The Untold Truth Of George Harrison

The Beatles is one of those bands that's almost a chameleon act. Never standing still, always morphing, surprising, creating, lightning caught in a bottle held by four very different young men from England. There are still people alive who remember the debates over Best Beatle: Paul was cute, John was intense, Ringo was goofy, and George was — what? What was George Harrison? The quiet one, by some accounts — except when he wasn't.

Harrison was the youngest of the Fab Four, joining Lennon and McCartney — he was an old school chum of McCartney's, who in turn had introduced him to Lennon for their band The Quarrymen, says Biography. By 1960 the band was The Beatles, and by 1962 had a new drummer, Ringo Starr, and a Top 20 hit in the UK, "Love Me Do." Harrison's guitar work led to an interest in the music of India, particularly the sitar, and he mastered the instrument. Even further, Harrison became interested in Eastern religious practices. He brought the band to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968, and continued to study live Hinduism the rest of his life, influencing his music as well.

George studied Eastern music with Ravi Shankar (right)

Lennon and McCartney's songwriting dominated the band's output at first. Some of Harrison's compositions were recorded and released, but ultimately, Harrison walked out in 1969. Lennon suggested Eric Clapton take Harrison's place — Clapton and Harrison were old friends — which didn't happen, as Biography also relates. The band breakup did happen, in 1970, each going their separate ways, engaged creatively and individually in various projects.

Harrison's albums charted well, and in 1971 he gathered friends from throughout the music industry, including former Beatle bandmate Ringo Starr, for two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden, the Concerts for Bangladesh, with proceeds aiding Bengali refugees from the Bangladesh Liberation War. The subsequent album and movie continue to raise money for UNICEF.

While Harrison was generally seen as the "quiet, thoughtful" Beatle, he had his mad side as well, reports Rolling Stone. He loved fast cars and collected high-end automobiles. He was deeply spiritual while owning a 120-room mansion. That had its upside: when the Monty Python comedy troupe lost funding as they were about to begin shooting The Life of Brian, Harrison mortgaged the property to produce the movie. According to Python Eric Idle, Harrison's response was, "I wanted to see the movie." It led to the formation of a production company responsible for movies by the Python alumni and others, including Time Bandits.

Cancer took George Harrison in 2001

Clearly a man who played well with others, Harrison teamed up with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lyne for The Traveling Wilburys. The "Wilbury" part came from Harrison's shrug over recording mishaps: "We'll bury 'em in the mix," he'd say, which became "wilbury," a catchphrase for minor imperfections in recording or performance.

George Harrison loved his family, music, Eastern mysticism, fast cars, and cigarettes. In 1998 he was treated successfully for throat cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer recurred in 2001. During lung surgery it was learned that the cancer had metastasized to his brain. He died November 29, with his wife, Olivia, and son, Dhani, beside him. A statement from the family, reported by Rolling Stone on December 3, said, "The profound beauty of George's passing — of his awakening from this dream — was no surprise to those of us who knew how he longed to be with God." George Harrison was 58 years old.