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Fans Remember John Lennon

People sing as they gather around the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields in New York's Central Park, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, the day that would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
AP Photo/Tina Fineberg
Last Updated 3:46 p.m. ET

Thousands of people from around the world gathered Saturday to remember the slain British superstar who just wanted to give peace a chance.

A crush of fans circled the flower-graced mosaic at Strawberry Fields, in New York City's Central Park, in honor of John Lennon's 70th birthday, and sang lyrics from "Imagine."

"His music speaks to people of any nation, any age, and that's why I think so many young people now who never would have known him still find him so appealing," said Karen Kriendler Nelson, 69, who lives nearby and often visits the mosaic that spells out Lennon's song "Imagine."

She and her Maltese dog, Pino, joined a group of fans who sang the lines, "Imagine there's no countries/ It isn't hard to do/ Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too/ Imagine all the people/ Living life in peace ..."

Joan Acarin and his wife, Laia, visited the memorial from Spain.

"The values Lennon defended are still alive," said Joan Acarin, a 41-year-old attorney from Barcelona. "It's the idea that we do not have to fight wars."

Fans began arriving on Friday, spilling onto the sidewalk of Central Park West, where Lennon and wife Yoko Ono lived in the famed Dakota building for nine years. He was shot to death by a deranged gunman as he came home on the evening of Dec. 8, 1980.

Police erected barricades to contain the crowd alongside passing traffic.

This year, the memorial to the slain ex-Beatle and peace activist includes a mosaic donated by the city of Naples, Italy. A plaque lists 121 countries that endorse Strawberry Fields as a Garden of Peace.

The 2.5-acre site was created by Ono and named after the Lennon song, "Strawberry Fields Forever," which also observes that "living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see."

Just before Lennon was killed, he and Ono collaborated on a last album "that was so different from anything he did before," said David Edwards, a college student in Kentucky who drove 14 hours to New York City to pay tribute.

The 22-year-old found a different way to honor the slain Beatle in the bustling crowd of admirers: He sat alone on a bench with earphones on, listening to Lennon's music on his iPod while reading his book "Skywriting By Word of Mouth."

"What gets me is his humanity," Edwards said. "He was one of the first superstars who showed that he was vulnerable - he was Everyman."
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The birthday celebration started early Friday in Lennon's native England, where Google UK released a 32-second video "Google doodle," an animation with music from "Imagine."

In Liverpool, Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, and their son, Julian, unveiled a sculpture to celebrate his life.

The two held hands and joined the crowd in singing John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."

"I think the mourning is over for John. I think it's time to celebrate," said Cynthia, 71. "Think about his life that was positive and good and just enjoy that."

She was married to John Lennon from 1962 to 1968.

Hundreds of people gathered at the city center's Chavasse Park to watch the pair cut a ribbon to reveal the statue, called "Peace and Harmony."

The sculpture, which features a colorful globe with doves flying above it, was designed by 19-year-old American artist Lauren Voiers.

An inscription on peace monument, entitled "Peace and Harmony," reads, "Peace on Earth for the Conservation of Life. In Harmony of John Lennon 1940-1980."

In New York, planned celebrations include a Saturday evening benefit concert at the Society for Ethical Culture, a short walk from Strawberry Fields. The proceeds will go to the human rights organization Amnesty International.

Capping the New York remembrances will be a Central Park screening of a documentary detailing Lennon's life in the city. Titled "LENNONYC," the new public television film will be shown at 7 p.m. in the park's Rumsey Playfield, with picnic-style seating on the ground.

Ono was set to mark her late husband's milestone birthday in Iceland with a performance by the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band. She also was to present awards to people who had contributed to peace.

Yoko Ono was set to mark her late husband's milestone birthday in Iceland. performing with Sean Ono Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band.

Earlier on Saturday in Reykjavik, Ono presented four individuals with the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace.

The recipients were filmmaker Josh Fox ("Gasland"); writer Michael Pollan ("In Defense of Food"); author Alice Walker ("The Color Purple"); and food safety campaigner Barbara Kowalcyk.