Ex-Beatle George Harrison dies after battling cancer

Saturday, December 1, 2001

LOSANGELES -- Paul McCartney called him "my baby brother." A fan thought him "quiet and nice and powerful." Musicians and music lovers on Friday mourned the death of George Harrison, the "quiet Beatle" who fit in famously, if not always happily, alongside his more colorful bandmates.

"I am devastated and very, very sad," McCartney told reporters outside his London home Friday. "He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby brother."

Harrison, at 58 the youngest Beatle, died at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at a friend's Los Angeles home after a battle with cancer, longtime friend Gavin De Becker told The Associated Press late Thursday. Harrison's wife, Olivia, and son Dhani, 24, were with him.

With Harrison's death, there remain two surviving Beatles, McCartney and Ringo Starr. John Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan in 1980.

Harder to define

The Beatles were four distinct personalities joined as a singular force in the rebellious 1960s, influencing everything from hair styles to music. Whether meditating, dropping acid or sending up the squares in the film "A Hard Day's Night," the band inspired millions.

The story of the Beatles was as much a story of their fans: the rebels who identified with Lennon, the girls who fell for Paul, the little kids who adored Ringo.

Harrison's appeal was harder to define. He wasn't the cleverest Beatle, that was John. Paul was the cutest and Ringo the most lovable. But there was something about Harrison -- the mysticism, the quiet competence, even the moodiness -- that endeared him to fans and musicians alike.

Edna McDonald, 49, from the Welsh mining town of Llanelli, recalled seeing the Beatles perform in Bristol, England, as a teen-ager. While her friends chose Paul McCartney as their favorite Beatle, she said she was drawn to Harrison.

"He was quiet, different from the others," McDonald, vacationing in New York, said softly at Strawberry Fields, a Lennon tribute site in Central Park. "I respected him more for that. I was always influenced by how he was a silent partner but had a lot of influence on the group. It showed me that you could be quiet and nice and powerful at the same time."

Ayessa Rourke, 43, a giraffe keeper at the Los Angeles Zoo, brought roses and wiped away tears at the Beatles star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"He was just a lovely person and a great example of what a human can do, and the great things we are all capable of," she said.

As the news of his death spread, radio stations played music by the Beatles and by Harrison, and fans grieved. They gathered at Strawberry Fields and left bouquets and tributes at the gate of Harrison's 19th century Gothic mansion in Henley-on-Thames in England.

Soured on Beatlemania

But Harrison never cared for all the attention. He preferred being a musician to being a star, and soon soured on Beatlemania -- the screaming girls, the hair-tearing mobs, the wild chases from limos to gigs and back to limos. Like Lennon, his memories of the Beatles were tempered by what he felt was lost in all the madness.

"There was never anything, in any of the Beatle experiences really, that good: even the best thrill soon got tiring," Harrison wrote in his 1979 book, "I, Me, Mine." "Your own space, man, it's so important. That's why we were doomed, because we didn't have any. We were like monkeys in a zoo."

Still, in a 1992 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Harrison confided: "We had the time of our lives: We laughed for years."

Harrison wasn't a guitar hero like Clapton or Jimi Hendrix -- that wasn't what the Beatles stood for. But his work, modeled on Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins among others, was essential.

He often blended with the band's joyous sound, but also rocked out wildly on "Long Tall Sally" and turned slow and dreamy on "Something." His jangly 12-string Rickenbacker was featured in "A Hard Day's Night" and helped inspire the Byrds, who used the instrument on their groundbreaking, folk-rock hit "Mr. Tambourine Man."

Although his songwriting was overshadowed by the great Lennon-McCartney team, Harrison did contribute such classics as "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something." He also taught the young Lennon how to play the guitar.

'I don't like your tie'

But he also had a wry sense of humor that helped shape the Beatles' irreverent charm, memorably complementing Lennon's cutting wit and Starr's cartoonish appeal.

At their first recording session under George Martin, the producer reportedly asked the young musicians to tell him if they didn't like anything. Harrison's response: "Well, first of all, I don't like your tie."

He was even funny about his own mortality. As reports of his failing health proliferated, Harrison recorded a new song -- "Horse to the Water" -- and credited it to "RIP Ltd. 2001."

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