He wrote one of the most covered songs in Beatles history ("Something"), and was the first ex-member of the legendary pop group to score a chart-topping single ("My Sweet Lord"), but George Harrison's most enduring persona will forever be that of the "Quiet Beatle," and he seemed to prefer it that way.
"Throughout his post-Beatles career, he made it very clear he didn't need fame," says Joe Levy, music editor for Rolling Stone. "He often said his ego was satisfied and that he got everything he ever wanted. That's an extremely rare thing for a rock star. They usually get what they want, and then want it over and over again. But that's not who he was."
Harrison, who died at 1:30 pm Thursday at a friend's home in Los Angeles after battling cancer, was born on February 24, 1943 in Liverpool, England. He began playing guitar at age 13, inspired by the music of British skiffle king Lonnie Donegan and the encouragement of schoolmate Paul McCartney. McCartney then introduced Harrison to John Lennon, who had formed a group called the Quarrymen, and invited him to sit in.
Years later, during testimony in a 1998 court case against the owner of a bootleg Beatles recording, Harrison recalled his early days with Lennon: "When I joined, he didn't really know how to play guitar. He had a little guitar with three strings on it that looked like a banjo. I put the six strings on and showed him all the chords. It was actually me who got him playing the guitar. He didn't object to that, being taught by someone who was the baby of the group. John and I had a very good relationship from very early on."
The trio, who later changed their name to the Beatles and enlisted drummer/fellow Liverpool native Ringo Starr, would go on to change the face of modern music, ultimately becoming the barometer by which all pop phenomenons are now measured. Although the Beatles broke up in 1970, their popularity endures, as evidenced by the chart-topping success of last year's Beatles 1, a compendium of the group's most popular hits.
"We had the time of our lives," Harrison confided during a 1992 interview with London's Daily Telegraph. "We laughed for years."
Though Lennon and McCartney each went on to greater solo success, it was Harrison, the youngest Beatle, who first struck gold. In 1971, the famed disciple of Eastern mysticism landed a No. 1 hit with "My Sweet Lord." Unfortunately, he was later sued for plagiarizing the 1962 Chiffons hit, "He's So Fine." Harrison went on to organize the concert for Bangladesh in New York City, produced various films (including Monty Python's Life of Brian) and later joined Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison in The Traveling Wilburys. Harrison recently co-wrote "Horse to the Water" with his 24-year-old son, Dhani. The song appears on Small World Big Band, the new album from Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland. There was talk that Harrison was working on a new solo album, his first studio release since 1987's Cloud Nine. "His death is a tremendous loss," says Levy. "And it's very sad to think we may never get a chance to hear that music."
In 1999, Harrison was nearly killed after being stabbed several times by an intruder who broke into his home. The man, who claimed the Beatles were witches, was later acquitted by reason of insanity. Although he survived the ordeal, Harrison had been diagnosed with throat cancer the year before. It eventually spread to his brain.
With Harrison's death and John's murder in 1980, McCartney and Starr remain the only two surviving Beatles. "George was a best friend of mine," said Starr. "I loved him very much and I will miss him greatly. We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter." Speaking to reporters outside his London home, McCartney said that Harrison's passing has left him "devastated and very, very sad. 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's family issued a statement saying: "He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said, 'Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.'"
George Harrison is survived by his wife Olivia, his son Dhani, his brother Peter and his sister Lou.
Thirty-three years after writing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the world mourns his passing.