George Harrison: What Is Life?

Forever known as the quiet Beatle, George Harrison was more an observer, a thinker, an innovator, and a man who was truly unafraid to try new things. George was also the youngest Beatle but was very much an old soul.

Harrison’s love of music started in the womb, with his mother playing music from Radio India. Biographer Joshua Green said, “Every Sunday she tuned in to mystical sounds evoked by sitars and tablas, hoping that the exotic music would bring peace and calm to the baby in the womb.” This form of music would figure heavily in his music later in life.

Harrison first became part of The Quarrymen with Paul McCartney and John Lennon, which would later become The Beatles. In March 1958, he auditioned for them, but Lennon felt that Harrison, having just turned 15, was too young to join the band. Not to be denied, McCartney arranged a second meeting, during which Harrison impressed Lennon by performing the lead guitar part for the instrumental “Raunchy.” Lennon then reluctantly accepted the younger Harrison as a peer and allowed him to join the band.

Because Harrison was often serious and focused while on stage with the band, Harrison was tagged as “the quiet Beatle.” The moniker actually amused Harrison, who was far more gregarious than the name suggests. Harrison served as the Beatles’ scout for new American releases, being especially knowledgeable about music, especially soul music.

By late 1966, the musically diverse Harrison’s interests had moved away from the Beatles, and into more esoteric sounds, such as the sitar. While Harrison continued to grow as a songwriter, his compositional presence on Beatles albums remained limited to two or three songs, increasing his frustration, and significantly contributing to the band’s break-up in 1970.

For many years, Harrison was restricted in his songwriting contributions to the Beatles’ albums, however that didn’t stop him from writing his own compositions. In 1970, he released “All Things Must Pass,” a triple album, with two discs of his songs and the third of recordings of Harrison jamming with friends. Harrison later stated, “It’s just something that was like my continuation from the Beatles, really. It was me sort of getting out of the Beatles and just going my own way … it was a very happy occasion.”

Harrison went on to record more material through the 70s, and released the 1972 live album “A Concert for Bangladesh,” another triple album credited to George Harrison and Friends. A concert film of the event was also released, and the album went on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year for ‘72.

While Harrison released several albums in the 70s, a powerful combination of drugs and disenchantment would make him take a step back. The murder of John Lennon in 1980 was a very deep, personal loss for Harrison. In the days following, Harrison commented: “After all we went through together, I had and still have great love and respect for John Lennon. I am shocked and stunned.” Harrison then modified the lyrics of a song he had written in order to make the song a tribute to Lennon. “All Those Years Ago”, which included vocal contributions from Paul and Linda McCartney, as well as Ringo Starr’s original drum part.

Harrison then stepped back for a few years, with his worries about stalkers being a big part of his decision to take time away. He made several personal appearances, and wrote more music during this reflective period, before releasing “Cloud Nine” in late 1987. The album was co-produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO fame.

He also had several collaborative efforts during this period, one of which resulted in the supergroup “Traveling Wilburys” with Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Lynne. The Wilburys never performed live, and the group only recorded two albums. Aside from a few appearances, Harrison would only tour live again once in 1991 with Eric Clapton in Japan.

In 1997, Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he attributed to years of smoking. He was treated with radiation therapy, which at the time, was thought to be successful.

In 1999, Harrison’s worst fears would come true, when Michael Abram, a 34-year-old man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, broke in and attacked Harrison with a kitchen knife, puncturing a lung and causing head injuries before Olivia Harrison incapacitated the assailant by striking him repeatedly with a fireplace poker and a lamp. Following the attack, Harrison was hospitalized with more than 40 stab wounds, and part of his punctured lung was removed.

A year after the attack, Harrison once again was quietly treated for cancer, which had returned. Those in his social circle believed that the attack brought about a huge change in him and was the cause for his cancer’s return. After a growth on his lung was removed, and he was treated for a brain tumor, in November 2001, he began radiotherapy at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City for non-small cell lung cancer that had spread to his brain. When the news was made public, Harrison was dismayed by his physician’s breach of privacy, and his estate later claimed damages.

Harrison died on November 29, 2001 at age 58, in a home belonging to Paul McCartney in Los Angeles. He was surrounded by family and loved ones. His final statement was “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.”

A final album was released posthumously by his son, Dhani, and Jeff Lynne, with the liner notes reading “There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be.”

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].