Lennon young even 30 years after death

Thirty years after his untimely death, gunned down in the street outside his New York apartment, John Lennon remains a legend whose music and drive for world peace has inspired generations of artists.

entertainment Updated: Dec 08, 2010 18:45 IST

Thirty years after his untimely death, gunned down in the street outside his New York apartment, John Lennon remains a legend whose music and drive for world peace has inspired generations of artists.

The former Beatle died on December 8, 1980 after being shot four times in the back by Mark David Chapman outside the chic Dakota apartment block in Central Park West where he lived with his second wife, Yoko Ono.

Lennon had just celebrated his 40th birthday. Now every year on October 9, Lennon's birthday, and December 8, fans flock to the apartment block where Ono still lives to pay tribute to the Liverpool-born musician and mourn his passing.

John LennonChapman, who was mentally unstable and just 25 at the time, had staked out Lennon's apartment and earlier in the day the musician had even autographed a copy of his latest album Double Fantasy for the man who would kill him.

Chapman eventually pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment. He remains in Attica jail, north of New York, and his request for parole has been turned down six times. Ono has also opposed his release, fearing for her safety and that of their son Sean Lennon, now 35. But Lennon's powerful legacy lives on, melded into people's daily lives around the globe.

From the corner of Central Park dubbed Strawberry Fields after one of the Beatles' memorable hits to a mosaic bearing the inscription Imagine, one of Lennon's most recognizable songs, Lennon's imprint is everywhere, Liverpool -- the hometown of the Beatles -- even renamed its airport after one of its most famous heroes.

Earlier this year, Ono took part in celebrations in Iceland to mark what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday, although she said he had never liked to mark the progress of time.

"The last birthday, he told me: 'I can't quite believe I'm going to be 40.' I don't think he liked that part," she told The Times newspaper.

"I don't think of him as 70. He was always that sort of strutting around, very, very energetic guy, and to me he's still like that." Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson said Lennon "died young, like Elvis Presley."

"Although the peak of their musical influence had already passed, for both of them, they immediately became legends," he told AFP. "Lennon was also a political figure, with his look, the hair, the glasses, his way of life, he symbolized the 'zeitgeist' of the period."

Ono has worked hard to immortalize Lennon and keep his legacy alive.

"Lennon died, but Yoko Ono did not. She became a little bit of the burning flame," Thompson said, adding that her involvement has proved complicated, with critics accusing her of living off Lennon's talent.

Lennon's death marked the passing of an era, and he is forever enshrined in memory as the tussle-haired musician, wearing his trademark round glasses.

"All my students know the song 'Imagine,' but you know, this is now a song that plays in elevators and dentist parlors," Thompson said.

"To me, the real end of their musical era was not the death of Lennon but the release of 'Saturday Night Fever,' three years earlier."

Last year, Ono organized an exhibition of her husband's New York years, and she continues to update his official website www.johnlennon.com.

Ono, now 77, lit up the "Imagine Peace Tower" in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik in October, before performing with her Ono Plastic Band and her son Sean Lennon at an evening concert. The tower, a three-year-old art installation composed of a strong, vertical beam of light that can reach up to 13,100 feet (4,000 meters), is lit up every year and stays on until December 8.

Despite the intervening years, the global fascination with the Beatles has never faded. More than 450,000 of the band's albums and over two million individual songs were sold in the first week their music appeared on Apple's iTunes last month.

And in June, Lennon's original handwritten lyrics for the hit Beatles song "A Day in the Life" was sold at a Sotheby's auction for 1.2 million dollars, almost twice the estimates. Even Lennon's official Facebook page has over 1.2 million followers.

But for Beatles fans everywhere, Lennon's death also drew the curtain on one long-cherished desire.

"There is one other thing: his death put a final end to the hope of millions of fans to see the Beatles reunite," Thompson said.

First Published: Dec 08, 2010 18:31 IST