The 1 Unlikely Person Who Broke the News of John Lennon’s Murder to the Nation

John Lennon’s murder took place on a Monday night in 1980, close to 11:00 PM. There was no CNN with breaking news. Nor were there cellphones exploding with trending news.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono
John Lennon and Yoko Ono | Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

News got around the old-fashioned way: word of mouth until the evening news came on with whatever details were known about what was going on.

The news of Lennon’s death broke in quite a serendipitous way. Find out how it did so and who had to tell the nation soon after it happened. You might be surprised to learn who it was.

The ABC producer who “accidentally” heard about Lennon’s murder

The night Lennon was shot to death, an ABC producer was injured in a motorcycle accident and like Lennon, was rushed to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan (the hospital is now called Mount Sinai West).

He may have been injured almost at the same time as the ambush on Lennon outside of his home at The Dakota building.

Alan Weiss, former ABC News producer who called in the news from Roosevelt Hospital of Lennon's death to his news desk on the night of Dec. 8, 1980
Alan Weiss, former ABC News producer who called in the news from Roosevelt Hospital of Lennon’s death to his news desk on the night of Dec. 8, 1980

Alan Weiss was a WABC-TV producer in New York, according to The New York Post. He was laying on a gurney that evening, waiting for treatment. Another patient in the next room was given higher priority to Weiss, as that patient was a shooting victim.

Weiss peeked into the next room as the commotion and frenzy were almost too much to resist his curiosity. When he looked into the room, Weiss claimed to see several doctors working in a fevered panic. One, in fact, had his hands inside the victim’s chest cavity. As he learned from their whispers, the patient was John Lennon.

Now 65, Weiss had to be sure the person was Lennon. “I heard police officers mention Lennon’s name,” he told The Post, “but I was foggy from my accident and couldn’t be sure.”

To be completely sure, he called the Channel 7/Eyewitness News assignment desk. There, his colleagues confirmed that there had indeed been a shooting at the Dakota, where Lennon lived. Eventually, Weiss heard Ono’s devastated cries and knew it was Lennon next door to him.

The person who broke the news to the nation didn’t want to

Howard Cosell was an American sports reporter and commentator from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s. He was known to millions as the football guy, the TV personality who always had something to say about somebody.

Howard Cosell
Howard Cosell | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

According to The Daily Dolphin, that Monday night in December, the Dolphins were playing the Patriots. Cosell and co-commentator Frank Gifford were in the middle of calling the Monday Night Football game on ABC when Weiss’ information from Roosevelt Hospital made its way to the ABC News desk.

Gifford recalled years later, “Communication not being like it is today, we just got a phone call from New York. I didn’t know whether someone was making it up because I just could not believe that it had happened.”

Left to right: Monday Night Football commentators Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell
Left to right: ‘Monday Night Football’ commentators Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Cosell and Gifford went back and forth, on whether or not to announce Lennon’s death on the air during the game.

“I just don’t know,” Cosell told Gifford. “I’d like your opinion. I can’t see this game situation [the Patriots lining up for the go-ahead points] allowing for that news flash, can you?”

He finally told the world Lennon was dead

Gifford urged Cosell to make the announcement. “You’ve got to. If we know it, we’ve got to do it. Don’t hang on it. This is a tragic moment and it’s going to shake up the whole world.”

Moments later, Cosell broke the shocking news to the country.

The world reacts to the death of John Lennon, Dec. 1980
The world reacts to the death of John Lennon, Dec. 1980 | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell broke the news live to the stunned world.

“An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead . . . on . . . arrival.”

The news spread truly like fire and, before long, The Dakota, where the former Beatle had been hoping to tuck his 5-year-old son to bed, had become the scene of a living shrine to John Lennon.

Read more: Are John Lennon’s Sons, Julian and Sean, Close?