Harrison, quiet force of Beatles, dies at 58
Harrison, quiet force of Beatles, dies at 58
Impact: The introverted guitarist had a resounding
influence on the music and mores of his generation.
George Harrison, the youthful guitarist who sparked the
Beatles' early career with deft rockabilly licks and later
added a deep spirituality and Eastern influence to the
era's best-known rock band, died Thursday in Los Angeles
after a long battle with cancer.
The youngest member of the group that changed popular music
and popular culture, Mr. Harrison was 58.
He was at the home of longtime friend Gavin De Becker.
Mr. Harrison's wife, Olivia, and son, Dhani, 23, were with
him at the time of his death, which was not announced until
early yesterday morning.
"He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God,
fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and
friends," the family said in a statement. "He often said,
'Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot
wait, and love one another.'"
The two remaining members of the seminal musical group
grieved Mr. Harrison's passing.
"I am devastated and very, very sad," Paul McCartney told
reporters outside his London home yesterday. "He was a
lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense
of humor. He is really just my baby brother."
In a statement, Ringo Starr said: "George was a best
friend of mine. I loved him very much, and I will miss him
greatly. ... We will miss George for his sense of love, his
sense of music and his sense of laughter."
John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, said, "George has given so
much to us in his lifetime and continues to do so even
after his passing, with his music, his wit and his wisdom."
It wasn't immediately known if a public funeral would be
held. A private ceremony has taken place, Mr. De Becker
Beatles fans began mourning the death before dawn Friday
in New York's Central Park, not far from where Mr. Lennon
was gunned down in 1980.
Mr. Harrison's passing has a cultural resonance that goes
beyond a star musician's death. Coupled with the Lennon
murder, it leaves half of the Beatles membership dead
before many of their original fans have turned 60. The
group credited with teaching life lessons to the baby
boomer generation is now a reminder of mortality.
Mr. Harrison had been battling cancer for four years. Once
a heavy smoker, he acknowledged in July that he had
received radiation treatment in Switzerland a month earlier.
In May, Mr. Harrison's lawyers said he had successfully
undergone surgery to remove a cancerous growth from one of
his lungs at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He was
also treated for throat cancer after a lump was found on
his neck in 1997 and was given the all-clear in 1998. More
recently, reports emerged a month ago that Mr. Harrison had
been receiving treatment at Staten Island University
Hospital in New York.
A different but equally threatening health threat came in
December 1999, when an intruder broke into his mansion and
stabbed him repeatedly. Mr. Harrison suffered a collapsed
lung. The assailant was acquitted of attempted murder by
reason of insanity and ordered confined to a mental
Though he was known as "the quiet Beatle," Mr. Harrison
brought a lot to the quartet, with intricate guitar picking
adapted from Chet Atkins, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and
others. His ability to play the Bill Justice instrumental
"Raunchy" got him inducted into the pre-Beatles group, the
Quarrymen, in late 1957.
His vocals were heard on many Beatles tracks. He sang lead
on a number of songs, including "Roll Over Beethoven" and
"I'm Happy Just to Dance with You."
Under a shadow
Though his songwriting in the Beatles fell under the
shadow of the dominating team of Lennon-McCartney, the
first original Beatles composition was co-written by Mr.
Harrison with Mr. McCartney. "In Spite of All the Danger,"
taped on an amateur recording in 1958, first appeared on
the Beatles' Anthology 1 in 1995.
Mr. Harrison had the least defined persona during the
group's frenetic rise to world fame, and in the band's peak
creative years he chafed as his prolific bandmates became
the rock icons of the group.
Still, when America latched on to Beatlemania in 1964, it
was Mr. Harrison's "Don't Bother Me" that began side two of
the 5 million-selling album, Meet the Beatles.
With the Help! album in 1965, his contributions became
more regular, leading to such Beatles tracks as "I Need
You," "Think For Yourself," "Taxman," "While My Guitar
Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes the Sun."
Mr. Harrison's biggest hit for the Beatles was 1969's
"Something," the only song of his released as a single. It
showed a sophistication that opened the Beatles' work to an
even wider audience, evidenced by the scores who recorded
it after them, including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra
(who continued to describe it in concert as a Lennon-
Using a sitar to back the Beatles song "Norwegian Wood"
in 1965, Mr. Harrison stuck with the sounds of India,
studying in earnest with masters such as Ravi Shankar. By
helping introduce India first to fellow pop stars and then
to their fans, Mr. Harrison played a large part in the rise
in interest in meditation and yoga among Westerners.
All Things Must Pass, his first full solo album after a
couple of more experimental, instrumental solo dabblings,
hit No. 1 in November 1970 and stayed there seven weeks. It
produced the No. 1 hit, "My Sweet Lord" (whose melody was
determined in a 1976 court case to have been inadvertently
suggested by the Chiffons' "He's So Fine").
A year later, Mr. Harrison burnished that success by
engineering the landmark charity effort, "The Concert for
Bangladesh." The two-night show in New York featured Bob
Dylan, Eric Clapton and others, and became a template for
the now-familiar concept of the all-star rock fund-raiser.
In the glow of those accomplishments, Mr. Harrison was
perceived as a star with humility who finally rivaled Mr.
McCartney and Mr. Lennon in public acclaim.
Mr. Harrison, though, experienced setbacks after going
solo. A less-than-heralded 1974 concert tour, his 1977
divorce from actress-model Patti Boyd and Mr. Lennon's
death fed his long-held desire for privacy. He stepped away
from the music world for extended stretches, including a 17-
year absence from the tour circuit and a five-year hiatus
from recording after the 1982 album "Gone Troppo." In the
interim, he turned his attention to his film production
company, Formula One auto racing and gardening.
The most reserved member of the world's most famous band
did not regret any days spent away from the spotlight.
"I've never been that good at being a promoter of myself,
doing TV interviews or whatever," he told the Los Angeles
Times in 1987.
Mr. Harrison's solo career might have been spotty, but he
did manage a surge by topping the charts in 1987 with the
No. 1 single "Got My Mind Set on You," from the platinum
Cloud Nine album that reached No. 8.
In 1988, he became the driving force in the Traveling
Wilburys supergroup with Mr. Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty
and Jeff Lynne.
The group recorded two albums in 1988 and 1990.
"My Sweet Lord 2000," a revised version of his early solo
hit, turned out to be the last thing Mr. Harrison released
in his lifetime. It appeared as part of a deluxe CD reissue
of "All Things Must Pass" that was issued in January,
featuring his son on guitar.
He and his son recorded another song that they had co-
written, "A Horse to Water," on Oct. 1 in Switzerland,
where Mr. Harrison was living. He also played on a song for
a new album by Jools Holland, Small World, Big Friends,
He told Billboard magazine last year that he was looking
to remaster his entire catalog, following the All Things
Must Pass package with a reissued Concert for Bangladesh
and Living in the Material World.
At the time, he was hopeful of making new recordings.
The guitarist's view of Mr. Lennon and Mr. McCartney veered
through the years from cordial to bitter to sentimental, as
if the three were stubborn siblings in a family torn apart
by emotional betrayals.
In 1989, Mr. Harrison refused a reunion overture by Mr.
McCartney by telling an interviewer, "As far as I'm
concerned, there won't be a Beatles reunion as long as John
Lennon remains dead."
'When We Was Fab'
Still, after Mr. Lennon's death, Mr. Harrison reflected
on his Beatles friendships with the gentle song "All Those
Years Ago," recalling the halcyon days of their youthful
friendship, and in 1987 he elaborated with "When We Was
Fab," a buoyant nod to the glory days.
After a tour in Japan with Mr. Clapton in 1991, he joined
the other surviving Beatles in the phenomenally successful
Anthology project involving hit albums of outtakes, a video
history and a book issued a year ago.
The project also involved two new recordings - "Free as a
Bird" and "Real Love." Both involved musical tracks added
to leftover demo tapes recorded by Mr. Lennon; both
returned rock's best-known group to the charts in 1995 and
Mr. Harrison last joined the other surviving Beatles at
the 1998 funeral of Linda McCartney. It was the first
public appearance by the three surviving members of the
group in almost 30 years. It would also be the last.