George Harrison died yesterday at a friend’s home in Los Angeles after a long battle with cancer; he was fifty-eight. “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.'”
In Harrison’s hometown of Liverpool, flags at the town hall are being flown at half mast and in London at Abbey Road, fans have been laying floral tributes outside the studios where the Beatles recorded. At Buckingham Palace, the Coldstream Guards played a tribute Beatles medley during the Changing of the Guard.
Harrison was born February 25, 1943 in Liverpool, England. At age twelve he entered the Liverpool Institute, where he eventually met Paul McCartney. By the late-Fifties, McCartney had introduced Harrison to John Lennon and the three began playing together in the Quarrymen, who gave way to the Silver Beetles, eventually settling on the Beatles, of which Harrison was the youngest member.
Harrison, often referred to as the “quiet Beatle,” played lead guitar for the group, in addition to writing and singing such songs as “I Need You,” “You Like Me Too Much” “Taxman,” “Love You To,” “Piggies,” “Savoy Truffle,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Something,” his only Beatles composition to chart (Number Three in 1969). “Something” proved to be one of Harrison’s most enduring compositions, undergoing hundreds of cover treatments by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Booker T. and the MGs and the O’Jays. Harrison also helped pen Cream’s single, “Badge,” with his friend Eric Clapton. He was also largely responsible for the Beatles’ incorporation of Far Eastern instrumentation into their mid-Sixties work.
Upon the breakup of the Beatles, Harrison promptly launched a solo career that he began in part in 1968 with the instrumental soundtrack Wonderwall Music. In November 1970, he released one of the most ambitious post-Beatles projects by any of the Fab Four’s members, the Phil Spector-produced, three-record set, All Things Must Pass. The album hit Number One and earned Harrison his first Number One single, “My Sweet Lord.” In 1971, he hosted a star-studded benefit concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden to aid the people of Bangladesh. The accompanying album, featuring Bob Dylan, Clapton, Ringo Starr and others won a Grammy.
Harrison continued to record, albeit with less success than his debut. He started his own Dark Horse label in 1974, and released a trio of albums in the late-Seventies through Dark Horse. In 1978 Harrison wed Olivia Arias, his second marriage (Harrison was married to Pattie Boyd from 1966 to 1974), and the two had a son, Dhani, that same year.
In 1981, “All Those Years Ago,” his tribute song to Lennon, who was shot to death in 1980, reached Number Two on the charts. By the late-Eighties, Harrison was making some of his most popular music in years. In 1987, he released Cloud Nine, his first studio album in half a decade. The Jeff Lynne-produced album was a hit, climbing as high as Number Eight and spawning two high-charting singles — “When We Was Fab” and a cover of the oldies gem “I Got My Mind Set On You,” which gave him his third Number One. A year later, Harrison joined Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Lynne to form the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. The band’s first release, Vol. 1, cracked the Top Fifty on the strength of the Harrison-sung first single, “Handle With Care.”
Though he didn’t do much recording, Harrison did spend a portion of the early-Nineties touring with Eric Clapton. In 1995, he reunited with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to record a pair of “new” Beatles tracks “Real Love” and “Free as a Bird.”
In 1997 Harrison — a longtime smoker — had a nodule removed from his lung after he discovered a lump on his neck. He underwent radiation therapy at Britain’s Royal Marsden Hospital and made a successful recovery. On December 30, 1999, a mentally ill man named Michael Abram broke into Harrison’s Oxfordshire estate and stabbed him repeatedly, nearly killing him. Harrison’s wife stopped the attacker.
Last year, Harrison recorded a new version of an old favorite, “My Sweet Lord 2000,” with his son Dhani, for inclusion on a reissue of All Things Must Pass. But his health woes continued into the millennium. In early May of this year, his attorneys revealed that he recently had a cancerous growth removed from one of his lungs during a visit to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, though Harrison issued a statement, saying, “I am feeling fine and I am really sorry for the unnecessary worry which has been caused by the reports appearing in today’s press.”
Harrison’s last known recording is “Horse to Water,” a single he co-wrote with Dhani and recorded with British TV host/bandleader Jools Holland, that is due for release next year.
Harrison is survived by both Olivia and Dhani.