George Harrison, lead guitarist for the band that single handedly 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. EST at a friend’s home. His wife, Olivia Harrison, and son Dhani were with him.
The Beatles, unlike most bands of the early ’60s, both wrote and performed their songs, making them the first entirely self-contained music outfit. 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 hits like “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 like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” before confounding deep-thinkers with the mysterious “I Am The Walrus” and blowing the minds of heavy metal pioneers with “Helter Skelter.”
Harrison first sat in with Lennon and McCartney’s high school band the Quarry Men, when he was only 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, which was soon shortened to simply the Beatles, by 1960.
After Sutcliffe departured in 1961 (leaving McCartney to take over bass duties,) and Ringo Starr replaced Best on drums, the Beatles released their first single, “Love Me Do” b/w P.S. I Love You” in September 1962.
From 1963 to 1966, Beatlemania was at its peak, and the band issued 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).
In 1965, Harrison became one of the first rock musicians to experiment with Indian music, studying with sitar master Ravi Shankar and employing the instrument on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” off 1965’s Rubber Soul.
After encounters with the Maharishi in the late ’60s, Harrison’s interest in Eastern religion became a matter of lifelong devotion, and he blazed a spiritual trail still followed today by artists such as the Beastie Boys and Perry Farrell.
When the Beatles vowed never to tour in 1968, Harrison focused on his songwriting and musicianship, penning “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for 1968’s White Album and “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something,” the first Harrison song released as a single’s A-side,” for 1969’s Abbey Road.
After the Beatles called it quits in 1970, Harrison released his 3-disc, Phil Spector-produced opus All Things Must Pass, whose “My Sweet Lord” became the first post-Beatles solo offering to top the singles charts.
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 famine-stricken country. Backing Harrison 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 1981’s Somewhere In England, which featured “All Those Years Ago,” a memorial to Lennon, who was murdered a year prior on December 8.
Harrison kept relatively quiet throughout the mid-’80s, resurfacing on 1987’s Cloud Nine with the pop-charting single “Got My Mind Set On You,” which was even accompanied by a music video that found Harrison, alone indoors, strumming his guitar amidst the room’s swaying furnishings.
He impacted the charts once again in 1998, as part of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys, along with Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
In 1995, he collaborated with his Beatles bandmates McCartney and Starr on the “new” Beatles songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” for the compilation Anthology 1.
On December 1999, a mentally ill, former heroin addict broke into Harrison’s home and stabbed him and his second wife Olivia.
Harrison was also an acclaimed movie producer, and his Handmade Films was responsible for such British comedies as Monty Python’s “Life Of Brian” and Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits.”
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 10-30 patients a day as opposed to other hospitals’ five patients, Lederman said.
He had a malignant lump removed from his neck in 1997, and a cancerous one taken from his lung in April. He began undergoing radiation treatment for the brain tumor that brought about his death in June.
George Harrison is survived by Olivia, his son Dhani, his brother Peter and his sister Lou.