Former Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison was stabbed in the chest as he fought off a knife-wielding intruder at his heavily secured mansion before dawn Thursday. In a disturbing echo of the assassination of bandmate John Lennon 19 years ago, the attack appeared to be the act of someone obsessed with the group.
Harrison, 56, was in stable condition with an inch-deep chest wound and was expected to return home in a few days, according to the surgeon who treated him at Harefield Hospital on the outskirts of London.
Harrison’s wife, Olivia, who suffered superficial wounds in the attack, reportedly hit the intruder over the head with a lamp. He was treated at a nearby hospital and released to police custody.
Police said they had arrested Michael Abram, 33, of the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, on suspicion of attempted murder. They later searched his Liverpool apartment.
Detective Chief Inspector Euan Read, who is leading the investigation for the Thames Valley Police, said a clear motive for the violence had not been established.
“What is very clear here is that this was quite a vicious attack on George Harrison and his wife. We are treating this very seriously,” Read said. “I am not at all sure this is a burglary that went wrong. I believe he came here deliberately.”
Abram’s mother, Lynda, said her son has a history of mental health problems related to drug addiction and recently had become obsessed with the Beatles.
“It’s the Beatles at the moment, but a few weeks ago it was [the pop band] Oasis. He has been running into pubs shouting about the Beatles,” she told the Liverpool Echo newspaper.
“He hates them and even believes they are witches and takes their lyrics seriously. He started to wear a Walkman to play music to stop the voices in his head,” she said, adding that he had talked about Paul McCartney more than Harrison.
Their bandmate Lennon was shot outside his New York City apartment building by Mark David Chapman, a crazed fan, on Dec. 8, 1980. After Lennon’s murder, Harrison said he didn’t like to be seen in public.
“After what happened to John, I’m absolutely terrified,” Harrison said in 1984.
Harrison had received written threats from stalkers in recent years, and in 1990 police arrested a man suspected of sending death threats to him.
Harrison had installed elaborate security measures at his home, including powerful lights, closed-circuit cameras, electronically controlled gates and a perimeter wall topped by razor wire. It was unclear how the intruder managed to get through the security network and into the Harrisons’ private quarters.
“Mr. Harrison would have been woken by breaking glass and would have gone downstairs to investigate that,” Read told reporters outside the mansion, a secluded former nunnery of more than 100 rooms on 34 acres in Henley on Thames, west of London.
Read said a life-and-death struggle ensued through more than three rooms before the couple pinned down the attacker and police could be called.
Dr. William Fountain, who treated Harrison, said that while “there’s no such thing as a safe stab wound to the chest,” the knife had missed vital arteries and organs.
Harrison suffered a minor collapse of the right lung, which was treated by the insertion of a chest drain.
“He’s in excellent spirits and certainly hasn’t lost his sense of humor,” Fountain said.
McCartney issued a statement from his own heavily guarded home in Sussex, south of London, saying that he was shocked by the attack on his former bandmate.
“Thank God both George and Olivia are all right,” McCartney said. “I send them all my love. I have no further comment to make.”
Ringo Starr, the other surviving Beatle, who divides his time between Monte Carlo and California, issued a statement through his spokesman, Geoff Baker, saying that he and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, sent the Harrisons “all our love and wish George a speedy recovery.”
Like the other Beatles, Harrison came from a working-class family in Liverpool in northwestern England. With singer-songwriters Lennon and McCartney and drummer Starr, he had a quick succession of hits in the early 1960s, “Beatlemania” spread like wildfire, and the Beatles became the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll band.
In Liverpool on Thursday, flowers and messages from Beatles fans quickly piled up around a bronze statue of the Fab Four when news of the knife attack spread.
Although he played second fiddle to Lennon and McCartney, Harrison contributed “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to the Beatles’ oeuvre before having a huge solo hit with “My Sweet Lord.” Harrison lost a plagiarism case for unconsciously copying the single “He’s So Fine” to create “My Sweet Lord.”
Harrison also organized a concert in New York City for Bangladeshi refugees, produced films that included Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and teamed with old friends--including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the late Roy Orbison--as the band the Traveling Wilburys.
Harrison married British model Patti Boyd in 1966, but she left him for his longtime friend, guitarist Eric Clapton. Harrison and his current wife married in 1978 and have a son, Dhani, who is 21.
In 1998, Harrison disclosed that he had been battling throat cancer for more than a year. He had surgery to remove a lump in his neck and underwent radiation therapy--an experience he said made him think about the fragility of life.
“It reminds you that anything can happen,” he told the tabloid News of the World.