---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 02 Dec 2001 15:00:20 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: GEORGE HARRISON / 1943-2001
December 1 2001
GEORGE HARRISON / 1943-2001
'Quiet Beatle' Sought Spirituality, Privacy
OBITUARY: CANCER CLAIMS LEAD GUITARIST IN L.A. HOME OF FRIENDS.
HIS INTEREST IN INDIAN PHILOSOPHY MARKED A TURNING POINT FOR BAND.
By GEOFF BOUCHER
TIMES STAFF WRITER
George Harrison, the shy lead guitarist of the Beatles who added a
spiritual pilgrim's sensibility to the band's massive cultural impact,
has died. He was 58.
Harrison died at 1:30 p.m. Thursday reportedly at the Los Angeles home of
Gavin de Becker, a friend and noted security expert in the celebrity
world. Harrison had battled in recent years with various forms of cancer,
and earlier this year underwent radiation treatment for a brain tumor.
His wife, Olivia Arias Harrison, and son, Dhani, were with him at the
time of his death, which was not announced until early Friday morning.
Harrison had come to Los Angeles two weeks ago to be with the family of
his wife, a Southern California native, and he had taken deliberate moves
recently to pare down his circle of confidants in a quest for privacy--a
quest that had been a defining characteristic through much of his career.
Keeping with that, Harrison's family issued a statement Friday that
focused on Harrison's spiritual life, not the details of his death. "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 the
release carried by the Associated Press. "He often said, 'Everything else
can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.' "
The two remaining members of the Beatles grieved Harrison's passing.
"I am devastated and very, very sad," Paul McCartney told reporters
outside his London home Friday. "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, in Vancouver, Canada, said: "George was a
best friend of mine. I loved him very much and I will miss him greatly.
Both [wife] Barbara and I send our love and light to Olivia and Dhani. We
will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense
John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, said Friday: "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."
Harrison's passing has a cultural resonance that goes beyond one star
musician's death: Coupled with Lennon's murder in 1980, it leaves
one-half of the Beatles dead before many of their original fans have
reached their 60th birthday. The group credited with teaching life
lessons to the baby boomer generation is now a reminder of mortality.
Lennon-McCartney Overshadowed Songs
The songwriter and singer of such Beatles songs as "While My Guitar
Gently Weeps," "Something," "Here Comes the Sun" and "Taxman," Harrison
struggled for his own spotlight in the celebrated company of Lennon and
The youngest member of the quartet, his was the least defined persona
during the group's frenetic rise to world fame, and in the band's peak
creative years he chafed as the prolific songwriters McCartney and Lennon
became the rock icons of the group. Still, Harrison's fascination with
Indian philosophy and music laced through the band's albums as the
Beatles matured into more sophisticated artists.
After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison embarked on a solo career
that was viewed as spotty even by fans and intriguing even by his
critics. The most acclaimed chapter of his post-Beatles career remains
the first: the 1970 three-LP epic "All Things Must Pass," which included
the humanistic hits "My Sweet Lord," "Isn't It a Pity" and "What Is
Life." A year later, he burnished that success by engineering the
landmark charity effort "The Concert for Bangla Desh." 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, Harrison was perceived as a star
with humility who finally rivaled McCartney and Lennon in public acclaim.
The triumph, though, would be somewhat tainted.
Harrison endured an embarrassing courtroom loss in 1976 when he was found
to have "subconsciously plagiarized" the Chiffons song "He's So Fine" for
the melody and composition of "My Sweet Lord." Harrison had also stumbled
badly with the logistics of the Bangladesh effort, which was not
technically set up as a charity. The proceeds would be tied up for a
decade before they reached the impoverished refugees in the troubled
South Asian country.
Those setbacks, along with his less than heralded 1974 concert tour, his
1977 divorce from actress-model Patti Boyd and Lennon's murder in 1980,
fed Harrison's desire for privacy. He repeatedly 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 following the 1982
album "Gone Troppo." In the interim he turned to his film production
company, Formula One auto racing and gardening to fill his days. The most
reserved member of the world's most famous band did not regret any days
spent out of the spotlight.
"I've never been that good at being a promoter of myself, doing TV
interviews or whatever," he told The Times in 1987. In the same
interview, he reflected on his Beatles years as a time of confinement by
celebrity: "We had a great laugh, really, when we were good friends,
though we were like caged animals most of the time."
In the post-Beatles years, McCartney thrived with solo hits and his band
Wings, Lennon enhanced his role as an edgy cultural force and Starr rode
his amiable persona into an erratic music and film career. Harrison,
meanwhile, was again the least visible following his Bangladesh work. He
did, however, have the first and final word among his bandmates when it
came to solo chart hits: In 1971, his "My Sweet Lord" was the first No. 1
hit by a former Beatle and his "Got My Mind Set on You" in 1987 stands as
the most recent No. 1 single by any of the Fab Four.
Harrison also joined another band--the informal and temporary recording
collective called the Traveling Wilburys, with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison,
Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. The all-star group put Harrison in an
interesting context: He was teamed with one of the heroes of his youth in
Orbison, one of his 1960s contemporaries in Dylan and one of the Beatles'
most obvious musical acolytes in Lynne, formerly of the Electric Light
Harrison made a mark in the film world too, as co-founder of HandMade
Films, the production company that brought a series of projects featuring
members of the Monty Python comedy troupe to the silver screen, including
"Life of Brian," "Time Bandits" and "The Missionary." His producing
career would include critically acclaimed fare, such as "Mona Lisa" in
1986, and a famous flop in "Shanghai Surprise," with then-couple Madonna
and Sean Penn, in 1986. Still, the lasting glare of the Beatles' success
overpowered any other Harrison pursuit or public identity, a fact he
"The Beatles exist apart from my self," he told Newsweek in 1995. "I am
not really Beatle George. Beatle George is like a suit or a shirt that I
once wore on occasion, and until the end of my life people may see that
shirt and mistake it for me."
Born in Liverpool in northwest England on Feb. 25, 1943, Harrison was one
of four children growing up in the lower-middle-class home of Harold and
Louise Harrison. His father, a seaman turned bus driver, had an extensive
record collection that included the "singing brakeman," country singer
Jimmie Rodgers. It was the guitar work on a Rodgers record that Harrison
would later recall as his first impression of the instrument that would
eventually define his life's direction.
The young Harrison was remembered by family and friends as a taciturn and
independent child. Even as a toddler he resented his mother dropping him
off at school, according to "Shout!" a Beatles biography by Philip
Norman. Harrison also showed a willful streak by wearing outlandish
outfits to school or dozing off in class.
The lad was a middling student with a fondness for sports, but by 1956,
it was the sound of American rock 'n' roll by the likes of Fats Domino
and Elvis Presley that dominated his attention. He would also recount
later that the 1956 hit version of "Rock Island Line" by British skiffle
singer Lonnie Donegan inspired a special plea to his mother: Could he
have money to buy an acoustic guitar from a classmate at Dovedale Road
Junior School? She agreed and soon the boy was diligently educating
himself in chords.
The same year of "Rock Island Line," Harrison started his first band, the
Rebels, and also met a new friend on a school bus, an older student at
Liverpool Institute named Paul McCartney. The two shared an interest in
skiffle, a spirited folk-based sound that became a craze in the U.K.
Harrison's home in the Speke district of Liverpool became their daily
meeting place to practice and swap thoughts on skiffle and the intriguing
rock 'n' roll imports. Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy and Carl Perkins were
among the players who would most inform young Harrison's style.
In 1957, at age 14, Harrison was ushered by McCartney into a new band,
the Quarrymen, which had been founded by another Liverpool youngster
under the thrall of U.S. music: John Lennon.
From Unknown Five to Fab Four in a Flash
By 1960, the three would be joined by bassist Stuart Sutcliffe (who quit
in 1961) and drummer Pete Best and be known as the Beatles, a moniker
inspired by Buddy Holly's band, the Crickets. That year they got their
first major booking, a steady gig at the Indra Club in the red-light
district of Hamburg, Germany. They played marathon shows--six, seven
hours or longer--and honed their sound in the gritty setting in front of
boozy, unforgiving crowds.
Their success moved them to larger clubs but their Hamburg career was cut
short when Harrison, still a minor, ran afoul of local labor laws. They
returned to Liverpool a leaner, sharper band and, by 1962, had a
recording contract with Parlophone/EMI Records. They also had a new
drummer, Richard Starkey, who went by the stage name Ringo Starr.
Amazingly, the Beatles were soon stepping onto the global stage as a pop
music force. Their fresh, energetic music and new fashion made the U.S.
pop of the day seem sleepy and sappy.
In 1963 the group also recorded its first Harrison composition, "Don't
Bother Me," and the guitarist would later say he was more intimidated by
bringing his song into the studio then he was walking onto arena stages.
And with good reason: McCartney and Lennon were already established as
the group's songwriting machine with such hits as "Love Me Do," "Please
Please Me" and others.
As fans and the press began to size up these new stars in the U.S. in
1964, Lennon and McCartney would be front and center while Starr would
become the cartoonish hound dog. Harrison, gaunt and stilted, was, almost
by default, labeled "the quiet Beatle." Harrison was the least
comfortable with screaming fans and the first in the group to champion
the full-time shift to the recording studio as the touring life became
less and less satisfying.
The Beatles films "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" only reinforced the
image of Harrison as the shy one in the witty quartet. It was on the set
of "Help!" in April 1965, during the filming of a scene in an Indian
restaurant, that Harrison first picked up an intriguing new
instrument--the sitar. That random moment would send Harrison on a new
path as he became fascinated with the exotic stringed instrument, just as
he had been mesmerized by a guitar during his childhood. In a matter of
months, Harrison crossed paths with Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar,
who in short order became a mentor and new collaborator for the Beatle.
Sitar, Ravi Shankar as Instruments of Growth
Harrison memorably introduced the sitar into the Beatles catalog--and to
the ears of many pop fans--on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," a
haunting song Lennon wrote in 1965 as a dark essaying of an extramarital
affair. The song on "Rubber Soul," acclaimed by many Beatles scholars as
perhaps the band's finest album, served notice that the group was pushing
into new musical territories. On their next album, "Revolver," Harrison
composed "Love You To" entirely on the sitar.
More than a novel sonic direction, the sitar was a doorway for Harrison
into a spiritual journey. He traveled to India, immersed himself in
Eastern philosophies and became a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His
conversion to Hinduism would not only help him deal with the
disconcerting effects of celebrity life--he would be viewed by some as an
almost ascetic rock star--it would infuse his music and worldview. The
other Beatles joined in the mystic exploration in varying but lesser
degrees and, coming at a time when the maturing band was experimenting
with psychedelic drugs, their music took on new ambitions that tested the
definitions of pop.
For Harrison, his new mind-set, musically and spiritually, was first
summed up in a recording with the song "Within You Without You" on the
seminal album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The song featured
an array of instruments, including dilruba, tabla, surmandel, tamaboura
drone and cello, and its lyrics implored that ego be set aside in the
name of unity and love, a manifestation of Harrison's spiritual
Harrison traveled regularly to India and became a champion of the
nation's elite musical talents. Years before "world music" would become a
staple genre at U.S. record stores, he was lending his considerable
cachet to bringing the Indian sounds to Western pop audiences. While
still a Beatle in late 1968, he became the first in the band to release a
solo album, the sitar-heavy instrumental disc "Wonderwall Music," a film
For all his growth, though, Harrison felt his role within the Beatles was
unfairly stunted. His songs were confined to one or two tracks per album
while Lennon and McCartney piled up hit after hit and Starr would be
given an occasional track that highlighted his endearing but comical
Beatles producer George Martin, famed mentor to the group, reflected
Friday on Harrison's sometimes uncomfortable spot in the band's ranks.
"He was the baby of the Beatles, and unlike Paul and John, he had a hard
time developing his songwriting talent and making his music alone,"
Martin said. "But he worked hard and with enormous patience, building his
In a telling footnote, the first time a Harrison song even appeared on a
Beatles single was in March 1968--just two years before the group
split--when "The Inner Light" was included as the B-side to "Lady
Through the Beatles years, the Harrison songbook grew to include "Think
for Yourself," "I Want To Tell You," "If I Needed Someone," "You Like Me
Too Much." "It's All Too Much," "Blue Jay Way," "I Need You," "I Me
Mine," "Old Brown Shoe," "Savoy Truffle" and "For You Blue."
It was in the darkest days of the Beatles that Harrison penned one of the
band's most earnestly optimistic songs. During bitter feuds over its
management and direction, Harrison fled the boardroom wranglings to the
countryside to visit a friend, famed guitarist Eric Clapton. Walking in a
garden with one of Clapton's acoustic guitars, Harrison felt a wave of
relief from the summery weather and composed "Here Comes the Sun."
"It was such a great release for me simply being out in the sun," George
told interviewers at the time. "The song just came to me."
A far less rosy attitude resulted in Harrison's "Only a Northern Song,"
written in 1967 as an obvious jab at Lennon, McCartney and the Beatles
business operations. Northern Songs was the name of the Beatles music
publishing company and, at the time, Lennon and McCartney held 30% of the
shares while Harrison and Starr had less than 2% each--meaning a far
smaller slice of an extremely lucrative pie. The lyrics: "It doesn't
really matter what chords I play/What words I say or time of day it is/As
it's only a northern song."
Originally intended for "Sgt. Pepper," "It's Only a Northern Song" was
ultimately relegated to "Yellow Submarine," the animated film and
soundtrack that depicted the Beatles on a psychedelic fairy tale.
Tellingly, in the cartoon (which the Beatles had no meaningful creative
involvement in making) Harrison was depicted as a bearded, levitating
figure, a mod holy man of sorts. He was no longer the meek Beatle with
the shy, toothy grin in "Help!" but he was no less enigmatic.
Another Harrison song, "Piggies," off the 1968 collection popularly
referred to as "The White Album," became a historical footnote to the
notorious 1969 murder spree of the Manson "family." Harrison's lyrics
were intended as commentary on class by comparing the bourgeoise to pigs,
but cult leader Charles Manson would say he heard in the words a warning
of looming race wars and a call to slaughter using knives and forks.
Police linked the Manson family's eight Southern California murders by
the use of victims' blood to write "pig," "pigs" or "piggies" at the
three crime scenes.
Harrison was aghast at the song's tangential infamy and the entire
episode contributed to his deepening unease in public places. Years
later, Lennon's murder by a mentally unbalanced fan in New York City
heightened those anxieties. "After what happened to John," he said in
1984, "I'm absolutely terrified." Harrison's fears, it turned out, were
In December 1999, a 33-year-old Liverpool man described as an obsessed
Beatles fan broke into Harrison's 120-room mansion, Friar Park, a former
nunnery in Henley-on-Thames, 25 miles west of London. Somehow the
intruder got past the razor wire atop the home's fences and the high-tech
security systems monitoring its corridors. Confronted by Harrison, the
man attacked with a knife.
Harrison, facing the potential fate he had feared since Lennon's slaying
years earlier, grappled with the man. His wife rushed to his aid and the
couple managed to fend off and subdue the intruder. Harrison suffered
slashes and an inch-deep stab wound that collapsed his right lung and his
wife sustained minor injuries.
Olivia Arias Harrison was the Beatle's second wife. He had married
British actress-model Patricia Anne Boyd in January 1966 and the
relationship, along with Harrison's longtime friendship to guitarist
Clapton, led to a love triangle that became part of rock lore. Clapton
(who had memorably collaborated with Harrison on "While My Guitar Gently
Weeps" and the Cream song "Badge") fell in love with Boyd and later
conceded she was the subject of the classic rock torch song "Layla."
Harrison and Boyd divorced in 1977 and, two years later, she married
Clapton. The two men, however, remained close friends throughout.
Fans Got False Hope From Final Recording
In 1978, Harrison married Arias, an employee at his record label, shortly
after the birth of their son, Dhani Harrison. The elder Harrison and his
son, now 23, co-wrote a song titled "Horse to the Water" that the former
Beatle recorded in October with Jools Holland, former keyboardist in the
British pop group Squeeze.
That recording session became a source of optimism for Harrison's fans
who had been distressed in recent months with reports and rumors about
the former Beatle's grave health. Harrison, a longtime smoker, in 1998
had revealed his first bout with cancer--treated at the time by radiation
and the removal of a lump on his throat--and that was followed with
treatments for lung cancer. Earlier this year he acknowledged he was
being treated at a Swiss clinic for a brain tumor.
In July, a furious Harrison lashed out at a British newspaper's report
that he was near death. The article quoted former Beatles producer George
Martin saying that Harrison "knows he is going to die soon and he's
accepting it perfectly happily."
Martin adamantly disputed the quote and a journalist with the London Mail
resigned amid the ensuing furor.
The prying into his health offended Harrison's intensifying desire for
privacy. The reported site of his death--the home of De Becker, famous in
celebrity circles as head of a noted private security firm--was perhaps a
fitting footnote to the most reluctant Beatle's desire for seclusion.
Harrison had come to Los Angeles after intensive radiation therapy at the
Staten Island University Hospital in New York. Dr. Gil Lederman, that
hospital's director of radiation oncology, said his patient and friend
headed west to be in the company of the Arias family. Lederman said he
expects Harrison's confidants will keep a tight rein on information about
the former Beatle's final days, a nod to his emphasis on privacy.
"You won't get an answer from anyone in the entourage. . . . They don't
want to see anything in the papers, quite frankly," Lederman said.
But as news of Harrison's death spread in Los Angeles, people convened at
a shrine assembled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and at the Beatles'
Wearing Beatles shirts, they carried flowers and incense, placards and
candles. They brought their children.
Passing cars played Beatles music, and a large banner with a peace symbol
read: "George, You Gave to the World."
Shrine visitor Stephen Gries, 49, who had read the news in the wee hours,
said, "I thought, my God. . . . When all is said and done, every
guitarist owes a debt of gratitude to George Harrison. He was the
greatest pop guitarist, period."
Harrison's hunger for privacy was also offended through the years by the
endless speculation about the potential of a Beatles reunion.
The guitarist's view of his former bandmates Lennon and McCartney veered
through the years from cordial to bitter to sentimental, like stubborn
siblings in a family torn apart by emotional betrayals.
In 1989, Harrison shot down a reunion overture by 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." A few years later he added a dash
of venom by saying that "every time Paul needs some publicity, he
announces to the press that we're getting back together again. I wouldn't
pay much attention to that."
Other times Harrison softened. He memorably spoofed the reunion issue
with a 1976 appearance on "Saturday Night Live" where he played along
with a skit in which the show's producer, Lorne Michaels, offered
Harrison and his old mates a whopping $3,000 to perform together.
After Lennon's death, Harrison reflected on his Beatles friendships with
the gentle song "All Those Years Ago," recalling the halcyon times with
his mates, and in 1987 he elaborated on that with "When We Was Fab," a
buoyant nod to the group's glory days. In 1995, Harrison joined
McCartney, Starr and Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, in releasing a project
that was both commercially and archival minded: "Anthology."
"Anthology" was an album of Beatles rarities and a newly recorded single,
"Free As a Bird," which, in a sense, finally gave fans the Beatles
reunion they so desired. It was an unfinished Lennon song, recorded in
1977, that was grafted together with new contributions from the surviving
trio and production by Lynne, Harrison's Wilbury compatriot. The
"Anthology" project would lead to a total of six discs of unreleased
material, a 10-hour video history and a large tome collecting photos and
the reminiscences of Harrison, McCartney and Starr.
Last year, any questions about the vitality of the Beatles legacy was
answered by the huge success of "1," a new package of the Beatles' No. 1
chart hits that became one of the best-selling albums of the year.
The "1" disc features 27 tracks--26 credited to the Lennon and McCartney
songwriting tandem, and one to Harrison, the 1969 hit "Something," an
uncertain valentine of a song that is his best-known work. "You're asking
me will my love grow/I don't know, I don't know/You stick around now it
may show/I don't know, I don't know."
"Something" would become a defining triumph for Harrison even as the
Beatles were winding down. In just the first decade after its release,
more than 150 different artists would record their own versions of
"Something" and, to date, the only Beatles song available in more
versions is McCartney's forlorn classic "Yesterday." Frank Sinatra, an
unkind critic of the Beatles in their earlier years, was among the many
artists who recorded "Something" and he praised it as "the greatest love
song of the past 50 years." But, in an unintended but painful reminder of
Harrison's struggle for acknowledgment, Sinatra would also introduce the
song in concert as "one of my favorite Lennon and McCartney songs."
Harrison is survived by his wife, Olivia Arias; his son, Dhani; and his
siblings, Louise Caldwell and brothers Peter and Harry. His friend, De
Becker, said a private ceremony has already taken place.
More on George Harrison's life is available in a multimedia presentation
on The Times' Web site. Go to latimes.com/harrison.
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