John Lennon’s Killer Confronted James Taylor The Day Before He Shot Lennon

On December 8, 1980, five shots rang through the Manhattan air as Mark David Chapman assassinated John Lennon outside of The Dakota, where Lennon lived. The cultural ramifications of Chapman’s gunfire were heard all around the world. But fellow musician James Taylor heard all five shots from John Lennon’s killer’s gun through the glass of his nearby apartment’s windows. 

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Emergency officials rushed Lennon to Mount Sinai West Hospital one mile down the road, but it was too late. The iconic musician was dead. As news of Lennon’s death and the identity of his killer began circulating in the press, Taylor realized he had not only heard Chapman violently taking Lennon’s life. 

He had run into Lennon’s killer the day before the murder. Or, perhaps more appropriately, Chapman ran into him.

James Taylor’s Frenzied Meeting With John Lennon’s Killer

James Taylor later contacted Tom Brook, the first British journalist to report live from outside The Dakota on that fateful winter’s day, about his experience with Mark David Chapman. The “Fire and Rain” singer revealed to Brook that Lennon’s killer had confronted Taylor at the entrance of the 72nd Street subway stop one day earlier on December 7, 1980. 

“The guy had sort of pinned me to the wall and was glistening with maniacal sweat and talking some freak speak about what he was going to do and his stuff with how John was interested, and he was going to get in touch with John Lennon,” Taylor told Brook (via BBC). “It was surreal to actually have contact with the guy 24 hours before he shot John.” 

As Taylor would later tell the Telegraph, Chapman followed the musician toward his apartment half a block north of 73rd Street. He finally left after Taylor nervously told his building’s doorman that the crazed man following him was not a guest. “He was glistening with sweat,” Taylor later recalled. “His eyes were darting all over the place and dilated like crazy. To me, the guy seemed either drugged or in a manic break of some sort. [I thought], man, there are some freaky people in New York. And that’s as much as I thought of it.”

A Close Call In More Ways Than One

The morbid irony of the situation was not lost on James Taylor. Less than one day after Mark David Chapman chased Taylor to his front doorstep, the disgruntled fan would do the same thing to the former Beatle, except this time, with far more tragic consequences. For all intents and purposes, Taylor was lucky. Chapman wasn’t just after any star. He had become disillusioned by Lennon, specifically, after reading J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

It wasn’t until the news broke that Taylor realized he had heard Chapman committing the crime. “I lived in the building one up from the Dakota, and I heard him shot,” Taylor told Brook. “Five, just as quick as you could pull the trigger, about five explosions.” Four of those five shots hit Lennon directly in the back and shoulder. One missed. “It seems amazing to me now,” Taylor recalled.

Taylor’s proximity to Lennon’s apartment building and his chance encounter with Chapman the day before would be enough to form an uncanny connection between the two musicians. But as an iconic performer in his own right, Taylor felt even more connected to the heartbreaking experience. “The more well-known you are, it just becomes statistically more probable that someone crazy will get attracted,” Taylor told the BBC in 2011. “I think there is a point of diminishing returns to fame and success.” As fate would have it, Lennon would be receiving those diminishing returns, not Taylor.

Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

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