RIP John Lennon. The list of sudden and unexpected celebrity deaths is long—Princess Di, Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, and many more. Which one affected you the most on an emotional level?
I would have to say John Lennon's death had the most profound impact on me.
I wasn't that huge of a Beatles fan (and actually preferred McCartney over Lennon), but John Lennon had just released a solo album, and was back on the charts again.
I was 12 years old and living in northern New Jersey, served by the New York City media outlets. I waiting to go into school on December 9 (I remember there was snow on the ground, and all the kids were clustered together next to the building to get out of the wind) when someone told me that John Lennon was killed the night before. Of course, I didn't believe them. I thought someone was just making a cruel joke. However, the more and more I heard it, the less I thought they were kidding.
There was a buzz amongst the teachers, especially in the music and art departments (I kind of remember my music teacher crying a little). I still didn't believe them; I was convinced it was one of those sick rumours that circulated through the school. This was well before CNN or any sort of instant news sources, so that gossip grapevine was what passed for information in junior high in 1980.
Once I got home, I saw the newspaper (I read the news today, oh boy), and I knew that it wasn't a joke. I watched the news, and saw the video footage of the crime scene outside the Dakota. Those flashing police lights and the waxy amber hue cast by the streetlights is burned into my mind. WNEW-FM was a local radio station that had some very close ties with Lennon, and they were just numb.
This was my first real understanding that people didn't live happily ever after, that fame and fortune and success was no insulation against hate and violence. In the days and weeks that followed, the story of Mark David Chapman unfolded, and I simply couldn't understand why this man who apparently was a fan of Lennon wanted to kill him. I think I lost some of my innocence then.
Since today is the anniversary of his death, I will be listening to a lot of Beatles and John Lennon music, especially Imagine, A Day in the Life, and Give Peace a Chance.