John Lennon’s Last Interview

john lennon

Editor’s Note: Former radio executive Laurie Kaye is the author of Confessions of A Rock ‘N Roll Name-Dropper: My Life Leading Up to Lennon’s Last Interview.She was part of the RKO radio team that interviewed John Lennon before his death on that same day of Dec. 8, 1980, and shared this excerpt with us from her book.


On December 8, 1980, I was overflowing with excitement, anticipation, and disbelief as I approached the Dakota Apartments on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I was there to play my part in John Lennon’s one and only US radio interview following the release of his and Yoko Ono’s brand-new album, Double Fantasy, and the voices in my head were telling me that this was without a doubt about to become the best day of my life that I could ever even begin to imagine, and that I was truly the luckiest person on the planet.

Visions of thousands of screaming Beatles fans packed into Dodger Stadium so many years earlier swirled through my brain like milkshake in a blender, and I could barely keep myself from swaggering down the sidewalk as my associates and I approached the security booth area right outside the Dakota’s entrance.

I’d flown out one day earlier from the West Coast as part of our three-member RKO Radio team along with an executive from Warner Bros./Geffen Records, and although our RKO trio had already worked together on a number of attention-getting network radio rock specials and interviews over the past few years, including heading off to London just the year before to hang out with Paul McCartney and Wings, this would be an entirely different ball game…after all, we were on the verge of meeting up with someone who’d literally disappeared from the music business for the previous five years—JOHN LENNON!

John had been hunkered down in the role of ultra-happy househusband and attentive father ever since his eighteen-month- long “Lost Weekend”—the time during which he was, by his own admission, miserably separated from Yoko and living in Los Angeles— and he hadn’t recorded or released any new music in at least the five years since. But now Double Fantasy, the new album created with his often critically reviled wife Yoko Ono, was his way of opening the door to the eighties and a whole new era. No one else in the world could even begin to imagine how it felt to realize that we were about to become the only American radio gang chosen to help John and Yoko usher that era in.

The buildup to our interview had already been somewhat mind-blowing. At one point, while everything was still in the early planning stages, I got a call from someone asking the date, year, and time of my birth, because apparently Yoko was working with her personal astrologer, who was going to take all the information collected and then use it to put together an astrological chart that would then determine the best possible day for our Dakota meetup. Of course, the surprising thing is that even with all that intimate information, and despite the fact that John and Yoko had already planned to head to Hawaii and the West Coast during that time period, somehow Monday, December 8, 1980, a date that will live forever in freakish rock ’n’ roll infamy, was chosen.

My main goal on that flight to New York was to come up with an amazing list of questions for John and Yoko. We’d been warned well in advance that asking about John’s time with the Beatles was a definite no-no, so as I wrote out my thoughts regarding the recording process and inspiration behind the various songs on Double Fantasy, I also shuffled through the Playboy magazine interview with Lennon that had just hit the newsstands, and with each page, I became more and more convinced that I was about to be torn to shreds by my idol. It seemed to me that John had not only been adamant about talking to the writer about not wanting to talk about the Beatles, but his past in general, and I began to get the scary feeling that we were all about to be slammed by his superior intellect and wit.

I knew also that his personality was notoriously complex, and the last thing I wanted was for him to think that I was some foolish, undereducated fangirl who still saw him as “the smart Beatle” while letting stupid questions with obvious answers pour from my mouth.

Our team was ushered into an incredible room that turned out to be Yoko’s (and, to a lesser extent, John’s) private office so that we could get set up for the interview. The first thing I noticed was the fluffy white wall-to-wall shag carpeting, which almost made me wish I was barefoot, and we were all asked to take our shoes off before entering. The next thing that caught my eye was this spectacular, superlong, glass-topped coffee table framed in metal, with serpents winding their way up and around each of the legs. I remember that as I looked at these man-made snakes through the glass off and on during the entire interview, I had this surreal feeling of “Am I really here? With John and Yoko?” No doubt about it: I was living a dream, and I was more than just a tiny bit scared that I’d suddenly wake up to find out I was imagining the whole thing.

RKO engineer/producer Ron Hummel was busy taking out his tape deck and other equipment just as Yoko joined us, introducing herself and seeming very happy to see me, a female, as part of our otherwise all-male team.

I felt a connection right off the bat, not just because we were both women, but also because I’d always been intrigued by her avant-garde approach to art and music, even if I didn’t actually understand the meaning of her conceptual art or exactly what she was trying to say with some of her early, experimental music. But I was inspired by the way she’d never back down, even while becoming a controversial figure blamed by 99.9 percent of the rock/pop music-loving public for breaking up the Beatles. In other words, I was in awe.

And so our pre-interview kicked off with Yoko telling us that John was just finishing up his photo shoot with Leibovitz but would be down shortly. While waiting for Ron to mic her up, I whipped out the silly little mechanical windup toy I’d picked up in San Francisco’s Chinatown—a fire-breathing dragon that I thought Sean, their five-year-old son, would have a lot of fun with. Yoko was sure John himself would absolutely fall in love with it, and she was totally right on. When John spotted it later, he immediately grabbed it and wound it up, watching the dragon travel the entire length of the glass coffee table top while the two of them laughed like crazy, both he and Yoko saying how much Sean would enjoy it—that is, if they ever actually gave it to him rather than keeping it themselves.

Another item I’d brought along with me was my personal copy of Grapefruit, a 1970 edition of Yoko’s 1964 conceptual-art and poetry book featuring, as it said right under her glowing portrait on the cover, “Works and Drawings by Yoko Ono” and an “Introduction by John Lennon.” I’d picked up the book years before on the bargain table at Cody’s, Berkeley’s popular Telegraph Avenue bookstore, never imagining that I’d be sitting with the author herself a mere four years later, waiting for her former-Beatle husband to join us.

Dave Sholin, the RKO executive who’d made sure I was included in the interview in the first place and was naturally just as thrilled as I was to be there, joined in, as did Warner Bros. Records’ Bert Keane, who’d been instrumental in pulling the whole event together. And so there we were, the four of us plus Yoko, when suddenly there was a knock at the door. As it opened slightly, just a couple of inches, the first thing I saw was John Lennon’s trademark round glasses and his nose sticking through the crack. When he opened the door all the way, I turned toward him and, in my typical, smart-ass fashion, looked right at him and asked under my breath, “Can’t you see we’re in the middle of an interview?”

He looked at me and laughed out loud, and when Yoko did too, I thought to myself, Everything’s okay! We’re gonna have a good time here!

I had no way of knowing at the time that this was to become John’s final interview, mere hours before he was shot and killed just outside this same building later that very evening.

-Laurie Kaye

Photo: John Lennon in 1980 (Getty Images)


10 comments on “John Lennon’s Last Interview

  1. This is part of my book’s 1st chapter titled “Imagine”—My Lead-up to Lennon! Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name-Dropper: My Life Leading Up to John Lennon’s Last Interview is my memoir, the story of my rock radio-related early life and career wrapped around John Lennon’s final interview which I co-conducted for RKO Radio at the Dakota in New York back on December 8, 1980 mere hours before he was shot and killed. I also wrote the incredibly well-received RKO special that aired a mere 6 days after John’s assassination: John Lennon – The Man, The Memory, as well as RKO Presents The Beatles/The Beatles From Liverpool to Legend, and I was an on-air newscaster at KFRC AM radio San Francisco, KING AM Seattle, and WOW AM Omaha!

    • Fine piece, Laurie. And super sassy greeting to John there, our friend! You beat him to the punch. :}

      When were you @ KING-AM asks the Seattle-born guy from his home in the stunning south Puget Sound?

      Write On


      • I was happy to be a KING-AM newscaster back 1978-1979, and met great people and had a great time but left thanks to an opportunity to head to London thanks to RKO Radio to co-conduct a Paul & Linda McCartney interview, along with their latest line-up of Wings! And then I went on air as an anchor on KFRC-AM in San Francisco…Yay!

  2. Matt Smart

    Wow, that was a lovely bit of writing, certainly left it hanging at the end there. Thank you for the confirmation that is part of a book. I hope to read the rest of it some time soon.

  3. Hope so too – no doubt you’ll dig it and be able to leave a fabulous 5 star complimentary amazon review…thanks in advance!

  4. Dan Beck

    Laurie, I loved your story! I so get your excitement and anticipation of your time with John and Yoko. Your prep showed so much empathy… and fear! I was supposed to be at the Dakota that night. I had been co-writing with former King Crimson and Foreigner member Ian MacDonald who had just moved in to the Dakota. I had been excited to even be in this famous and mysterious building, especially as a lyricist and songwriter totally inspired by John Lennon. Unfortunately, after weeks of achieving nothing with Ian, I just couldn’t go there that Monday night. It was the first time I ever missed a co-writing session. It was later that night that the news about John came in the middle of Monday Night Football. I never went back. I pretty much stopped writing song lyrics. I will be buying your book. Thank you.

    • Wow – what a fascinating association with December 8, 1980! Can’t wait to find out what you think after reading my book – hope you’re inspired to leave a glowing 5 star amazon review! Thanks in advance!

    • Wow, fascinating! Here’s hoping you totally enjoy my book and leave a glowing 5 star amazon review – thanks in advance!

  5. Ray Futran

    Not knowing that John and Yoko were interviewed by you that day, and knowing that it was “THAT DAY”, a lump formed in my throat as I read about your building excitement. When the news came over the radio in real time that very evening, I totally went to pieces and cried for 2 hours, non-stop. What I wouldn’t give to take a time machine back to that day so I could stop the assailant.
    I will look for your book!

  6. Steven Valvano

    An absolute brilliant piece!…Had me hanging on every word. Thanks for the unabridged honesty, Laurie.

    December 8, 1980- when it started, it was just another day for most, and probably for John & Yoko as well. It gets you thinking…. sorry to say, we are all subject to the randomness of life…..we all have a December 8.

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