John Lennon had a particularly busy day planned for December 8th, 1980, a day that ended tragically when he was fatally shot outside his home in New York City.

Earlier that morning, photographer Annie Leibovitz visited the apartment he shared with Yoko Ono in the Dakota building on the Upper West Side in order to complete a photo shoot for an upcoming Rolling Stone cover story. They came up with the idea for the shot of a naked Lennon embracing a fully-clothed Ono in a fetal pose, which turned into the iconic cover of the Rolling Stone issue that was released on January 22nd, 1981, and unintentionally turned into a final tribute to him.

Lennon then went for an interview with RKO Radio. That interview touched upon his recent 40th birthday, entering middle age, his routine at home, and his legacy: “I always considered my work one piece, whether it be with [the] Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John, Yoko Ono,” he said, “and I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried, and I hope that’s a long, long time.”

Lennon and Ono then made their way downstairs to West 72nd Street and Central Park West, where Mark David Chapman approached and asked Lennon to sign a copy of his recent album Double Fantasy. Photographer Paul Goresh, who had befriended Lennon and often took his photo outside the Dakota, even snapped a photo of the two men together, one of the last photos taken of Lennon.

"I was taking a picture of John and I was trying to squeeze the guy [Chapman] out of the photo," Goresh told the NJ Advance during a rare interview five years ago. "He was such a nuisance all that day that I was trying to get him out of the picture. And thank God three-quarters of him is in the picture. It was ironic."

Lennon and Ono then headed to The Record Plant where they met up with producer Jack Douglas to continue work on her soon-to-be hit single "Walking On Thin Ice." Douglas had befriended Lennon when he was working in the studio with him during the making of Imagine in the early 1970s.

"I’m in this room, editing, doing transfers, and about a week or five days into this whole process John Lennon walks into the room," Douglas told Gothamist back in 2016. "And I’m just thrilled to be on this. And he walks in, and he says to me, 'Do you mind if I just sit in here for a little bit?' There was a lot of activity, the two rooms where they were doing overdubs and tracking. And I said no problem, and he sat down and I’m like a nervous wreck because he was my favorite Beatle, of course."

"And he sits down on the other side of the console, feet up on the glass, and cigarette smoke was all I saw, pair of sneakers," Douglas continues. "And after a few minutes, I was editing on a small speaker, and I said to him, 'Uh, I’ve been to Liverpool.' And his head popped up, and he said, 'Really? You been to Liverpool?' And I said, 'Yep.'"

It turned out that Lennon remembered Douglas from a newspaper story in 1965. Douglas and a friend has traveled to Liverpool to soak in the musical scene, and made up a story about being American musicians who were held captive on a boat, a story which made the front page of the Liverpool Echo.

"And he said, 'You did, huh? ‘65, the crazy Yanks in the papers. It was you, wasn’t it?'" Douglas recounted. "And I said yeah, and he said, 'I’ll be damned. We released an album, Rubber Soul, it should have been just us on the front pages of the Liverpool paper but who do I see there?' And we laughed...he said, 'I can’t believe it, you’re here.' And he got all excited about me."

The two forged a friendship and working partnership for the rest of Lennon's life, one which hit its peak when Lennon handpicked Douglas to produce his comeback album Double Fantasy in the late '70s. After work on that album and its companion piece Milk and Honey were done, Lennon still wanted to record more, which is what led to the "Walking On Thin Ice" session.

Yoko, John Lennon and Jack Douglas in the studio.

Yoko, John Lennon and Jack Douglas in the studio.

Yoko, John Lennon and Jack Douglas in the studio.
Courtesy of Jack Douglas

Below, Douglas recounts everything leading up to that final session, and what it was like being with Lennon hours before his death.

Were the final sessions pretty quick? No, it was a long process. Like I said, we’re talking about like four records. He took a little time off, he told me he was going back to Bermuda to write, the plan was to do a Ringo album, Paul had already signed on. So it was going to be Paul and John and we were trying to get George to back Ringo, which would have been unbelievable.

He’d written a couple songs here and there specifically for Ringo, right? Like "I'm The Greatest"? Yeah, there were a bunch of things. Almost every song, at some point, he says, “Okay, this is for Ringo.” And it could be that the Milk and Honey record may have been... a lot of those songs ended up on Ringo’s record.

Was it you or was it John who ultimately decided which songs were going to go on Double Fantasy? It was definitely mutual. I think we just had all this material. [After we finished those sessions] he told me he was going to Bermuda and to go ahead and do whatever I want, we would start recording again [eventually], and probably the Ringo thing after the first of the year, and he was planning a tour and all this other stuff. And then he called me and said, “We’re going back. Again. I feel like I just don’t want to leave the studio.”

He got the bug back. Yeah, and said, “Just you and me and Yoko. That’s all I want. Get an assistant, get an engineer, and produce.” And by then, we went back to Record Plant and we worked up on the 10th floor in the smaller room and I had already booked to do something for RCA, I moved it back to the middle of the night. And we would work all afternoon. “Walking on Thin Ice.” We only had a germ of that record, so we made a loop of I think eight bars, and then John and I played all the rest of the instruments on it. It’s just loop based. And a loop then was just a tape machine, I had it on a two- track spinning back to a multitrack, cutting bars together. And then John and I played over it, which was very wild. It was great. We were having a blast. We just felt like we had complete freedom to do whatever we wanted. And Yoko was great.

Everyone was getting along great during those later records. Yeah, and John knew that Yoko was onto something with that one. Especially with that spoken word. And the whole feel of it was so different that she was going to have a hit. It was nominated for a Grammy. But we actually finished that song and that last night he…I would go to my session afterward, a session at nine or ten at night, and he…we were planning on mastering in the morning. And some asshole went and shot him when he got home.

That was that night? Yeah, I said, “Goodnight, see you in the morning” at Sterling, the mastering studio. And a few minutes later I get a phone call, he’s been shot. I couldn’t believe it. I went up to Roosevelt Hospital, spent the night there. But he was already gone. They didn’t announce it until 6 in the morning.

So you were one of the last people to spend time with him. Yeah. It was me, Yoko and the driver. That’s it.

Double Fantasy was already number one. We were doing that in December. I mean he came back into the studio in late October, late November and started just messing around with stuff and decided on “Walking on Thin Ice”. And it didn’t look like he was gonna leave us, either. I mean, we were just having a great time. But then it was cut short.

That’s a pretty incredible story. Do you think that he chose you specifically for that last project because of your prior relationship? I ask the same question. I mean, we were friends, I never had an agenda with him. None whatsoever. Yoko trusted me. Knew that I understood what she was doing and I didn’t think it was crazy. But I asked John… we used to have a lot of talks. We would talk for hours after a session, cause Yoko worked in the daytime for the most part. And she’d go home and John would come in and we’d work all night. And John would like to kick back after a session. He had an old opium pipe that he liked to load with some weed, [a pipe] that I believe he got from Paul.

“Are we finished?” “Yep” So we'd kick back and smoke his pipe. And we would talk. But one day we were sitting and talking just for the hell of it. Anyone in the world could be producing, there’s so many other producers out there. I do some interesting stuff, but you know, I’m not George Martin...

So I asked John, “You know, of all these different people, you could have had..." and that look he would give me, the look if you’re getting insecure about something. And I said, “Look, why me? Why am I producing this record?” And he said, “Don’t you know? You should know why.” And I said, “No” and he went like this to me [Douglas puts his hands above his head]. And I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “Good antenna”. He said, “I don’t have to say much. I know you’re ahead of me. You have an idea of what the flow is, what I’m looking for. You know I’m impatient, you know that if things get caught up I get angry, I can’t take it. It flows. It moves. If we get stuck on a song, you get off it and move on to another. Then you move on to the right one, the right order. That’s why.”

He said, “That’s why. I don’t have to work, I just let you produce”. And he was very easy to produce. One of the easiest people to produce. So easy to produce, such a pro.

A photo of the scene outside the Dakota the night Lennon was killed

The scene outside the Dakota the night Lennon was killed

The scene outside the Dakota the night Lennon was killed
David Handschuh/AP/Shutterstock

Lennon and Ono got back to the Dakota around 10:45 p.m. that night, hoping to say goodnight to their son Sean before he fell asleep. That's when Chapman intercepted them and murdered Lennon on the sidewalk.

You can read more about Douglas's relationship with Lennon here and here; check out more photos of the scenes from the Dakota in the days after Lennon's death here; read the coverage of Lennon's death and his final interview with Rolling Stone here; and read an interview with the first person to report on his death here.

Check out a few tributes to Lennon today from his loved ones and former bandmates below as well.