- Associated Press - Saturday, October 9, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - A crush of fans circled a flower-graced mosaic in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields and sang lyrics from “Imagine” on Saturday to honor Beatles legend John Lennon on his 70th birthday.

On the day when the Liverpool Lad would have become a septuagenarian, thousands of fans from around the world gathered to remember the floppy-haired British superstar who just wanted to give peace a chance.

“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, which also observes that “living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

The birthday celebration got started early Friday in his native England, where Google UK released a 32-second video “doodle” with an “Imagine” soundtrack. The interactive electronic art generates a butterfly and a flower _ reflecting Lennon’s devotion to world peace.

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

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.

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.”

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