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George Harrison Dies Of Cancer

By Frank Meyer, Contributing Editor
Saturday, December 1, 2001 @ 8:57 PM


Former Beatle Loses Battle Wit

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George Harrison, known to a generation as "the Quiet Beatle," has died. He was 58.

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

Harrison died at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at a friend's Los Angeles home following a battle with cancer, family friend Gavin de Becker said in statement released to The Associated Press.

"I am devastated and very, very sad," former bandmate Paul McCartney told the BBC in London. "I remember all the beautiful times we had together and I'd like to remember him like that, because I know he would like to be remembered like that."

Funeral arrangements are not yet known, but De Becker said a private ceremony had already taken place. Harrison had been fighting cancer for years. He was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997 and was treated in Switzerland earlier this year for a brain tumor.

He underwent experimental radiosurgery at New York's Staten Island University Hospital earlier this month and later moved to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles for more conventional treatment, but it failed to stop the cancer.

"George has given so much to us in his lifetime and he continues to do so even after his passing with his music, his wit and his wisdom," Yoko Ono, widow of former bandmate John Lennon, said in a statement. "His life was magical and we felt we had shared a little bit of it by knowing him. Thank you George. It was grand knowing you."

A Mop Top With a Dry Sense of Humor

Harrison was widely known as the "Quiet Beatle." Lennon and McCartney wrote and sang lead on most of the songs. Ringo Starr clowned his way through the movies.

Harrison, the youngest member of the group, was content to play lead guitar. The Mop Top with a dry sense of humor, he stepped to the fore in the Beatles' later years, writing such classics as "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun."

While he was the most media-shy of the Fab Four, in many ways, he was the most influential. At a time before Westerners were flocking to yoga classes, Harrison became one of the first proponents of Eastern culture, studying meditation and Indian music.

On the Beatles classic "Norwegian Wood," Harrison introduced the Indian sitar to Western ears. Later, Harrison brought awareness to the Third World through The Concert for Bangladesh — the first large-scale pop music fund-raiser — featuring such giants as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. It was the forerunner for such events as "Live Aid."

Liverpool Roots

Like the other Beatles, Harrison started out as a working-class lad in Liverpool, England. He was born on Feb. 25, 1943, the youngest of three sons.

His parents ran dance classes for several years, but it was not until Harrison was 14 that he showed any interest in music. When the skiffle group craze hit Britain in the 1950s he learned a few chords on a second-hand guitar he bought from a classmate.

Soon afterward he teamed up with Lennon and McCartney and the group played at Liverpool's Casbah club, run by the mother of Pete Best, then the group's drummer.

As The Silver Beatles, the group played gigs in Hamburg, Germany, until it was discovered that the 17-year-old Harrison was too young to have a work permit and they had to return home.

In 1962, the Beatles signed a recording contract and unceremoniously dumped Best, replacing him with Starr. Within a year, the Fab Four had girls screaming on both sides of the Atlantic, and a new word entered the public lexicon: Beatlemania.

As Harrison later quipped: "I guess if you've got to be in a rock group it might as well be the Beatles."

Unparalleled Dominance

No other rock group has ever dominated the charts as the Beatles did. On April 4, 1964, the Fab Four had the top five positions on the U.S. Hot 100 and placed another seven elsewhere on the chart. In descending order were "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist And Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and "Please Please Me."

The Beatles' record of 20 No. 1 singles in America still stands. Even while he was known as the most famous lead guitarist in the world, Harrison needed more time to develop his voice. When the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, Harrison devoted more time to songwriting. On Abbey Road, the group's final album, his song "Something" became his first A-side single. After the Beatles broke up in 1970, he was the first member of the band to score a major recording success, with the album All Things Must Pass, which included the controversial hit single "My Sweet Lord."

Unfortunately, Harrison was later successfully sued by the publisher of the 1962 Chiffons hit "He's So Fine," which bore a striking resemblance to "My Sweet Lord." The two songs use the same notes and chord progression. Harrison maintained he hadn't been conscious of the similarities in the songs. Many pop music aficionados rushed to his defense, claiming that many songs in rock bear such similarities.

In 1976, a judge ruled Harrison's acts weren't intentional. Nevertheless, under copyright infringement law, he was found guilty and ordered to pay $587,000. ”No John, No Beatles”

Harrison's career suffered a slump in the mid-1970s. Many critics dismissed his work as preachy and sanctimonious.

In 1978, he embarked on a new venture, forming HandMade Films, which went on to produce Monty Python's Life of Brian and Time Bandits. "George, always called the quiet Beatle, he never stopped talking when I was with him," said Michael Palin of Monty Python's Flying Circus. "He had an enormous number of friends who were terribly loyal to him, and will be very saddened."

In wake of the fatal shooting of John Lennon in 1980, Harrison recorded the tribute "All Those Years Ago," a No. 1 hit, bolstered with musical contributions from McCartney and Starr, making it a near-Beatles reunion.

Still, his subsequent albums, Somewhere in England and Gone Troppo, were largely ignored by record buyers, and he went on a five-year recording hiatus.

He resurrected his recording career with the 1987 album Cloud Nine, which produced the hits "Got My Mind Set on You" and "When We Was Fab," a parody of the Beatles.

Harrison hit the charts again in 1988 as part of the Traveling Wilburys, a group that featured Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.

Harrison grew tired of answering questions about the Beatles, especially after Lennon's death. "As far as I'm concerned, there won't be a Beatles reunion so long as John Lennon remains dead," he announced in 1989.

Still, the three surviving members of the Fab Four teamed up in 1996 to create a retrospective, The Beatles Anthology, which included three volumes of previously unavailable recordings. The three reunited again in June 1998 for a tribute to Linda McCartney, Paul's wife, who died of breast cancer.

In 2000, the Beatles had a No. 1 hit again, with the release of a greatest-hits album called, simply, 1

Battling Cancer, Intruders … And the Past

The media-shy Harrison had always been reluctant to share his private life with the public. In 1966, Harrison married British model Patti Boyd, whom he met on the set of the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night. Boyd fell in love with his longtime friend, guitarist Eric Clapton, in 1970. She finally left her husband for Clapton in 1974, but the two musicians managed to remain friends. Harrison even attended the couple's wedding.

Four years later, Harrison married Mexican-born Olivia Arias, who gave birth to his only child, son Dhani. In later years his reputation as a recluse grew and he spent much of his free time puttering in his garden at his huge mansion — reported to have more than 100 rooms — outside London.

After Lennon's death, Harrison spent a fortune improving security at his mansion near Henley-on-Thames, about 25 miles west of London. He also sometimes traveled under an alias.

Despite those precautions, an intruder broke into the home on Dec. 30, 1999, and stabbed Harrison. Olivia saved her husband by striking the attacker over the head with a fireplace poker and table lamp. The attacker was found to be insane and confined to a mental hospital.

Harrison recovered from the stabbing, but he soon was engaged in a new battle with cancer. He had first been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997. In May 2000, he had a cancer-like sore removed from his lungs at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He blamed the condition on smoking. His publicist said at the time that Harrison had recovered, but earlier this year , Harrison checked into a Swiss clinic for treatment of a brain tumor. He later sought treatment at hospitals in New York and Los Angeles.

Despite his frail health, Harrison recorded a single with pianist Jools Holland, former keyboardist for the band Squeeze. Harrison co-wrote the song, "A Horse to Water," with son Dhani for Holland's album, Small World, Big Friends.


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