On This Day in Tortured Artists History
On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot to death outside the Dakota apartment building on New York’s Upper West Side.
Lennon’s murder sparked a deluge of worldwide grief on an unprecedented scale. Sales of his music soared in the months following his death. Meanwhile, some thirty thousand fans gathered in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool, while separate memorials were organized at various locations around the planet. (This despite the fact that no actual funeral for Lennon was ever held.) Mourning fans gathered for days outside the Dakota, chanting and singing Beatles songs until Yoko Ono complained to authorities that the noise was keeping her up at night.
When the dust finally settled, there was little doubt that Lennon’s death would instantly transform the consummate Eggman from respected artist to revered deity. In fact, no other dead musical figure, with the possible exception of Elvis Presley, has so rapidly achieved calendar-ready status in the vast pantheon of Western pop culture.
And yet, ironically, the one person who had hoped to avoid such a fate was Lennon himself, who just three days before his death criticized the idol-worshiping culture vampires who seemed so determined to turn him into a musical martyr. “What they want is dead heroes like Sid Vicious and James Dean,” Lennon griped in his final interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero. So forget ‘em.”
In that same interview, Lennon also expressed a strong desire to break free of his culturally imposed image as the former Beatle turned renegade peacenik. And at the young age of forty, he still believed he had “plenty of time” to explore new territory. Sadly, it took only the actions of one deranged fan to show him otherwise.
Every year on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, hundreds of doe-eyed fans converge on Central Park’s Strawberry Fields to celebrate his life and remember his music. In doing so, they also mythologize a man whose last request was that we not turn him into a myth. Imagine that.