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The Dec. 22, 1980, cover of TIME

In the days after Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, the area around the gates of the Dakota, Lennon’s apartment building in New York City, quickly turned into a makeshift memorial. Flowers and signs from fans quoting Beatles lyrics were displayed alongside the more official remembrances, as world leaders made their way to honor an artist whose life had been ended too early.

The killing was shocking not only for its senselessness, but also because Lennon managed to escape many of other pitfalls of rock stardom. “He beat the rock-‘n’-roll life,” TIME’s remembrance quoted Steve Van Zandt saying the day after Lennon died. “Beat the drugs, beat the fame, beat the damage. He was the only guy who beat it all.”

So it makes sense that, as the story reported, flowers and signs were just the beginning of the aftershock:

Read more from 1980, here in the TIME Vault: When the Music Died

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