George Harrison Dead at 58

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George Harrison

George Harrison in London, May 1998
Photo: Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited

Nov. 30, 2001 -- George Harrison, the "quiet Beatle" often thought of as the soul of the Fab Four, died Thursday of cancer. He was 58.

Harrison died at a friend's home in Los Angeles, his wife Olivia and son Dhani, 24, at his side. "He left the world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends," the family said in a statement.

"I'm devastated and very, very sad" Paul McCartney told reporters in London Friday.

McCartney and John Lennon, the Beatles' two charismatic frontmen and principal songwriters, got most of the attention. But Harrison, the youngest Beatle -- who played lead guitar and wrote memorable songs such as "Something," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes the Sun" -- was considered by many to be the group's most thoughtful, spiritual member. His signature guitar style, owing both to blues and early rock and roll, gave the Beatles' music a distinctive character.

There will be plenty of chances over the next few days to hear songs like "Something," "Here Comes the Sun" and "My Sweet Lord." So here we present some of Harrison's work that is somewhat lesser-known, but still highly regarded.

• From the Beatles album Rubber Soul

"If I Needed Someone"

• From the Beatles album Revolver

"Love You Too"

"I Want to Tell You"

• From the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

"Within You Without You"

• From the Beatles album The Beatles ("The White Album")


• From the George Harrison album All Things Must Pass

"Run of the Mill"

"Apple Scruffs"

"The Art of Dying"

Observers say it was largely Harrison's influence (along with that of his friend Bob Dylan) that led Lennon and McCartney to write more poetic, relevant, and complex pieces of music. Harrison's work with Indian musician Ravi Shankar led to the Beatles adding the sound of the sitar to several of their songs, including "Norweigan Wood."

As the Beatles moved from simple love songs of the "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" variety into more ambitious work such as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," Harrison took on more songwriting duties. On the Beatles' later albums, he generally had penned one or two of the cuts. But he still felt unsatisfied with his ability to get his own songs produced. In April 1970, after Paul McCartney announced he would leave the Beatles, the group broke up. By the end of the year, Harrison had released a triple album, All Things Must Pass, filled with songs including the hit "My Sweet Lord." (He later lost a copyright infringement lawsuit because of the song's similarity to the 1962 Chiffons hit "He's So Fine.")

Harrison followed his solo album debut with a star-studded benefit concert. In August 1971 he organized The Concert for Bangladesh, a two-day event at New York's Madison Square Garden to help raise money to help that poverty-stricken country. The event was the first of its kind, and set the stage for later events such as Live Aid. A movie and a triple album documenting the event were later released.

Though he continued to release albums, Harrison slowly withdrew from the spotlight over the ensuing years. Those who knew him said he simply was more interested in his private life -- including a passion for automobiles and his garden -- than he was in playing the star game.

After John Lennon was murdered in 1980, Harrison released the album Somewhere in England, which featured the hit commemoration "All Those Years Ago."

The Beatles

The Beatles in the early 60s -- clockwise from top left, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Harrison.
Photo: Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited

Around the same time, he launched a movie production company, Handmade Films, which was instrumental in distributing the movie Life of Brian, made by his friends in the Monty Python troupe.

In the late 1980s, Harrison drew attention both for his album Cloud Nine, which included the hit cover "Got My Mind Set on You," and for his work with the Traveling Wilburys. The Wilburys was a supergroup that included Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Harrison. They released two albums and the smash single "Handle With Care."

In 1998, Harrison said he had been treated, effectively, for throat cancer; he blamed the illness on his longtime smoking habit. In 1999, a deranged intruder in Harrison's London home stabbed Harrison in the chest several times, causing life-threatening injuries. Again, he recovered.

Earlier this year, Harrison's public learned that he was again suffering from cancer. After the disclosure, he addressed his fans in typical fashion, telling them they shouldn’t worry about him -- that he was unafraid of death, and at peace.

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Other Resources

All Songs Considered tribute to George Harrison.

George Harrison discography and song lyrics.

Internet Movie Database profile of Harrison's film career.

Harrison timeline Read a timeline of Harrison's life and career