George Harrison

George Harrison

George Harrison died Thursday, November 29th, 2001 at a friend's Los Angeles home following a battle with cancer. Longtime friend and security advisor Gavin De Becker said that Harrison's wife Olivia and son Dhani were with him.

"He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends," the Harrison family said in a statement. "He often said, 'Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.'"

With Harrison's death, there remain two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. John Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan in 1980.

George Harrison
"I am devastated and very, very sad," McCartney said. "He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby brother."

A private memorial ceremony had already taken place, De Becker said.

In 1998, Harrison disclosed that he had been treated for throat cancer. "It reminds you that anything can happen," he said at the time. The following year, Harrison survived an attack by an intruder who stabbed him several times. In July 2001, he released a statement asking fans not to worry about reports that he was still battling cancer.

The Beatles were four distinct personalities joined as a singular force in the rebellious '60s, influencing everything from hair styles to music. Whether dropping acid, proclaiming "All You Need is Love" or sending up the squares in the film "A Hard Day's Night," the Beatles inspired millions.

Harrison's guitar work, modeled on Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins among others, was essential.

He often blended with the band's joyous sound, but also rocked out wildly on "Roll Over Beethoven" and turned slow and dreamy on "Something." His jangly 12-string Rickenbacker, featured in "A Hard Day's Night," was a major influence on the American band the Byrds. The influence came full circle when Harrison used the Byrds' trebly guitar sound on "If I Needed Someone."

George Harrison
Although his songwriting was overshadowed by the great Lennon-McCartney team, Harrison did contribute such classics as "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "Piggies," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

"As he said himself, how do you compare with the genius of John and Paul? But he did, very well," Bob Geldof told BBC radio.

"All the way back, he measured up," Geldof said. "Maybe because of the necessary competition between the other two, his standard of songwriting was incomparably better than most other contemporaries anyway." Many feel Harrison's first solo composition to become a Beatles release, "Don't Bother Me," stands the test of time.

Harrison also had a wry sense of humor that helped shape the Beatles' irreverent charm, memorably fitting in alongside Lennon's cutting wit and Starr's cartoonish appeal.

At their first recording session under George Martin, the producer asked the young musicians to tell him if they didn't like anything. Harrison's response, "Well, first of all, I don't like your tie."

He was even funny about his own mortality. As reports of his failing health proliferated, Harrison recorded a new song -- "Horse To The Water" -- and credited the publishing to "RIP Ltd. 2001." He and Dhani composed the song and recorded it October 2nd for a Jools Holland CD.

Harrison always preferred being a musician to being a star, and he soon soured on Beatlemania -- the screaming girls, the wild chases from limos to gigs and back to limos. Like Lennon, his memories of the Beatles were often tempered by what he felt was lost in all the madness.

"There was never anything, in any of the Beatle experiences really, that good; even the best thrill soon got tiring," Harrison wrote in his 1979 book, "I, Me, Mine." "There was never any doubt. The Beatles were doomed. Your own space, man, it's so important. That's why we were doomed, because we didn't have any. We were like monkeys in a zoo."

George & Olivia Harrison
Still, in a 1992 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Harrison confided, "We had the time of our lives: We laughed for years."

"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," Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono said.

Alan Williams, the Beatles' first manager, described Harrison as the major cog in the group. "He kept them together probably because of the calming effect he had," Williams said.

After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison had sporadic success. He organized the concert for Bangladesh in New York City, produced films that included Monty Python's "Life of Brian," and teamed with old friends, including Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison, as the Traveling Wilburys.

George Harrison was born February 24, 1943, in Liverpool, one of four children of Harold and Louise Harrison. His father, a former ship's steward, became a bus conductor soon after his marriage.

Harrison was 13 when he bought his first guitar and befriended Paul McCartney at their school. McCartney introduced him to Lennon, who had founded a band called the Quarry Men. Harrison was allowed to play if one of the regulars didn't show up.

George Harrison
"When I joined, he didn't really know how to play the guitar; he had a little guitar with three strings on it that looked like a banjo," Harrison recalled of Lennon during testimony in a 1998 court case against the owner of a bootleg Beatles' recording.

"I put the six strings on and showed him all the chords -- it was actually me who got him playing the guitar. He didn't object to that, being taught by someone who was the baby of the group. John and I had a very good relationship from very early on." Harrison and Lennon were co-composers of the early Beatles instrumental "Cry For A Shadow," recorded in Hamburg during the group's sessions with Tony Sheridan.

Harrison evolved as both musician and songwriter. He became interested in the sitar while making the 1965 film "Help!" and introduced it to a generation of Western listeners on "Norwegian Wood," a song by Lennon from the "Rubber Soul" album. He also began contributing more of his own material.

In 1966, he married model Patti Boyd, who had a bit part in "A Hard Day's Night." They divorced in 1977, and she married Harrison's friend, Eric Clapton, who'd written the anguished song "Layla" about her. Harrison attended the wedding.

More than any of the Beatles, Harrison craved a little quiet. He found it in India. Late in 1966, after the Beatles had ceased touring, George and Patti went to India, where Harrison studied the sitar with Ravi Shankar. He maintained a lifelong affiliation with that part of the world.

By the late '60s, Harrison was clearly worn out from being a Beatle and openly bickered with McCartney, arguing with him on camera during the filming of "Let It Be."

George Harrison
As the Beatles grew apart, Harrison collaborated with Clapton on the song "Badge," performed with Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and produced his most acclaimed solo work, the triple LP "All Things Must Pass." The sheer volume of material on that 1970 release confirmed the feelings of Harrison fans that he was being stifled in the Beatles.

But one of those songs, the hit "My Sweet Lord," later drew Harrison into a lawsuit. The copyright owner of "He's So Fine," written by Lonnie Mack and recorded by the Chiffons, won a claim that Harrison had plaigarized the melody.

Another Harrison project also led to legal problems. Moved by the starvation caused by the war between Bangladesh and Pakistan, Harrison in 1971 staged two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden and recruited such performers as Starr, Shankar, Clapton and Dylan.

Anticipating such later superstar benefits as Live Aid and Farm Aid, the Bangladesh concerts were also a cautionary tale about counterculture bookkeeping. Although millions were raised and the three-record concert release won a Grammy for album of the year, allegations emerged over mishandling of funds and the money long stayed in escrow.

Harrison kept a low profile and stopped tailoring his music to the tastes of record company executives. Sporadic releases yielded notable recordings like "This Song" (which spoofed the "My Sweet Lord" lawsuit), "Love Comes To Everyone," "I Don't Want To Do It," which was written by Bob Dylan and contributed to the film "Porky's Revenge," "When Was Fab," "Got My Mind Set On You" and the Lennon tribute, "All Those Years Ago," on which Paul & Linda McCartney provided backing vocals.

Harrison married Olivia Arrias in 1978, a month after Dhani was born. Like her husband, Olivia was passionate about gardening and meditation and was generally private -- but willing to speak out on occasion. In 1992, "Mrs. George," as she styled herself in the letter, wrote to a newspaper to condemn self-styled Beatles chronicler Geoffrey Giuliano. She wrote, "To judge Paul McCartney as 'vacuous and shallow' after all Paul has written and offered to the world is surely the judgment of an arrogant mind -- like a starving dog he [Giuliano] scavenges his heroes..."

George Harrison & John Lennon
In 1979, Harrison founded Handmade Films to produce Monty Python's "Life of Brian." He sold the company for $8.5 million in 1994.

"George wasn't head in the clouds all the time. When it came to business and all that he was feet very much on the ground," Python Michael Palin told BBC radio.

Fame continued to haunt Harrison. In 1999, he was stabbed several times by a man who broke into his home west of London. The man, who thought the Beatles were witches and believed himself on a divine mission to kill Harrison, was acquitted by reason of insanity.

But fame also continued to enrich Harrison. The following year, he saw a compilation of Beatles No. 1 singles, "1," sell millions of copies and re-establish the band's status around the world.

"The thing that pleases me the most about it is that young people like it," he said in an online chat. "It's given kids from 6 to 16 an alternate view of music to what's been available for the past 20 years."

"I think the popular music has gone truly weird," he said. "It's either cutesy-wutesy or it's hard, nasty stuff. It's good that this has life again with the youth." In 2000, he remixed and retouched the "All Things Must Pass" set for a 30th anniversary edition. In the last year of his life he was working on a new album with the working title "Portrait Of A Leg End." It was released posthumously as "Brainwashed."

George Harrison, racing in 1979. ©1979 The Los Angeles Times, Inc.
©2001 Archer & Valerie Productions/Photos: ©Harrisongs, Ltd., ©EMI, ©Los Angeles Times, Inc.

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