George Harrison, lead guitarist for the band that changed the face of rock forever, lost his battle with cancer Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 58. The Associated Press reports that Harrison passed away at 4:30 p.m. ET at a friend’s home. His wife, Olivia Harrison, and 23-year-old son Dhani were with him.
The Beatles, unlike most bands of the early ’60s, both wrote and performed their songs, and led the way for generations of bands and singer/songwriters to come in this regard. Even today, few superstar acts can take credit for penning all their hits, but from writing the lyrics and music to recording in three-part harmony, the Beatles did it all.
As the lead guitarist in a group for which the guitar solos weren’t the most striking aspect, it’s no wonder Harrison was known as “the quiet Beatle.” But along with well-constructed, rockabilly-rooted solos, he also contributed the occasional lead vocal on early Beatles recordings such as “Roll Over Beethoven” and “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You.” And while not as prolific as the legendary songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Harrison wrote, and sang, such Beatles classics as “Taxman,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something.”
Throughout their seven-year recording career (1963-1970), the Fab Four changed with the turbulent times, beginning as clean-cut mop-tops and moving into far-out psychedelic harbingers and laid-back bohemians. Their music adapted, too, eliciting screams from fans of early pop hits such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” before confounding deep-thinkers with the mysterious “I Am the Walrus” and blowing the minds of future metalheads with “Helter Skelter.”
Harrison first sat in with Lennon and McCartney’s high school band the Quarrymen, when he was just 15. A year later he became a full-fledged member, and the group, which also featured Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums, changed their name to the Silver Beatles. By 1960, the moniker was cropped simply to the Beatles.
Sutcliffe left the band in 1961, forfeiting bass duties unto McCartney, and Ringo Starr later replaced Best on drums in 1962. The following year, the Beatles as we know them released their first single, “Love Me Do” b/w “P.S. I Love You.”
Beatlemania held the world rapt from 1963 to 1966, a period that found the band issuing nearly two dozen releases, including singles, imports, compilations and the classic LPs Please Please Me (1963), With the Beatles (1963), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! (1965), Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966).
Harrison was one of the first rock musicians to experiment with traditional Indian music, a genre previously unexplored by pop musicians. In 1965, he studied under sitar master Ravi Shankar and employed the antiquated stringed instrument on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” off 1965’s Rubber Soul.
After encounters with the spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late ’60s, Harrison’s interest in Eastern religion became a matter of lifelong devotion, and he blazed a trail still followed by artists such as the Beastie Boys and Perry Farrell.
When the Beatles vowed never to tour again in 1968, Harrison focused on his songwriting and musicianship, penning “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for 1968’s self-titled White Album and “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something,” the first Harrison song released as a Beatles A-side, for 1969’s Abbey Road.
After the Beatles called it quits in 1970, Harrison released his three-disc, Phil Spector-produced opus All Things Must Pass, whose “My Sweet Lord” became the first post-Beatles solo offering to top the singles chart.
A year later, he founded rock’s first major charity event, the Concert for Bangladesh, two shows held at New York’s Madison Square Garden to raise money for the country, which was stricken with famine as a result of the India-Pakistan War. Backing Harrison at the concerts on All Things Must Pass selections as well as Beatles classics were Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and members of Badfinger.
A string of solo albums followed without making much mainstream impact, until the spotlight revisited him with 1981’s Somewhere in England. The album featured “All Those Years Ago,” a memorial to Lennon, who was murdered December 8, 1980 by a deranged fan.
Harrison kept relatively quiet throughout the mid-’80s, resurfacing toward the end of the decade with 1987’s Cloud Nine and the pop-charting single “Got My Mind Set on You,” which was accompanied by a music video that found Harrison, alone indoors, strumming his guitar amidst the room’s swaying furnishings.
He impacted the charts again in 1988 as part of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys, along with Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
In 1995, he collaborated with the surviving Beatles, McCartney and Starr, on the “new” Beatles song “Free As a Bird” for the compilation Anthology 1, and did the same on “Real Love” for 1996’s Anthology 2.
Harrison was also an acclaimed movie producer, and his Handmade Films, which he sold in 1994, was responsible for such British comedies as “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” and Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits.”
In December 1999, an intruder broke into Harrison’s home and stabbed him. His second wife, Olivia, was also injured in the attack (see "George Harrison
Recovering After Stabbing" ).
The former Beatle checked into Staten Island University Hospital in New York earlier this month. Harrison had since been undergoing a rare form of radiation therapy, known as fractionated sterotactic radiosurgery, which hits tumors with high doses of radiation while leaving the surrounding, healthy tissue unaffected, according to Dr. Gil Lederman, the hospital’s director of radiation oncology.
Staten Island University Hospital specializes in the radical practice, treating 10 to 30 patients a day, Lederman said.
Harrison had a malignant lump removed from his neck in 1997 (see
“George Harrison Winning Cancer Fight” ), and a cancerous one taken from his lung
in April (see "George Harrison Recovering From Cancer Surgery" ). In June, he began undergoing radiation treatment for the brain tumor that brought about
his death (see "George Harrison Says He’s ’Fine’ After Cancer
While enduring his bouts with the disease, Harrison maintained his sense of humor, recording a new song, “Horse to the Water,” and crediting it to “RIP Ltd. 2001.”
George Harrison is survived by Olivia, his son Dhani, his brother Peter and his sister Lou.
An informal memorial service is taking place Friday (November 30) in New York, at Central Park’s Strawberry Fields.
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