Best known as ‘the quiet one’ in The Beatles, George Harrison’s diligent and progressively groundbreaking guitar work was essential to the band sound and was one of the things keeping them on the cutting edge of creativity and one step ahead of their rivals.
Despite not being confident enough in his song writing to pen many songs during the Beatles reign, George flourished in the bands formative years and after they all went their separate ways.
Never been one to brag or boast about his considerable achievements, he elected to live a quieter life after the 60’s. While John was protesting and rattling the establishment, Paul was forging a new name for himself with 70’s rock band Wings and Ringo was focussing on acting, George was content to stay at home pursuing other hobbies including gardening, cars and Formula 1 racing.
However his true passion was always music and he remained active in the recording studio both as a solo artist and with the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys which he formed with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.
A little known fact about George Harrison was that he was a very big fan of comedy and completely self financed the comedy group Monty Python’s seminal movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and even cameos in a scene. Remaining close friends with the group of comedians after working with them, they made an appearance at his tribute concert in 2002 to sing a rousing rendition of Sit On My Face and The Lumberjack Song. A perfect moment of inappropriate humour. Brilliant.
Sadly in 1997 George was diagnosed with throat cancer, which was treated with radiotherapy. While the initial signs were that it had worked and the cancer was in remission, in 2001 he had a cancerous growth removed from one of his lungs and shortly after went to Switzerland to receive treatment on a brain tumour.
By early November of 2001, he was receiving radiotherapy for lung cancer that had spread to the brain. The three surviving Beatles met in New York City on November 12th for a last meal together, and 16 days later George died with his family around him.
As millions of fans around the world heard the news and began mourning, George’s family released a statement saying: “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’.”
In the following days the two remaining Beatles spoke to the press. From his St John’s Wood home Paul McCartney said “I’m devastated, very, very sad. We knew he’d been ill for a long time. He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humour. He is really just my baby brother. I loved him very much and I will miss him greatly.”
Ringo Starr was interviewed in Vancouver, saying “We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter.”
There were also other emotional tributes from John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, Beatles producer George Martin, Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair. The people had lost a musical icon, one of the greatest, most influential guitarists the world had ever seen.
But speaking at George’s posthumous induction to the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, Eric Idle summed George and his life up perfectly in his own typically wry and witty way:
“What made George special – apart from his being the best guitarist in the Beatles – was what he did with his life after they achieved everything. He realized that this fame business was – and I’ll use the technical philosophical term here – complete bullshit. And he turned to find beauty and truth and meaning in life – and more extraordinarily – found it.”
I think that just about says it all.
Happy birthday, George.
Rest in peace.