The shooting that claimed the life of John Lennon a week ago has led to a flurry of activity in the celebrity bodyguard business.

Within 24 hours of the shooting, Paul McCartney had hired a security firm, including two personal bodyguards, for his Sussex, England, country estate. Several dozen other well-known performing artists had done likewise last week, though top security firms would not release their names.

"Most artists fear that what happened to John Lennon could happen to them," says Daniel Markus, Teddy Pendergrass' personal manager, who got a call from his client less than a minute after Howard Cosell's announcement of the Lennon shooting on Monday Night Football.

"I picked it up and said, 'I already know.' And Teddy said, 'Yeah, but we should talk about it.' A woman came at him with a knife on stage in New York a few years ago. It could happen to anybody and there's not a thing you can do about it."

"The backlash will probably have an effect on many artists, who will certainly think about it more than they did," says former pro football player Mike Evans, whose Washington-based American Control Inc. provides security for the Capital Centre as well as for individual clients.

Spot checks at several top security firms around the country which normally specialize in executive security confirmed that they have been receiving many calls from major music stars. Arthur Fischer, whose Boston-based Ogden Security uses many former FBI and Secret Service men to handle VIP protection for McCartney and groups such as Led Zeppelin and Kiss, said "people like to be protected, though some don't want to be bothered at home. You do the best you can."

Performers who already reportedly travel with full-time bodyguards include Debbie Harry of Blondie, Bette Midler, the Bee Gees, Kiss, Van Halen, Shaun Cassidy, Stephanie Mills, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson and Frank Zappa.

The use of personal security personnel is hardly a new phenomenon. Elvis Presley's bodyguards wrote a book from their experiences and a number of acts have used guards for years. Pendergrass, whose former manager was gunned down by a sniper in Philadelphia several years ago, has two full-time bodyguards, including Makito Soto, a black martial-arts master trained in Korea. When he made an appearance in a downtown Washington store last Wednesday before a Capital Centre concert, there were 10 extra security people on hand.

The shooting of Lennon is the first assassination in the volatile 25-year history of rock 'n' roll. Rock has certainly had its share of accidental deaths and suicides, but the only previous killings were singer Sam Cooke (shot to death in a Los Angeles motel room in 1964) and saxophonist King Curtis (murdered in a Harlem street fight in the mid-'70's). Los Angeles promoter Steve Wolfe was gunned down several years ago in a case that has never been solved.

The Lennon shooting has brought into focus the conflict between stars' need for security and their attempts to lead normal private lives.

"I knew of no changes with any of my five clients who live in New York," says super-publicist Paul Wasserman, whose clients include the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and others. "There's always a fatalistic feeling of 'whatever will be will be.' Their lives are hampered enough by their stardom. They do everything possible to lessen the psychological burdens of what it all means. It would be too much to lose that freedom."

Wasserman said that Mick Jagger (whose potential as a target at Altamont led to the violent death of a fan waving a gun at him) and Keith Richards have not used bodyguards when not performing and that Ronstadt only used them when the address of her Malibu house was printed in a national magazine. He said that Bob Dylan has had very close calls "with people who jumped on him out of adoration. They all have the look in their eyes -- it's like a religious experience."

Mike Evans worked as a bodyguard for Dylan for two years. "There were many incidents that could have developed badly. One night I stopped a guy in a crowd as he was reaching for Dylan's throat and he bit a chunk of skin out of my wrist. And when we were on the Rolling Thunder Tour, people would follow us in cars. It used to be okay if they kept their distance and stayed away, but now people will think twice."

Evans points out that bodyguards in the entertainment field are very rarely armed because of tough licensing restrictions in various states and such problems as having to go through airports. "And nobody wants to be put into a situation where you're shooting people."

The role of bodyguards on the road has occasionally been obscured by the entourage or buddy and hangers-on system. For large groups, security most often means a system of buffers: sealing off entire floors of hotels or restricting backstage visitors. Off the road, bodyguards tend to do double-duty as chauffeurs, live-in secretaries, business advisers, companions and so on. "Bob Dylan didn't want anybody around -- at least as of two years ago -- so we'd create a perimeter around him in which he could operate," says Evans.

Wasserman believes that there will be some soul-searching and anxiety after the Lennon shooting, but no lasting results. "There have been lots of instances of physical assaults, people jumping on stage or in a car. Even if the fear is there, performers will have a stiff-upper-lip attitude. They won't let this get them down."

But Evans finds it "scary" that "Lennon was not on tour, was not promoting himself, he was just walking into his own apartment. He wasn't even an active star. The effect that could have on people in the public eye is incredible."