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30 years later, it's still hard to fathom Lennon's killing

'Real emotional moment'

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John Lennon's fans celebrated his life Wednesday by visiting Strawberry Fields, the Central Park garden dedicated in his honor, while a newly released interview he gave shortly before his death showed he was optimistic about his future. (Dec. 8)

Nine hundred miles south, in Decatur, Ga., Bill King had just put together a second anniversary issue of his magazine, Beatlefan - now the longest-running Beatles fanzine in the United States - which had launched in December 1978. His wife, Leslie, returned from the typesetter's a little after 11. "I greeted her at the door, smiling. She said, 'You haven't heard,' " he recalls.

King was the rock critic and music reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I called the city desk, to see if they needed anything, and dictated a bunch of background of Lennon for them." His instinctual "reporter mode" on, he hopped in his car and headed to work, listening to reports on the radio as he drove.

King and his wife decided to scrap their planned anniversary issue of Beatlefan and put out a Lennon tribute issue. "This is before the days of e-mail - we sent out mailgrams from the Postal Service to all our contributors, asking for pieces. We had the issue delivered to the printer on Christmas Eve, the first fan publication tribute to him out there."

Again, it wasn't until the dust settled, after days of being interviewed himself, that King had a chance to grieve the loss of one of his favorite humans: "Yoko, John's widow, had called for a few minutes of silence around the world a few days after his death. I was listening to it on the radio, and . . . that was a real emotional moment for me. The reporter's instinct got me through the first 24 hours without having time to grieve. But in that moment, I did."

'Worst day of my life'

Mark Lapidos never needed a reminder of when Lennon's birthday was - his father's was also Oct. 9. In late 1973, the Sam Goody Records store manager decided to put together Beatlefest - now called the Fest for Beatles Fans (www.thefest.com) - a popular annual fan convention, still hugely successful, the first of which was held in New York the next September.

Six years later, on Dec. 8, the Lapidoses were about to board a plane in Los Angeles to return east, having just signed contracts for a Beatlefest at the Bonaventure Hotel for the next year. "We were at the airport, and somebody I knew paged me," he says. "That's how I found out."

Lapidos spent the red-eye flight in shock. "I asked the flight attendant to ask the crew if they could verify what I'd been told. Maybe it was misinformation - maybe it was Jack Lemmon." Upon landing in New York, the couple got into a cab for a ride home. Lapidos asked the driver, " 'Is it true?' He just answered, 'Yes.' "

Lapidos called his brother, who told him that, for the first time he'd ever seen, "people were just walking the streets of New York, openly crying." He stayed in his home for a week, sickened by the grief. "It was the worst day of my life. It still hurts, all these years later."

'It was just . . . awful'

In Liverpool, England, Jean Catharell was lying in her bed blissfully unaware of what had taken place in New York a few hours earlier. Then her husband startled her awake: "You need to get up."

Catharell can remember seeing the Beatles play in clubs and other venues around Liverpool in 1963, just before the international explosion of Beatlemania. She put on Radio Merseyside, which was playing Lennon's "Imagine" and repeating the bad news.

Eventually Catharell pulled herself together enough to go into town to Mathew Street, Liverpool's famous main thoroughfare. "When I got there, there were people wandering up and down the street, carrying candles, guitars," she says.

Opposite the Cavern, the famed hole-in-the-wall club where the Beatles' career began, a shrine of Lennon artifacts began to assemble. "There were things like the Lennon cap and T-shirts. People had given up some of their treasures just to pay homage to John," she says.


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