George Harrison: The Shy Beatle No More

George Harrison. Is there a person alive who doesn’t know who this man is or the band that he was once such an integral part of? Although the Beatles broke up over 40 years ago, their music, legacy and mythology lives in. HBO will air a documentary by Martin Scorsese about the life of George Harrison entitled, Living in the Material World on October 5th and 6th. Its DVD release will be on October 10th.

George Harrison joined the Beatles in 1958 and helped catapult the group to superstardom in 1964 when they had their first number one hit in America. The rest is history. Harrison has always been known as the quiet Beatle. Paul McCartney was the cute one. Ringo Starr was the funny one and John Lennon was the smart one. Given what Harrison did with his career and life after the Beatles, I’m not so sure we can claim his shyness any longer.

Harrison was introduced to Indian classical music in 1965 and soon thereafter, started playing the sitar. You can hear how beautifully George learned how to play this instrument in such a short period of time if you listen to Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). Also during this period while the Beatles were filming their second movie, Help, Harrison began to explore reincarnation and study Hinduism, which would change the rest of his life. It’s well documented that all of the Beatles traveled to India in order to learn from and meditate with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While it appears that some of the Beatles didn’t take it, Harrison developed a deep understanding and love of the religion and soon embraced the Hare Krishna tradition.

After the Beatles decided to go their separate ways in 1970, Harrison released what is probably his best solo album, All Things Must Pass, which had Harrison’s number one hit song, My Sweet Lord. In 1971 Harrison organized The Concert for Bangladesh, which was a charity concert to help raise money for their refugees. Some of the artists that joined Harrison on stage were Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Badfinger, Billy Preston and former Beatle, Ringo Starr.

Harrison released several more solo albums in the ’70s, including Living in the Material World and Dark Horse. Harrison also worked with Starr, collaborating on It Don’t Come Easy and Photograph and he also loaned his guitar magic to Lennon’s infamous Imagine album.

George’s world was shattered with five gunshots ringing out on the night of December 8, 1980. His former bandmate and lifelong friend, John Lennon, had been murdered by Mark David Chapman, a man who had stalked Lennon for several months. Lennon’s death hit Harrison hard, especially since the two hadn’t spoken in several years leading up to Lennon’s death. In order to honor his friend, George wrote All Those Years Ago for John. During the early to mid-eighties, Harrison laid low due to a fear of being stalked like Lennon was. He rarely played in public and did not release another album until 1987 with Cloud Nine, which produced the number one hit, Got My Mind Set on You. In 1988, the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Harrison, along with Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne started the band The Traveling Wilburys in 1988. Although the group only released two albums, due to the high-status and popularity of its members, they had a big hit with Handle With Care. In 1994, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America, the surviving three Beatles reunited to create The Beatles Anthology, which had a week-long documentary that aired on television (it is now available on DVD) as well as producing a 3 disc CD and they recorded two new Beatle singles, Free As a Bird and Real Love, using original composition and old recordings from John Lennon.

In 1999, Harrison had a frightening encounter in his home. Michael Abram broke into the Harrison residence and stabbed George several times with a knife, puncturing his lung. Harrison’s wife, Olivia, was able to hold off Abram with a fireplace poker until the police arrived. Abram later said he was possessed by Harrison and was performing a mission from God. He was deemed mentally insane and was released in 2002 from his detention center.

Unfortunately more bad news would come for George. In May 2001, Harrison had to undergo surgery to take out a cancerous tumor on his lung after already undergoing radiation therapy for throat cancer that he was diagnosed with in 1997. A few months later in July 2001 it was released that Harrison was being treated for a brain tumor in Switzerland. Throughout the ordeal, Harrison kept a positive attitude and took comfort in his religion and meditation. On November 29, 2001 George Harrison passed away. In 2002, Harrison’s musical friends paid tribute to him at The Concert for George. George was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2004.

Although Harrison is no longer physically with us, he will always live on through his music, charity work, and his belief that all humans can come together to live their lives in peace. Living In the Material World, Scorsese’s documentary will chronicle every aspect of Harrison’s life and will include interviews from those who knew him best and show new footage of his many years in the spotlight. George Harrison only lived for 58 years, but he made every, single one of those years count. We should all be so lucky.

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