Harrison, the Beatles' lead guitarist and the composer of several of
the group's most beautiful songs including "While My Guitar Gently
Weeps" and "Something," died Thursday at a friend's home in Los
Angeles. He was 58.
Mr. Harrison had surgery for throat cancer in 1998 and was
treated for lung cancer and a brain tumor this year. He lived in
Friar Park, a Victorian mansion in Henley-on-Thames, England, and
had a home in Hana, Hawaii.
His wife, Olivia, and son, Dhani, 24, were with him when he died
at the home of Gavin De Becker, a longtime fried.
"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
One of the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney, told reporters
outside his London home today: "He was a lovely guy and a very brave
man and had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby
The other surviving band member, Ringo Starr, said, "We will miss
George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of
John Lennon, a founding member of the group, was shot to death in
New York in 1980.
In the 21 years since the Beatles broke up, Mr. Harrison made a
series of variably successful solo albums, issued a small but varied
catalogue of recordings by other performers on his own Dark Horse
label, and was the executive producer of Handmade Films, an
independent production company that had several hits between the
late 1970's and the early 1990's.
He made two albums with the Traveling Wilburys, a tongue-in-cheek
supergroup that included Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy
Orbison. He published several collections of memoirs and lyrics, and
contributed copious commentary for books by friends. He also
organized several philanthropic projects, including a 1971 concert
to aid refugees in Bangladesh, an event that set the pattern for
all-star charity rock concerts.
In recent years, Mr. Harrison took part with his former
colleagues in the Beatles' "Anthology," a retrospective that
included a 10-hour video history, six discs of previously unreleased
recordings and a book. He also supervised an expanded reissue of his
1970 solo album, "All Things Must Pass," and was planning to
remaster the rest of his recordings.
A new album was also in the works, despite or perhaps because
of health problems that included treatment for throat cancer in
1998 and lung cancer and a brain tumor this year. Mr. Harrison also
survived a stabbing attack by an intruder at Friar Park in December
Mr. Harrison will unquestionably be best remembered for his work
with the Beatles, in which he was the youngest and most reticent
member. He was 19 when the group made its first recordings, in 1962,
yet from the start he projected an air of intense seriousness.
On stage he appeared more concerned with getting the details of a
guitar solo right than with inciting the shrieks of the group's
fans, and film clips show him looking bemused by the ruckus. He was
the first to find the screaming crowds tiresome, and the first to
advocate abandoning the concert stage, arguing that it was pointless
to perform for audiences that were making too much noise for the
group to be heard.
"I always really enjoyed in our early days, before we got too
famous," he once said in an interview. "We used to play clubs and
that kind of stuff all the time. And it was fun, it was fun. It was
good, because you get to play and you get to get quite good on the
instrument. But then we got famous, and it spoiled all that, because
we'd just go round and round the world singing the same 10 dopey
In the summer of 1966 the others came around to his point of
view, and after that the Beatles confined their work to the
recording studio. At the Beatles' recording sessions, Mr. Harrison
worked diligently on solos that were compact but often innovative.
His solo for Lennon's "I'm Only Sleeping," recorded in 1966, when
the Beatles were experimenting with tape manipulation, is an example
of his fastidiousness. It was decided a guitar solo, recorded and
played backwards, would best mirror the dreamworld quality of the
lyrics, so Mr. Harrison devised his solo, wrote it down in reverse
order and overdubbed it onto a recording of the song that was
To complicate matters, he insisted on recording two versions of
the solo one clean, one distorted and combining them. His
contribution to the three-minute song took six hours to record.
Although Lennon and Mr. McCartney, as the group's principal
composers, always held the brightest spotlight, Mr. Harrison had a
decisive influence on the Beatles' sound.
During the group's formative years, in the late 1950's and early
1960's, he shared the others' passion for American rhythm and blues,
Motown soul and the more aggressive rock of Little Richard and Elvis
Presley. But his passion for rockabilly artists like Carl Perkins
a taste he shared with Ringo Starr, the Beatles' drummer brought
the twangy coloration of Country and Western music to the group's
repertory. He also had an interest in jazz chord voicings, which
colored the harmonies in some of the band's early arrangements.
Mr. Harrison's fascination for Indian music which began in
1965, after he became curious about the exotic instruments on the
set of "Help!," the group's second film pushed the Beatles' sound
world in yet another direction. And as with everything the Beatles
did, imitators were plentiful: after Mr. Harrison played a sitar
solo on Lennon's "Norwegian Wood," and began writing his own songs
based on Indian motifs, dozens of rock bands, from the Rolling
Stones to Jefferson Airplane, adopted the sitar, and "raga rock"
Mr. Harrison also brought a variety of electronic gadgets to Beatles'
recording sessions, ranging from a simple volume pedal used on
"Yes It Is" and "I Need You" to the Moog synthesizer, which he played on
Still, he drew the line at devices that in his view led to the
mechanization of rock music, and later spoke disdainfully about
drum machines, samplers and computer-driven instruments. When he
released his "Cloud Nine" album in 1987, he made a point of describing
it as "real music, made by real musicians who play real instruments."
Of the four Beatles, Mr. Harrison was the most aloof from the music
business and the most troubled by the trappings of fame and the
invasions of his privacy that it brought.
"They gave their money and they gave their screams," Mr. Harrison
said of the Beatles' fans during an interview for the "Beatles Anthology"
in 1995. "But the Beatles kind of gave their nervous systems. They
used us as an excuse to go mad, the world did, and then blamed it
Even at the height of Beatlemania, he was characterized by the
press as "the quiet Beatle." Caught in the right mood, though, he
could deliver barbed quips. Asked at a 1965 news conference how
the Beatles managed to sleep with such long hair, Mr. Harrison shot
back, "How do you sleep with your arms and legs still attached?"
Later, Mr. Harrison did his best to put the world at a distance.
He rarely gave interviews. Multilingual signs posted outside his
estate brusquely warned away sightseers. And he was often impatient
with autograph-seekers, his typical responses ranging from tearing
up the item he was asked to sign to signing perfect replicas of
all four Beatles' signatures.
But he had a generous side as well. The concert he organized to
raise money for famine relief in Bangladesh has been widely acknowledged
as the model for other rock charity events like Live Aid and Farm
Aid. Mr. Harrison also performed on Heartbeat '86, a concert to
raise money for a hospital charity, and in the Prince's Trust charity
concert in 1987.
In 1990 he established the Romanian Angel Appeal to provide support
for orphaned infants in Romania, and he assembled an album of rare
recordings by American and British colleagues on the appeal's behalf.
George Harrison was born in Liverpool on Feb. 25, 1943, and was
the youngest of Harold and Louise French Harrison's four children.
His father drove the bus that brought him and also Mr. McCartney,
who was a year older to the Liverpool Institute. He showed little
interest in academic work, devoting himself instead to the guitar.
By the time he was 14, the year he met Mr. McCartney, he had formed
a band, the Rebels, and began taking his guitar to dances in the
hope of being asked to play. Mr. McCartney had only recently joined
Lennon's group, the Quarry Men, as a guitarist (he later switched
to bass), and early in 1958 he invited Mr. Harrison to a Quarry
Men performance, after which he auditioned for Lennon.
Mr. Harrison could do something that neither Lennon nor Mr. McCartney
could do: he could play the solos from American rock records. Lennon,
who was three years older than Mr. Harrison, considered the guitarist
talented but sullen, and still a child. But Mr. Harrison continued
to tag along with Mr. McCartney, and within a few months he was
in the band. He continued to work with other Liverpool bands, but
by October 1959 he decided to throw in his lot with the Quarry Men,
who Lennon renamed the Beatles in 1960.
Mr. Harrison's songwriting interests were limited in the group's
early years. He collaborated with Mr. McCartney on "In Spite of
All the Danger" in 1958, and with Lennon on "Cry for a Shadow,"
a Duane Eddy-influenced instrumental that the band recorded in Germany
But as the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership flourished,
he was content at first to take a subsidiary role, playing his solos
and occasionally stepping up to the microphone to sing either rock
classics like Carl Perkins' "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" and
Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," or Lennon-McCartney songs written
for him, like "Do You Want to Know a Secret" or "I'm Happy Just
to Dance With You."
In the summer of 1963 he decided to try his hand at songwriting,
and produced "Don't Bother Me," a song the group included on "With
the Beatles," its second album.
"I don't think it's a particularly good song," Mr. Harrison wrote
in "I Me Mine," his 1980 autobiography. "It mightn't even be a song
at all, but at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep
on writing and then maybe, eventually, I would write something good."
Another year and a half elapsed before Mr. Harrison was able to
interest the band in another of his songs, but two of his compositions,
"I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much," made it on to the "Help!"
album in 1965. Neither had the ingenuity or dimension that the Lennon-McCartney
team were giving their songs of the time, yet traces of Mr. Harrison's
later style most notably the slightly mournful quality of his
melodies were beginning to emerge. After that Mr. Harrison had
at least one and as many as four songs on each of the group's albums.
At the end of 1965 Mr. Harrison used a sitar on a Beatles album
for the first time, and he soon began studying the instrument formally
with the sitar master Ravi Shankar. To put his sitar studies to
practical use, Mr. Harrison began writing songs in an Indian style,
and inviting Indian musicians to Beatles' sessions to help record
them. The first of these was "Love You To" (on the "Revolver" album,
1966). "Within You Without You," Mr. Harrison's lushly orchestrated
contribution to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," took this
In 1967 he was commissioned to provide soundtrack music for "Wonderwall,"
and produced a score (released as the first album on the Beatles'
Apple label) in which East and West mingled freely. While in Bombay
recording the Indian sections of the soundtrack, he taped an ensemble
playing a traditional raga, and set words to it from Lao-Tzu's Tao
Te Ching. None of the other Beatles perform on the song, "The Inner
Light," but it became the first of Mr. Harrison's compositions to
be released on a Beatles' single (albeit on the B-side, with "Lady
Mr. Harrison's work with Indian music led to an interest in Hinduism
and Indian philosophy. Listeners who thought the other Beatles were
merely indulging his exotic tastes were incorrect: Mr. Harrison's
spiritual interests addressed the other Beatles' concerns as well,
and when he was won over by the Transcendental Meditation techniques
of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his band mates followed him to India to
"Everybody dreams of being famous, rich and famous," Mr. Harrison
later said about the start of his spiritual quest. "Once you get
rich and famous, you think, `This wasn't it.' And that made me go
on to find out what it is. In the end, you're trying to find God.
That's the result of not being satisfied. And it doesn't matter
how much money, or property, or whatever you've got, unless you're
happy in your heart, then that's it. And unfortunately, you can
never gain perfect happiness unless you've got that state of consciousness
that enables that."
The others soon gave up on Eastern philosophy, but Mr. Harrison
remained a devotee of Hinduism, or Krishna Consciousness, as he
preferred to describe his beliefs. In his music, though, he returned
to a more conventional Western style.
His contributions to "The Beatles" (known as the "White Album")
and the soundtrack of the animated film "Yellow Submarine" (both
released in 1968), showed a new compositional maturity. There were
six in all, ranging from the proto-heavy metal of "All Too Much,"
to the poetic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
By the time of the "White Album" sessions, Mr. Harrison was writing
so prolifically that the Beatles could not accommodate all his work,
something that became a source of tension in the band's final year.
He was also undertaking private musical experiments, including the
synthesizer pieces released on his "Electronic Sound" album. And
he was forging musical relationships outside the Beatles, most notably
with Eric Clapton, the virtuoso guitarist who was then in the band
Cream and had played the solo on Mr. Harrison's "While My Guitar
By early 1969 Mr. Harrison was finding the Beatles too confining,
and a few weeks into the sessions for the "Let It Be" album, he
quit the band, returning only after the others agreed to give up
a plan to perform live again, and to give his songs greater consideration.
As it turned out, the "Let It Be" sessions yielded only one finished
Harrison song, "For You Blue." A second, "I Me Mine," was recorded
in January 1970 for inclusion on the "Let It Be" album, and was
the last song the group recorded before its breakup three months
But during the summer of 1969 with the "Let It Be" album shelved
pending the completion of the accompanying film the group recorded
what it considered its swan song, "Abbey Road."
Two of Mr. Harrison's finest Beatles compositions, "Something"
and "Here Comes the Sun," were included. "Something" became the
first of Mr. Harrison's songs to be released as the A-side of a
single, and was widely recorded by other performers. Frank Sinatra
once described it as his favorite Beatles song (although he misattributed
it to Lennon and Mr. McCartney). Soon after the Beatles split, Mr.
Harrison assembled Mr. Starr, Mr. Clapton, the guitarist Dave Mason,
the keyboardists Gary Brooker and Billy Preston and the pedal steel
guitarist Pete Drake and began recording the songs that the Beatles
had not had time for. The sessions were so fruitful that the resulting
album, "All Things Must Pass," included two disks of new songs and
a third with jam sessions.
The Hindu notions of the transitory nature of the physical world,
and the search for a path to God, were Mr. Harrison's principal
subjects here, but there were lighter-spirited, secular songs as
well. The album's success was gratifying for Mr. Harrison, but it
caused him problems as well. One of his new songs, "My Sweet Lord,"
bore a striking similarity to that of the 1963 Chiffons' hit, "He's
So Fine," and that song's publisher sued Mr. Harrison for copyright
The suit dragged on for 20 years, and Mr. Harrison was found guilty
of "unconscious plagiarism." In the end he bought his antagonist's
company and ended up owning both songs. His "This Song" (1975) was
a satirical look at the lawsuit, and for the reissue of "All Things
Must Pass" he recorded "My Sweet Lord (2000)," a version that avoids
the melodic similarities to "He's So Fine."
As a former Beatle with a hot album, Mr. Harrison had considerable
clout in the rock world in 1971, so when Mr. Shankar brought the
famine in Bangladesh to his attention, he was quickly able to put
together a band that included Mr. Starr, Mr. Clapton, Bob Dylan,
Leon Russell and Billy Preston. An album and a film were made from
the two shows at Madison Square Garden, and although disputes over
distribution rights and taxes held up their release, the proceeds
were eventually donated to the United Nations relief efforts.
Mr. Harrison's "Living in the Material World" (1973) followed the
agenda set forth by "All Things Must Pass," in that its centerpieces
explored a spiritual agenda. Everyday venality was not ignored:
"Sue Me Sue You Blues," for example, touched on the squabbles between
the former Beatles.
But the public was tiring of Mr. Harrison's religious fascinations.
His next album, "Dark Horse" (1974), was criticized as preachy and
whiny, and an American tour made matters worse: Mr. Harrison, not
used to singing a complete concert set, lost his voice during the
rehearsals, and was hoarse for the entire tour.
Mr. Harrison reconsidered his approach on "Extra Texture" (1975)
and "33 1/3" (1976), albums that touched on traditional blues and
continued to refined a quirky, humorous personal style, best heard
in "Crackerbox Palace" and "This Song." Satire replaced sermonizing
as his signature style, and it was better received.
Nevertheless, Mr. Harrison took a three-year break from recording
after "33 1/3." He devoted some of that time to ending one entrepreneurial
enterprise and starting another. In the early 1970's he had started
the Dark Horse label, which released about a dozen albums by Mr.
Shankar and a handful of bands, among them Splinter, Stairsteps,
Attitudes and Jiva. None of the recordings sold well, though, and
after 1977 Dark Horse was primarily Mr. Harrison's imprint for his
own work, which was first distributed by A & M and later by
A sideline career as a film producer was more successful. When
the Monty Python comedy troupe needed financial backing for "The
Life of Brian," in 1978, Mr. Harrison underwrote the film, laying
the groundwork for his own production company, Handmade Films. Handmade
quickly became a respected company, and produced 27 films among
them, "The Long Good Friday," "Mona Lisa," "Time Bandits," "Withnail
and I" and "Shanghai Surprise" before Mr. Harrison sold his interest
Mostly, though, Mr. Harrison used his three years away from music
to sort out his personal life. He met his first wife, Pattie Boyd,
on the set of the Beatles' first film, "A Hard Day's Night," and
they married in 1966. Their marriage broke up in 1974, when Ms.
Boyd began living with Mr. Clapton (whose song "Layla" was written
for her). The romance did not ruin the friendship between Mr. Harrison
and Mr. Clapton: the two men and Ms. Boyd perform a version of the
Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" together on Mr. Harrison's "Dark
Horse" album, and Mr. Harrison and Mr. Clapton toured Japan together
Mr. Harrison married Olivia Arias in 1978. She and their son Dhani,
24, are survivors, along with a sister, Louise Caldwell, and his
brothers, Peter and Harry.
Mr. Harrison's return to recording in 1979 yielded "George Harrison,"
an album notably lighter in spirit and broader in subject matter
than his previous few, with songs about several of his new passions,
among them automobile racing ("Faster"), hallucinogenic mushrooms
("Soft Hearted Hana") and Olivia ("Dark Sweet Lady"). But sales
were disappointing, and when he delivered his next album, "Somewhere
in England," to Warner, the label demanded that he rework the set
to make it more commercially appealing.
Mr. Harrison responded, characteristically, by recording a new
track, "Blood from a Clone," that skewered the label's complaints,
and another, "Unconsciousness Rules," that took a swipe at disco,
then popular in clubs. But another of the remakes was a quasi-Beatles'
reunion. While Mr. Harrison was reworking the album, Lennon was
killed. Mr. Harrison quickly wrote a tribute to Lennon, "All Those
Years Ago." Mr. McCartney and Mr. Starr performed on the recording,
and it became a hit.
But Mr. Harrison was dispirited by his experience in the music
business. He made another album in 1982, the good-humored "Gone
Troppo," and then stepped away from music for another five years.
His return, "Cloud Nine," was a resounding success, his biggest
hit since "All Things Must Pass." Not least among its charms was
Mr. Harrison's skewering of Beatles' nostalgia, "When We Was Fab."
His renewed success notwithstanding, Mr. Harrison kept his distance
from the music world, and neither his success with the Traveling
Wilburys' two albums ("Traveling Wilburys," 1988; Traveling Wilburys
Vol. 3," 1990) or his 1991 tour of Japan with Mr. Clapton's highly
polished band, were able to rekindle an interest in leading a public
"Although I have guitars all around and I pick them up occasionally
and write a tune and make a record, I don't really see myself as
a musician," Mr. Harrison once said, explaining his ambivalence
to the life of a rock star.
"It may seem a funny thing to say. It's just like, I write lyrics
and I make up songs, but I'm not a great lyricist or songwriter
or producer. It's when you put all these things together that