Formed in Liverpool back in 1960 The Beatles became the most important Rock and Roll band of all time and in that same year a young kid called Paul Goresh was just starting his life in Newark, New Jersey. Two decades later he would have the chance to meet John Lennon and be part of one of the saddest days in music.
In his youth he saw John Lennon, Paul McCarney, George Harisson and Ringo Starr change the world and become the best-selling band in history with an estimated amount of more than 600 million records worldwide. Although they broke up in 1970, all four musicians continued to have successful solo careers and Lennon was one of them.
The musician decided to move to New York City and he released from 1970 to 1980 seven studio albums that showed that he was still one of the greatest songwriters in the history of music. His career and life was tragically cut short at the age of 40 on December 8, 1980 when Mark David Chapman murdered him outside the Dakota building. The killer was 25 years-old and was born in Fort Worth, Texas and even asked for Lennon’s autograph a few hours before.
That moment was famously captured by the amateur photographer Paul Goresh, who at the time was only in his early 20s. He already knew Lennon for months and was always outside his building taking pictures of Lennon going out and arriving at the Dakota.
They developed a friendship and Goresh had even taken the photo that was the cover of Lennon’s single “Watching The Wheels”. Curiously, the first time they saw each other was when Goresh pretended to be a repairman to get access to Lennon’s apartment.
Who was Paul Goresh: the photographer who took the last photo of John Lennon
In a time with no smartphones or easy access to cameras all the fans wanted was to meet their heroes and get an autograph. Paul Goresh was a 20 year-old amateur photographer from Newark, New Jersey who was a part time driver for an electronic shop in New York and created a plan to finally meet John Lennon.
With the electronic shop’s van he arrived one day at the Dakota building with a friend pretending they were TV repairmen. They showed the doorman a fake service order and they were allowed to go to Lennon’s apartment. All Goresh wanted at the time was to get an autograph for a copy he had from Lennon’s first book.
In an interview for a TV News special in 1990 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage), he recalled how that happened. “We went up to the doorman, I showed him the service order. I wrote J., not John, I wanted to act like it was totally oblivious that who we were going (to visit was John Lennon). He didn’t even blink at it. It was perfect to him.”
By coincidence, at that time John Lennon was really having problems with his VCR and was the one who opened the door for them. However he got mad at his secretary not much later since he believed she was the one who called the repair to come fix the problem.
“(I told my friend) we will knock on the door, she will open the door and John Lennon is gonna be sitting at the table. The adrenaline was really flowing for me and I’m’ really excited. I am expecting the secretary (but it was Lennon who answered the door). My chin must have just dropped because I was in awe of him.”
“I’m just staring at him and I’m amazed he opened the door. It’s funny because I think he detected that something was funny. It must have been from my reaction maybe, because I was so excited when I saw him. Maybe he had seen that look before, probably from a fan.”
Lennon then believed his secretary had called the repairmen and became angry because she didn’t consulted him before. At the time he was receveing threats and crank calls.
The secretary then suggested they return in a few days when Lennon had calmed down. “So I was a little upset. I was proud that I got to at least see him and deal with him. But I was a little disgusted the way how it turned out and especially that I didn’t get my autograph.”
Four days later Paul and his friend came back to the Dakota building since they had scheduled another appointment with Lennon’s secretary. But they had not idea there was no problem with his VCR anymore, since he had simply bought a new one.
Goresh continued to follow Lennon and take pictures of him although the Beatle asked him to stop
Lennon received them in his first floor office and Paul Goresh had brought a camera with him that day. “He was really friendly and cordial. He said ‘I want to apologize to you guys for my behavior the last time. But I wasn’t mad at you guys, I was mad at my secretary’. I almost wanted to tell him at that point ‘Well, it wasn’t her fault either, because I’m just a fan. But I still wanted to get my book signed’.
But when Goresh asked for the autograph, Lennon replied: “I don’t give autographs hardly anymore, but I owe you that much’ and he spots and instamatic camera that I had it.”
He then told Goresh he wouldn’t take photographs and said:
‘I’ll tell you what I do, I’ll autograph your book if you don’t take any photographs. I felt bad that I knew that would be the last time I saw him (probably). But I knew I couldn’t be a jerk, because he was really nice to me. And I have gotten what I really wanted to get,” Paul Goresh said.
But Goresh continued to visit the Dakota Building waiting for Lennon outside and trying to get a photo with him. But the Beatle told him again that he wouldn’t take pictures with anybody. Despite that Goresh continued to go and wait for him outside and wait for him. He decided to take pictures of him across the street and even follow him a for a few blocks.
“So I figured, well, if he’s not gonna stop and let me get a picture I could probably get a telephoto lens, stand across the street from him, follow him and take a few pictures of him. He will never (even know). (So) he doesn’t get upset, I have my pictures and everybody will be happy.”
When the friendship between Lennon and Goresh started to develop
One day Lennon caught him taking pictures and once again told him he didn’t want people taking photos of him. He then asked Goresh for the camera’s film. “He said: ‘if you’re a fan give me the film’. I said: ‘I am a fan, I want the picture because I’m a fan’. He said: ‘If you’re a fan then leave me alone'”.
Goresh then gave him the film and told him to process them and also that if he liked the pictures to send a copy to him. But according to Goresh he just threw the film on the floor and walked away. “I was just disgusted. You know, he was mad again. I guess I waited probably a month or two and I went back. Then “I said ‘I don’t have my camera this time. I just wanna talk to you’. I said ‘I never meant to cause any grief. So I really, really feel bad that I got you angry’. So I said: ‘If you tell me to leave you alone right now I will never come back here again.”
“I remember him looking right into my eyes and he said: “Stop looking at me as a Beatle. You gotta treat me like you would treat anyone else’ and he said ‘come on’ and we went for a walk,” Paul Goresh said. From time to time during the next months Lennon would let Paul tag along when he went out for a walk in the neighborhood.
Goresh ended up taking the photo which became the cover of Lennon’s single “Watching The Wheels”
“We gone for walks on several occasions and sometimes they wouldn’t be long at all. Sometimes they would be 5, 10 minutes. But they were an eternity for a fan. I remember we were walking one day and I said to him ‘If it’s not gonna hurt our relationship, however little it is, if I could get a picture, you know’. He laughed and he said ‘Yeah, when we’re ready to go public, I’ll have my guy call you’. You can take all the pictures you want then, because I think I’m getting ready.
Some months later Lennon hired a professional photographer to announce his return to the music business after five years away. He would promote what would be his final album “Double Fantasy” released less than a month before he was murdered.
The musician curiously kept his promise to Goresh. He invited Paul to bring his camera and be part of the session. “John turns, spots me and he says ‘Paul, you made it. I’m glad, now you can take your picture. It was funny because in the sequence of photos that I took he’s looking at me instead of the guy that they are actually paying,” Paul Goresh said.
One of his photos was the one chosen for the cover of Lennon’s single “Watching The Wheels“. “When that record came out I was so proud of it, because there’s only five names on the record. There’s John, Yoko, the producer, the owner of the record company and my name.”
When Paul Goresh met Mark David Chapman
From that moment on Goresh continued to go outside the Dakota and take more photos of Lennon. But on December 8, 1980 he spotted another “fan” who was also waiting for Lennon to come out”. It was Mark David Chapman. “He said: I’m waiting to get my album signed. So I said: ‘well, fine’. He says to me: ‘where are you from?’ So I said: ‘I’m from New Jersey’. (Then) I said: ‘Where are you from?’ He says: ‘I’m from Hawaii’. I said: ‘Where are you staying?’ and with that he snapped back and said: ‘Why do you want to know?'”
“So I was taken aback because he was the one that came over and initiated the conversation. I didn’t want to talk to this guy because I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I wanted to keep John pretty much to myself. So I said to him ‘Look, leave me alone then. I didn’t ask you to come here and talk to me,” Paul Goresh said.
When Paul Goresh took the last John Lennon photo
Three hours later John and Yoko left the Dakota to go to a studio session. Paul and Mark were both waiting and Paul showed Lennon some photos he had taken before. “Chapman walks up to John and holds the album out. John looks at me like you know, there’s something strange. As he is signing the album I took a picture of him and Chapman. After he signs the album he turns the album back to Chapman, raises his eyebrow and says: ‘It’s that all right?'”
“Then I took another picture with his eyebrows raised. Chapman says ‘yeah’ and steps back. John turned to me and looked at me like ‘that’s quite strange’. As he was getting into the limousine I took another picture of him and John got in the limousine. He was sitting looking at me and as the limousine was pulling away he waved to me and I waved back. That was the last time I ever saw him,” Paul Goresh said.
That photo of Lennon entering the limousine is the last photo ever taken of The Beatle. Only a few hours later when he returned he was murdered by Chapman.
How Paul Goresh reacted to Lennon’s death and found out he had a photo of the killer
After taking those last photos of Lennon without realizing it, Goresh decided to leave and found out in the news that his hero had been killed. He recalled in an interview for a documentary called “The Day John Lennon Died” in 2010, produced by ITV1, Goresh recalled how he felt when he first heard the news. He also said that instantly thought the he might had a photo of Chapman with Lennon.
(Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) “I was shocked and then I’m saying to myself ‘Who did this?’. Then all of sudden they said ‘we’re getting some information saying that the man who killed may have came up all the way from Hawaii. When they said that I immediately realized who that was.”
“You can’t imagine the disgust and anger (I felt). Then it struck me that I might have a picture of him getting that album signed. So I called the New York City police and said: ‘I think I got a picture of the killer with him at five o’clock. They hung up on me. So I called the Daily News and they said to me: ‘You think you have what?’ They said: ‘Paul, are you sure that this is the man that you believed killed him?’ I said: ‘That’s the man named Mark from Hawaii who was waiting out there all day with the album who got the autograph.”
“They said: ‘Are you sure? Do you realize we’re gonna put this picture on the cover of our newspaper and if we’re not right (there will big problems). What they did is that they had a connection with the police station. They had a reporter there that was trying to see what the guy looked like to see if it matched the photo. But they kept him under a coat. What happened was that time was running out and the editor said that they should get this on the cover of the newspaper.”
Goresh said that the newspaper reporter noticed a scarf hanging below the coat Chapman was wearing at the police station. That was what convinced the Daily News that he really was the guy in Goresh’ picture. “It’s just mind-boggling, it’s so senseless and it is a waste. But it achieved what that piece of garbage wanted to achieve, which was to make a name for himself. By doing that he linked itself with John forever and unfortunately that’s the way that history is,” Paul Goresh said.
Goresh passed away on January, 2019 at the age of 58. He passed away after a long illness.