JOHN LENNON: Barefoot in Nutopia

An insider’s story of his last years

by Mike Tree


Nutopia     Mike Tree     The Occult     Bermuda     Studio Sessions     Helter Skelter     Silent Vigil     Afterword


Monday morning, December 8th 1980, was cold and gray when I left the Dakota to run a Christmas errand for John and Yoko. Around noon, the sun came out just as I returned to the building. When I let myself into their apartment, the Japanese housekeeper told me they had gone out to give an interview for Double Fantasy.

About an hour later, while I examined the eight-foot-high pigmy date palm located in a room near the front door, John entered the apartment. To my astonishment, his shoulder-length hair had been cut short since I’d seen him that morning.

“Good afternoon,” I said, going over to meet him. “I like your new haircut. You look like Elvis.”

“Thank you, thank you,” he replied. “This is how I looked when I started.” 

“I just heard that ‘Starting Over’ is already in the Top 10,” I told him.

“Yeah. You know it’s still a thrill to hear my new record on the radio. I’ve heard the song a thousand times, but hearing it played on the radio makes it real. This is the first time the critics have liked me since the Beatles. We’re opening the door slowly to see if anyone is still out there.”

After a short chat, he went off to the kitchen, I went back to caring for the indoor trees. When I had finished, I left the Dakota without seeing him again. Outside the building, a small crowd gathered in front of the main gate, waiting for a glimpse of John and Yoko.

Later that day at my apartment, I dozed-off in front of the television and went to bed about 10:30 in the evening. But the insistent ring of my telephone soon pulled me out of a deep sleep.

“Did you hear the news?” a friend’s voice asked.

“What are you talking about?” I grumbled, not fully awake.

“They just interrupted Monday Night Football—John was shot!”

“John’s at the studio,” I protested. “He’s mixing “Thin Ice” [Walking on Thin Ice] with Yoko.”

“Howard Cosell said John Lennon!” my friend insisted. “He said John was shot in front of the Dakota; he was taken to Roosevelt Hospital.”

My heart hammered. I hung up—stunned!

About thirty minutes later, I entered the hospital’s waiting room, where a small group of familiar faces had already gathered. Not long after my arrival, a hospital official came into the room. She announced there would be a report about John’s condition in the lobby of the main hospital building.

At the next building, a large boisterous crowd milled around in the lobby. Television cameras and lights had been set up. Reporters with microphones and recorders jostled for position in front of marble stairs leading to the second floor. After a long delay, a man in a long white jacket moved stiffly down those stairs, and stopped a few steps above the lobby. He gestured with extended arms for everyone to quiet down.

“My name is Dr. Stephan Lynn, Director of Emergency Services at Roosevelt Hospital. John Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:07 P.M. He had lost a great deal of blood from multiple gunshot wounds. A team of trauma surgeons tried to resuscitate him, but his wounds were too extensive—”

A gasp of disbelief came from the crowd, and the lobby erupted into a tumult of sobs and chatter, drowning out the doctor. I overheard a woman near me say, “That’s the end of my generation!”

When I arrived in a trance at the Dakota, blue police barricades blocked the entrance. Several hundred people had already gathered. Some held candles or flowers, some wept, still others clutched pictures of John, though most stood in stunned silence. Here and there small groups chanted Beatles songs.

Trembling and numb, I entered the office of Lennono Music [Studio One], exchanged looks with the two other staff members already there, and took a seat at a desk. No one spoke. Time stopped.

Suddenly, the ring of a telephone went off like a bomb. One by one, each phone line began to ring. Within half an hour, every button flashed an incoming call. Talking on the phone was a dispensation; no time to think or feel. The three of us stayed in perpetual motion—it dulled the pain.

Around mid-day on Tuesday, the Dakota staff began delivering floral condolences. Within an hour, Studio One was a virtual jungle. Flowers and plants of every shape, size and color took up space on the carpet, on desks, in the kitchenette and in the bathrooms. We accepted everything. Just work harder, we thought, all the phone calls will be answered, all the telegrams read, all the flowers will get a vase. But the sheer volume of the vegetation soon brought us to our senses. Someone went to the basement to request that all floral arrangements be kept there.

An official from a security firm came into the office to tell us we had to get ID badges today at the concierge office. Meantime, I opened telegrams. One of them was from a man who claimed to be a psychic at Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment. I passed it off as just another quack trying to reach Yoko. But when I told her about the telegram, she asked me to follow up with a phone call.

The psychic told me he had asked the tarot cards about John, and repeatedly got the same answer. He said the cards indicated that John had escaped the cycle of death and rebirth. When I reported my conversation to Yoko, she was pleased.

Now on Tuesday afternoon, it was time to check the plants in the apartment. My heart pounded as I entered the kitchen through the service entrance door. “I’ve come to care for the plants,” I told the Japanese housekeeper. “Where’s Yoko?”

“Yoko-san in da bedroom. She not eat. Just stay in da bed and smoke cigarettes. Many cigarettes.”

I felt so dazed by grief and fatigue, I didn’t at first notice the man standing at the far end of the kitchen. He must be a police detective, I thought. But then I noticed he carried an Uzi machine gun.

“Where is Sean?” I asked the housekeeper, concerned by this display.

“He in da bedroom wit Helen,” she replied. “Mother not tell yet. He asking, ‘Where is father?’ ”

In the days after John’s murder, the small staff took turns on a suicide watch. My turn came on Tuesday night. Yoko told me she wanted to watch all of the Beatles videos I had in the archive. After completing my plant rounds in the afternoon, I set up a television set and a 3/4” video cassette player in the bedroom. Meanwhile, she talked on the telephone, so we said nothing to each other.

That evening, when I entered the bedroom, she gave me a warm smile. I no longer recall what we watched, except for the ones she enjoyed: the Beatles Ed Sullivan Show performances and their appearance in Japan. She said they were great musicians and laughed easily at their antics. Her amusement made me feel uneasy. Do I join her laughter, I asked myself. But my mind turned like molasses in winter, and I remained solemn. At some point, she pulled out a cigarette and tried to light it but the lighter didn’t work.

“Get me a new lighter,” she said, pointing to the Chinese apothecary cabinet across the room.

I looked through its drawers, without success.

“Try that drawer,” she said, directing me to the wicker dressing table next to where I had been sitting. “I think there’s one in there.”

I went to the dressing table and pulled open the only drawer. A forty-four Magnum revolver, laying on its side, stared back at me. My back was turned to Yoko, so she couldn’t see my startled expression. I was flabbergasted!

“No, there’s no lighter in here,” I said, feigning nonchalance as I carefully slid the drawer closed.

My intuition said Yoko wanted me to see that gun. But I didn’t understand why. Had it been there all these months? Now I understood the office manager’s decision to have a suicide watch. He must have known about the gun in the bedroom.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was again in Studio One answering the telephone, when I heard the familiar buzz of the intercom.

“Sean wants to see his father,” Yoko said.

“Okay, I’ll call Doug at the funeral parlor.”

When I did, they told me John’s body had already been taken to the crematorium, and gave me a telephone number where I could reach Doug.

“It’s too late,” he said, when I finally reached him. “John’s body has already gone into the furnace.”

What he said made my heart feel like a stone in my chest. After hearing my report, Yoko apparently felt the same way. She hung up the phone without saying anything.


Photographs:   #1 © AP Image (Licensed); #2 © 1980 Ted Ciuzio;

#3 Dakota ID issued to the author on December 9, 1980.

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