George Harrison, the "quiet Beatle" who added both rock 'n' roll flash and a touch of the mystic to the band's timeless magic, has died. He was 58.
Harrison died at 1:30 p.m. yesterday at a friend's Los Angeles home following a battle with cancer, longtime friend Gavin De Becker told the Associated Press late yesterday. Harrison's wife, Olivia Harrison, and son, Dhani, 24, were with him.
"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.'"
With the death of Harrison, the band's lead guitarist, there remain two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. John Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan in 1980.
"I am devastated and very, very sad," 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 brother."
In a statement, Starr 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 of laughter."
It wasn't immediately known if there would be a public funeral for Harrison. A private ceremony had already taken place, De Becker said. He wouldn't release details.
In 1998, Harrison, who was once a heavy smoker, disclosed that he had been treated for throat cancer. "It reminds you that anything can happen," he said at the time. The following year, Harrison survived an attack by an intruder who stabbed him several times. In July 2001, he released a statement asking fans not to worry about reports that he was still battling cancer.
The Beatles were four distinct personalities joined as a singular force in the rebellious 1960s, influencing everything from hair styles to music. Whether dropping acid, exploring Eastern mysticism, proclaiming "All You Need is Love," or sending up the squares in the film "A Hard Day's Night," the Beatles inspired millions.
Harrison's guitar work, modeled on Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins among others, was essential.
He often blended with the band's joyous sound, but also rocked out wildly on "Long Tall Sally" and turned slow and dreamy on "Something." His jangly 12-string Rickenbacker was featured in "A Hard Day's Night."
They had their first No. 1 hit single in England, "Please Please Me," in 1963 and conquered the United States the following year through their appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show." In 1999, a survey of American journalists and scholars to find the century's top news stories ranked the 1964 U.S. visit at No. 58.
Originally considered a teen fad in the U.S. press, they eventually became the first rock group to get serious critical attention. In 1965, Life magazine said musical embellishments in their songs "are so adroitly done that musicologists openly wonder if the British lads know what on earth they are doing."
Although his songwriting was overshadowed by the great Lennon-McCartney team, Harrison did contribute such classics as "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something." Harrison also taught the young Lennon how to play the guitar.
"As he said himself, how do you compare with the genius of John and Paul? But he did, very well," rock star and activist Bob Geldof told BBC radio.
His image as the "quiet Beatle" was summed up in the first song he wrote for the band, "Don't Bother Me," which appeared on the group's second album.
But Harrison also had a wry sense of humor that helped shape the Beatles' irreverent charm, memorably fitting in alongside Lennon's cutting wit and Starr's cartoonish appeal.
At their first recording session under George Martin, the producer reportedly asked the young musicians to tell him if they didn't like anything. Harrison's response: "Well, first of all, I don't like your tie." Asked by a reporter what he called the Beatles' famous moptop hairstyle, he quipped, "Arthur."
He always preferred being a musician to being a star, and he soon soured on Beatlemania -- the screaming girls, the wild chases from limos to gigs and back to limos. Like Lennon, his memories of the Beatles were often tempered by what he felt was lost in all the madness.
"There was never anything, in any of the Beatle experiences really, that good: even the best thrill soon got tiring ...," Harrison wrote in his 1979 book, "I, Me, Mine." "Your own space, man, it's so important. That's why we were doomed, because we didn't have any. We were like monkeys in a zoo."
Still, in a 1992 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Harrison confided: "We had the time of our lives: We laughed for years."
"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," Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, said today.
After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison had sporadic success. He organized the concert for Bangladesh in New York, produced films that included Monty Python's "Life of Brian" and teamed with old friends, including Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison, as "The Traveling Wilburys."
Harrison was born Feb. 25, 1943, in Liverpool, one of four children of Harold and Louise Harrison. His father, a former ship's steward, became a bus conductor soon after his marriage.
Harrison was 13 when he bought his first guitar and befriended Paul at their school. McCartney introduced him to Lennon, who had founded a band called the Quarry Men -- Harrison was allowed to play if one of the regulars didn't show up.
"When I joined, he didn't really know how to play the guitar; he had a little guitar with three strings on it that looked like a banjo," Harrison once recalled of Lennon.
"I put the six strings on and showed him all the chords -- it was actually me who got him playing the guitar. He didn't object to that, being taught by someone who was the baby of the group. John and I had a very good relationship from very early on."
Harrison evolved as both musician and songwriter. He became interested in the sitar while making the 1965 film "Help!" and introduced it to a generation of Western listeners on "Norwegian Wood," a song by Lennon from the "Rubber Soul" album. He also began contributing more of his own material.
Among his compositions were "I Need You" for the soundtrack of "Help"; "If I Needed Someone" on "Rubber Soul"; "Taxman" and "Love You To" on "Revolver"; "Within You, Without You" on "Sgt. Pepper"; and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on the White Album.
In 1966, he married model Patti Boyd, who had a bit part in "A Hard Day's Night." (They divorced in 1977, and she married Harrison's friend, the guitarist Eric Clapton. Harrison attended the wedding.)
More than any of the Beatles, Harrison craved a little quiet. Late in 1966, after the Beatles had ceased touring, he went to India, where he studied the sitar with Ravi Shankar.
In 1967, Harrison introduced the other Beatles to the teaching of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and all four took up transcendental meditation. Harrison was the only one who remained a follower.
"For every human there is a quest to find the answer to why am I here, who am I, where did I come from, where am I going," he once said. "For me that became the most important thing in my life, everything else is secondary."
By the late '60s, Harrison was clearly worn out from being a Beatle and openly bickered with McCartney, arguing with him on camera during the filming of "Let It Be."
As the Beatles grew apart, Harrison collaborated with Clapton on the song "Badge," performed with Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and produced his most acclaimed solo work, the triple album "All Things Must Pass." The sheer volume of material on that 1970 release confirmed the feelings of Harrison fans that he was being stifled in the Beatles.
But one of those songs, the hit "My Sweet Lord," later drew Harrison into a lawsuit, which he lost, by the copyright owner of "He's So Fine."
Another Harrison project also led to legal problems. Moved by the starvation caused by the war between Bangladesh and Pakistan, Harrison in 1971 staged two benefit concerts at New York and recruited such performers as Starr, Shankar, Clapton and Dylan.
Anticipating such later superstar benefits as Live Aid, the Bangladesh concerts were also a cautionary tale about counterculture bookkeeping. Although millions were raised and the three-record concert release won a Grammy for album of the year, allegations emerged over mishandling of funds and the money long stayed in escrow.
Despite the occasional hit single, including the Lennon tribute song "All Those Years Ago," Harrison's solo career did not live up to expectations. Reviewing a greatest hits compilation, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau likened him to a "borderline hitter they can pitch around after the sluggers [Lennon and McCartney] are traded away."
Harrison's family life was steadier. He married Olivia Arias in 1978, a month after Dhani was born.
The next year, Harrison founded Handmade Films to produce Monty Python's "Life of Brian." He sold the company for $8.5 million in 1994.
"George wasn't head in the clouds all the time. When it came to business and all that he was feet very much on the ground," Michael Palin of Monty Python's Flying Circus told BBC radio.
The dark side of fame continued to follow Harrison. In 1999, he was stabbed several times by a man who broke into his home west of London. The man, who thought the Beatles were witches and believed himself on a divine mission to kill Harrison, was acquitted by reason of insanity.
But success came the following year when the compilation of Beatles No. 1 singles, "1," sold millions of copies.
"The thing that pleases me the most about it is that young people like it," Harrison said in an interview with the AP. "I think the popular music has gone truly weird. It's either cutesy-wutesy or it's hard, nasty stuff. It's good that this has life again with the youth."
John Chambers, of the Liverpool Beatles Appreciation Society, said Harrison's death was the end of an era for Beatles fans.
"Until now there has always been the hope of a reunion, perhaps with Julian Lennon standing in for his Dad," Chambers said. "It really is the end of a dream."
At Harrison's mansion near London, fans left bunches of roses and lilies. One note read: "The world will never be the same"; another said: "The music, the rock 'n' roll life you led won't be forgotten."
Fans in New York began gathering before dawn Friday at Strawberry Fields, a section of Central Park created in memory of Lennon, who was shot outside his apartment nearby.
"I just decided to buy a bottle of wine and some roses at the corner and head over here," said restaurateur John Soler, 38.
Added Pete Degan, 42: "It's a sad day for rock 'n' roll."
Associated Press writers Robert Barr in London and Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.
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