Rap star Tupac Shakur is dead.

The University Medical Center in Las Vegas announced that Shakur died today at 4:03 p.m. local time of "respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest."

The 25-year-old was shot last Saturday as he rode in a car driven by Death Row Records chairman "Suge" Knight near the Las Vegas strip. Knight was slightly wounded in the attack. On Sunday, doctors removed Shakur's right lung, but he lingered on in critical condition.

Not since John Lennon was shot on the streets of New York has a major entertainment figure been murdered at the height of his popularity. Like the Lennon shooting, Shakur's death is certain to echo far beyond the rap music world. "Everybody has to learn from this," said one caller to KPWR, Los Angeles' biggest rap station, Friday night. "There's no hiding from violence."

Shakur, Knight and a group of bodyguards and friends set off from the Mike Tyson bout Saturday night in a convoy of ten cars. Witnesses say a white Cadillac pulled alongside, then nine shots raked Knight's black BMW, hitting Shakur several times in the chest.

Police say they have no leads in the case and have expressed frustration with how the investigation is going. Sgt. Kevin Manning said earlier this week that "we did not receive a whole lot of cooperation from most of [Shakur's] entourage. It amazes me when they have professional bodyguards that they can't even give us an accurate description of the vehicle." Shakur was seen arguing with an unidentified man just after the Tyson fight, but investigators ruled him out as a suspect. The department has offered a $1,000 reward for information.

Tupac and other West Coast rappers have had a long-running rivalry with East Coast rappers, and the hit sent conspiracy theories about a revenge killing rocketing through the music industry. Shakur and other West Coast rappers had to be pulled apart from their New York adversaries at the MTV Video Music Awards last week.

"Suge" Knight is reputed to be close to the Bloods, the L.A.-based gang--also raising suspicion that their deadly rivals, the Crips, were somehow involved.

The shooting is certain to rekindle the debate about whether rap promotes violence or just reflects the ugly mood of the streets. Indeed the aura of violence that hangs around the music genre makes it easier to think that, in some way, Shakur--a man with the words "Thug Life" tattooed on his chest--had it coming. He'd already been nearly killed in 1994 when gunmen robbed and shot him outside a Manhattan recording studio. Among other recent scrapes with the law, he served eight months in prison in New York for sexual abuse and was released last year.

Still, Shakur's songs had plenty to say against the gun culture of the ghetto. In "Young Niggaz," he sang, "Don't wanna be another statistic out here doin' nothin'/Tryin' to maintain in this dirty game/Keep it real and I will even if it kills me/My young niggaz stay away from these dumb niggaz/Put down the gun and have some fun nigga."

Friday night, reaction poured in to rap stations. Callers flooded the airwaves at KPWR in Los Angeles, as disk jockey Big Boy played songs in memory of Shakur. "A whole lot of people are sad, whole lot of people angry," said one caller. Another denounced the gangsta lifestyle. "This shit's got to stop," he said. "Something like this brings the whole world together--ain't no East Coast-West Coast, color thing," Big Boy said as the caller hung up.

Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in 1971 in New York. His mother, Afeni Shakur, a member of the radical Black Panther party, had just been released from prison after being acquitted of bomb-conspiracy charges. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and Oakland, California.

Shakur told Details magazine earlier this year: "All good niggers, all the niggers who change the world, die in violence. They don't die in regular ways."

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