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George Harrison dies of cancer

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George Harrison
George Harrison: Camera Press/Retna

PASSING NOTES He was known as ”the quiet Beatle,” and he bowed out quietly. After a long struggle with cancer that he tried to keep private, 58-year-old George Harrison died Thursday afternoon at the Los Angeles home of an unnamed friend. His wife Olivia and his 24-year-old son Dhani were at his side, and they issued a brief 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.”’

The youngest of the Beatles, Harrison often found himself overshadowed by the band’s primary songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Still, the lead guitarist wrote and sang some of the group’s most memorable tunes, including ”Here Comes the Sun,” ”Something,” and ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” After the Beatles broke up in 1970, he continued to score with solo hits like ”My Sweet Lord” and albums like the triple set ”All Things Must Pass,” which tended to reflect his immersion in Eastern mysticism.

In 1971, he organized one of the first all-star benefit concerts for hunger relief, The Concert for Bangladesh. To help his pals in Monty Python, he embarked on what became a successful career throughout the 1980s as a movie producer, with his Handmade Films company making such films as ”Life of Brian,” ”Time Bandits,” and ”Withnail & I.” After a long absence from music, he had another hit with the album ”Cloud Nine” and the single ”Got My Mind Set on You,” followed by his successful stint with the shaggy supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, alongside fellow members Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.

In the last decade, despite emerging to tour in 1992, Harrison became increasingly private, preferring to spend time with his family on his sprawling country estate west of London. His fears for his security, following the 1980 assassination of Lennon, proved prescient two years ago when a mentally ill intruder broke into the home and nearly stabbed him to death. So it was in character for Harrison to keep quiet when, after years of smoking, he underwent his first treatment for throat cancer in 1998. This year, with the cancer apparently having spread to his brain, he jetted off to various private clinics around the world seeking treatment while issuing vehement denials that he was at death’s door. He sought what reports described as last-ditch radiation treatment last month at New York’s Staten Island University Hospital, where he reportedly had his final reunion with surviving Beatles Ringo Starr and a tearful McCartney. He was said to have gone to Los Angeles for chemotherapy at UCLA Medical Center. He did manage to make one last recording this year, a song he and Dhani wrote called ”A Horse to Water” that appeared on ex-Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland‘s ”Small World, Big Friends” album, released in the U.K. earlier this month. With characteristic dry humor, Harrison listed the publishing credit, not to his company Harrisongs, but to ”RIP Ltd., 2001.”

Friends offered tributes yesterday. Yoko Ono praised him as a devoted family man and said, ”George has given so much to us in his lifetime and continues to do so even after his passing, with his music, his wit and his wisdom.” Python Michael Palin said Harrison’s reputation for quiet was undeserved. ”He never stopped talking when I was with him,” Palin said. ”When I saw him last time, he was obviously very unwell but he was cracking jokes like he always was,” said McCartney. ”He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby brother.”

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