“Will you still love me, will you still need me, when I’m 64?”
So sang the Beatles. Only two of the four Beatles attained that magic age of 64. If George Harrison had not died in 2001, he would be 64 years old today.
George was born in Liverpool, England in 1943. His family’s record of his birth says that George was born at 12:10 a.m. on February 25th, but the doctor’s record reports the birth occurred at 11:40 p.m. on February 24th.
George Harrison met Paul McCartney in Grammar School. They both lived in the same public housing area in Liverpool. Paul introduced George to John Lennon and they formed a band called The Quarrymen ( or Quarry Men, depending on the source ) in 1958, later the Silver Beetles, and finally, in 1960, The Beatles. Initially, John was against Paul’s request that George be allowed to join the group. John thought George, at 14, looked even younger, and would hurt their chances at meeting girls. Once he heard George play the guitar he relented.
Although George’s guitar solos with the early Beatles was under the strict instruction of first Paul and then also manager George Martin, by the end of the 1960s George was known as an innovative guitar virtuoso in professional circles.
George was known as the “quiet Beatle” because of his air of introspection and trait of not speaking at press conferences. He was a favorite of many female fans, though. At concerts the stage was often showered with jelly beans after George commented in an interview that they were his favorite candy.
George not only played guitar but also sang lead on all the Beatles’ songs he wrote, which included “Don’t Bother Me,” “I Need You,” and “You Like Me Too Much.” He also sang lead on other hits such as “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You.”
David Crosby of The Byrds, and later Crosby, Stills & Nash, introduced George to Ravi Shankir and the sitar in 1965. George became fascinated with the instrument and Indian classical music in general. The sitar was first played on a western pop song when George played it on “Norwegian Wood” for the Rubber Soul album. Soon after, George became a Hindu.
George Harrison became good friends with Cream guitarist Eric Clapton in 1968. In fact, Harrison wrote “Here Comes The Sun” while sitting in Clapton’s yard. Clapton was a guest player on The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Tensions among The Beatles increased in 1968 and 1969. George’s most successful Beatles song was recorded during this time for the Abbey Road album, and was titled “Something.” George left the group in 1969 but came back after being persuaded by the other members. The group finally split up for good in 1970. Several reasons for the break-up have been reported in various books. Each of The Beatles had his own interpretation.
Harrison was the first rock star to organize a charity concert event with The Concert For Bangladesh in 1971. He was the first rock artist to publish a three-record solo album with “All Things Must Pass.” The biggest hit of the album was “My Sweet Lord.” He was sued over the tune by the owners of the song “He’s So Fine,” recorded by the Chiffons. They claimed George had stolen the first bar of the song for “My Sweet Lord.” Harrison denied intentionally stealing the music but lost the court case in 1976.
In 1980, George became the only ex-Beatle to write an autobiography, “I Me Mine.” Just after the murder of John Lennon in 1980, Harrison wrote the song “All Those Years Ago.” It reached #2 on the charts in the U.S. and #1 in the U.K.
In the late 1980s George was instrumental in forming The Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was released under the false names of the sons of Charles Wilbury. Later the public discovered who the Wilburys really were. Roy Orbison died in 1988. Del Shannon was approached to replace him in the group, but committed suicide in 1990. The Wilburys came to an end.
George was married to model Patty Boyd in 1969 and is said to have written the song, “Something,” in her honor. Eric Clapton, Harrison’s best friend at the time, fell in love with Patty and poured out his feelings to her in the song “Layla.” Patty left George and married Eric Clapton. Still friends, the two referred to themselves as “husbands-in-law.”
George married a second time, to a woman named Olivia Arias. Together they had one son, Dhani. Dhani reportedly bears a startling resemblance to his late father.
A former heavy smoker, George battled lung cancer throughout the 1990s. In 1999 George survived a knife attack by an intruder in his home. The man who stabbed him multiple times thought he was on a mission from God to kill Harrison. The man was later found not guilty by reason of insanity. The attack traumatized Harrison to the point that he would rarely make public appearances after the incident.
In 2001 Harrison’s cancer metastasized and he spent the final month of his life close to his family and worked on a collaboration with his son Dhani, which was released after his death. He also reportedly made peace with Paul McCartney shortly before he passed away on November 29, 2001, at the age of 58. He was cremated and it is thought his ashes were scattered on the Ganges River in India, but his family has never disclosed the disposition of his ashes.
I remember seeing The Beatles for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was 9 and my older sister Nancy, 16. She thought they were “neat,” so I did, too. The first record album I owned was “Meet The Beatles.” My favorite Beatles’ album was “Rubber Soul.” George and Paul traded places continuously in my ‘favorite Beatle’ list. I was saddened by his death in 2001 and I hope he is at peace and making beautiful music still.