting its demands and accepting the blame for telling all these nice people to go to hell. It was John Lennon’s horror of freedom and independence, those virtues so thoughtlessly celebrated in rock song, that drove him back time and again to Yoko—if it can be said that he ever really left her. But, by the same token, once John felt safe again and totally free of any responsibility for his own welfare, the other side of his mother complex began to raise its angry head.
John would invite Yoko to dine at a restaurant, a gracious gesture that any wife would appreciate. But when they were seated at a table, he would order a brandy Alexander. Drinking was forbidden at home, but in a public place Yoko was powerless to stop John from imbibing. As one drink after another slid down the famous throat, the Lennon tongue would turn sharp and nasty. Pinioned by social convention, Yoko was obliged to submit mutely as John cut her up like cat food. Perhaps he would complain of sexual deprivation, demanding that if she didn’t want to f— him, she should at least provide suitable substitutes, like some nice young girls—or boys!
Yoko wasn’t slow to recognize the dangers posed by this sort of behavior. Just as she had once sought to sate John’s lust by procuring him a discreet and trustworthy mistress, so now she arranged with reliable people to have her husband taken to a whorehouse. (John was too insecure to go by himself, and Yoko wanted a full report on how he behaved.) One of these establishments, a Korean brothel on 23rd Street, still proudly displays Lennon’s signed photograph.
When the summer of 1975 came on and the asphalt turned soft, another solution offered. John could be packed off with one of the servants to Montauk, where Yoko arranged to rent the very same stone house that Lennon had been planning to buy for himself and May Pang. Getting John out of the city must have been one of Yoko’s most fervent wishes because he was driving her crazy with his efforts to protect the unborn baby. Not only did he insist upon supervising Yoko’s diet and pushing her about the apartment in a wheelchair, but she found that she couldn’t go to the bathroom without finding him on her tail. While, for the baby’s sake, he stopped smoking for the first time in his life, Yoko became so nervous that she ran up her consumption of Kools to four packs a day.
On October 8 the Lennons received a good augury. Leon Wildes, their lawyer, called John at home and told him that a three-judge panel had just ruled in his favor in the government’s longstanding case to deport him. “Am I gonna be able to stay here?” exclaimed John, hardly able to believe it. Then he revealed his own big news. “I’m going over to the hospital,” he confided. “Yoko is going to be induced tonight. You know, tomorrow’s my birthday!”
The Wildes arrived that evening and found Yoko resting comfortably in a room with a fine view of the East River, the very same room which Jackie Kennedy had occupied when she gave birth to Caroline. After midnight Yoko was wheeled into the delivery room. Sean Ono Taro Lennon was born at 2:00 a.m.
In January 1976 John resumed his relationship with May Pang, but the frequency of their assignations diminished to once every two or three months. One reason why Lennon wasn’t as keen as before was the sexually dampening effects of heroin. “The John I encountered in the [se] years seemed totally lacking in ambition,” she later remarked. “He seemed capable of concentrating for only short periods of time. Sometimes he would just sit there and look at me through glazed eyes.”
Hanging out with guitarist Jesse Ed Davis one night in Led Zeppelin’s lavish suite at the Plaza, John was startled by the sound of loud vomiting from the bathroom. Raising his head like a bird dog, he said: “Maybe he’s got something left!” Instantly both men were in the loo, where they discovered the Zeppelin’s drummer, John Bonham, down on his knees before the toilet.
When Lennon asked if he could have a hit, Bonham pulled the bag out of his pocket and gasped: “Here, take it all!”
John and Jesse poured out the fine China White and started horning it. No sooner did John get his nose full than he thrust his head into the toilet bowl next to Bonham, where they started puking in tandem. Jesse Ed sat on the edge of the tub, staring in fascination at the strange spectacle presented by the stars. “They would look at each other and gag and vomit and make these horrible retching sounds,” he said. “Then they’d look at each other and laugh! With all this drool dribbling down their faces!” (Actually the joke wasn’t all that funny. In 1980 John Bonham strangled to death while vomiting at the home of Jimmy Page, leader of Led Zeppelin.)
In late October John spent the last two evenings he would ever share with longtime friend Pete Shotton. John made it clear to Pete that the old Lennon was now going to be replaced by a new one, who was intent on cleaning up his act and becoming a model parent. John told Pete that he was off booze and tobacco, on a macrobiotic diet, and studying Japanese in anticipation of visiting Yoko’s family in Nippon. He showed such an exaggerated concern about waking the baby that he and his guest had to watch TV with the sound virtually inaudible.
Shortly after Pete’s visit, John went back to smoking and drugs. The only resolution to which he held fast was his determination to eat no more than 750 macrobiotic calories per diem. Eventually he went down to 120 pounds, lying most of the time in bed, a wealthy victim of malnutrition.
By 1978 John Lennon had ceased to resemble himself. Drugged all day on Thai stick, magic mushrooms, or heroin, he slept much of the time and spent his waking hours in a kind of trance. Totally prostrate, John couldn’t even raise his head to look at the TV screen; instead, he employed a pair of trick glasses with prism lenses that enabled him to watch while lying flat on his back. Though he kept up the pretense of running the house and taking care of Sean, he was so zonked out that his presence in the apartment was hardly noticed.
Although he became in his last years a kind of invalid, pale, wasted, generally confined to his sickroom, his underlying character never altered. If Yoko left him alone or sent him off somewhere for a few days, he reverted to type. That’s what happened in late September 1978, when she dispatched him to the Hawaiian Islands. No sooner did John check into the Sheraton Hotel at Waikiki Beach than he took off on a tremendous binge of drinking and drugging that soon made him look like a bum.
When Christmas rolled around, a season that John found emotionally troublesome, the mood at the Dakota was glum. John Green, Yoko’s Tarot card reader, was urging her to take Lennon to a doctor; Yoko was resisting, contending that a doctor might want to institutionalize John, and then he wouldn’t be able to get all the things to which he was accustomed at home.
After John and Yoko got back from their third annual holiday in Japan in 1979, they made a pact to give up heroin. Yoko discussed her drug problem with John Green. The only solution, he insisted, was to abandon the drug forthwith. He actually convinced Yoko a couple of times to flush her stash down the toilet, but afterward she complained about the cost and discomfort of these sacrifices.
Meanwhile, “Kit Carter” (the messenger who brought the drugs) was making his deliveries every morning. Sometimes he would bump into John Lennon in the outer office. Kit had been instructed by Yoko that if anyone was present, he was to go into the bathroom and put the packet in a tampon box beneath the sink.
Unlike Yoko, Lennon had developed such a loathing for himself, according to John Green, that he applied his enormous powers of determination to getting off horse—and he succeeded. To keep himself from relapsing, John began employing a sensory deprivation tank located in the attic of the house he had recently purchased on Long Island. Lennon would climb inside this big cedarwood box, resembling a coffin, and close the lid. Floating for up to half an hour in the dark, buoyed by the warm saline solution, he experienced a sensation that reminded him of getting high.
Once John got off heroin, his natural strength began to revive, and with it his yearning to get back to work.
In April 1980 Yoko finally summoned up the courage to confront her addiction. Though she had persuaded herself—against all reason—that John did not suspect her of being addicted, she was not so foolish as to think that she could go through the Sturm and Drang of heroin withdrawal without revealing her secret. Yoko told John that he must leave immediately for their house at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island because she was about to be initiated into a secret society and the rites demanded absolute privacy. Gullible as ever, Lennon allowed himself to be bundled off on April 9.
Sam Green, Yoko’s friend and art dealer, enlisted the aid of a capable medical man, Dr. Rodney B.Ryan, who agreed to come to the Dakota. Yoko proved a very bad patient. She was terrified of the pains of withdrawal, loath to discipline herself, and full of ideas for eluding the treatment. She developed all the familiar symptoms, from shakes and shivers to the illusion that spiders were crawling beneath her skin. When she started threatening suicide, Sam moved into the Dakota and stayed with her night and day for the next two weeks.
Once Yoko was totally free of drugs, she began to cry the blues. Sam Green, who had drifted by now into the role of male nurse, pleaded with her to put forth her real strength. “You say your life is a mess, your marriage is terrible. There is one thing you can do,” he exhorted. “You’re a talented artist—do your art!”
Almost immediately Yoko started batting out songs. In a week’s time she tossed off most of the songs that appeared later on Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey. She would call Sam at four in the morning and read him the lyrics. Then she would insist that he come over the next day and help her improve her hasty words.
On November 10, 1980 John Lennon called up Jack Douglas. The producer, who had not heard from Lennon in 20 days, was delighted by the call. Not only was Lennon in town, but he was burning with eagerness to get back into the studio.
“John was totally satisfied with himself mentally and physically,” declared Douglas. “He was starting to make a break. It had to do with his 40th birthday. He told me: ‘I’m happy to be 40 years old. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life and I feel the best I ever felt.’ ”
Meanwhile, Yoko demanded that John fashion a hot new single for her that could be released at Christmas. One day, when the battle over this record was at its height, Fred Seaman, a Lennon family gofer, walked in on his employers. He heard John say: “When I wanted to put out a solo album, you wouldn’t let me because it always had to be ‘John and Yoko’! Now you want to do a Yoko Ono thing. And if you want to do one, I want to do one!”
Yoko had a ready answer to that childish argument. “OK,” she said, “you can do one later. But for now I just want to get this single out.” Thus was born “Walking on Thin Ice,” a six-minute disco mix of a song recorded earlier but laid aside for further work. John Lennon would spend the last two weeks of his life laboring to make this track a big hit for Yoko.
On the night of December 8th, a limousine took the Lennons directly home from the Record Plant. When the limousine stopped in front of the Dakota, the hour was 10:50. Yoko hopped out first, followed by John, who was carrying a tape recorder and some cassettes. Taking two steps into the carriageway, Mark David Chapman pulled a snub-nosed pistol from his pocket and dropped into the combat stance. He spoke no word.
His gun spoke.
When Fred Seaman entered Apartment 72 at the Dakota after midnight, he found Yoko in a pink silk nightgown seated on a sofa with her head in her hands. She was flanked by record producer. David Geffen and Chief of Manhattan Detectives Richard J. Nicastro. The police official was trying to interrogate Yoko, but the only response she could make was to moan: “The shock is too great! I can’t, I can’t do this now!”
After the departure of Chief Nicastro, Yoko retired to her bedroom with Geffen and Sam Havadtoy, the Lennons’ interior decorator, to focus upon her immediate problems. The first and most urgent task was making the funeral arrangements. John Lennon had anticipated receiving the customary rites, making provision for them in the first item of his will; yet only a few hours after his death, Yoko announced through Geffen that there would be no funeral—only a silent vigil to be held at a time set later.
Her next concern was the prompt execution of the will. After a night spent mostly making phone calls, she was up and about at 7 o’clock, ready to meet with her lawyers and financial advisers. After she had conferred with them for some hours in Studio One in the Dakota, the will was sent down to the district court for probate that very afternoon. It bequeathed Yoko 50 percent of their estate, valued in excess of $30 million, and put the other 50 percent into a trust whose provisions did not have to be publicly declared.
If the public provisions of the will provided no cause for surprise, the disposition of John Lennon’s body certainly did. Lennon had a horror of cremation, a practice that he inveighed against and that he once proposed to protest in a song. Despite his aversion, his widow arranged to have his body burned. She assigned the task to Douglas MacDougall, the ex-FBI man who had been Yoko’s security consultant. MacDougall employed a ruse reminiscent of the way the Beatles used to escape from concerts. After the body had been delivered in a station wagon to the Frank J. Campbell funeral chapel, MacDougall got a cremation certificate from the mortician. Then he sent an empty casket to be loaded aboard a hearse. When the vehicle departed, all the reporters who had been hanging around the premises took off in pursuit. At that moment MacDougall had the body loaded into another hearse, which sped north out of the city to the Ferncliff Crematory in Harts-dale, N.Y.
That night MacDougall walked into Studio One, carrying a package about a foot high disguised by gay gift wrappings to fool those hanging around the Dakota. “What’s that?” asked Fred Seaman.
“That,” replied the security expert, “was the greatest rock musician in the world.”