The murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, roiled the music world with intense, long-lasting grief. Lennon had just returned home to the Dakota apartment building at West 72nd St. and Central Park West when he was shot at close range by Mark David Chapman, an obsessed Beatles' "fan." The news was broken by sportscaster Howard Cosell, as the shooting occurred toward the end of a Monday Night Football game. Lennon and wife Yoko Ono had just released Double Fantasy, a kind of comeback for Lennon, who hadn't released new material since the 1974 Walls and Bridges album. (A Phil Spector-produced collection of standards, Rock 'n' Roll had been released in 1975.)

Rock radio stations stopped their regular programming, and played Beatles songs for days. In a typical spontaneous reaction, present and former staff of New York rock station WNEW-FM descended spontaneously on the station's studios, talking all night, trying to vent their sadness. An area of Central Park across the street from the Dakota became a shrine to Lennon called "Strawberry Fields," named after the Beatles' song. Pilgrims from all over the world still come to Strawberry Fields to sing and mourn.