"The Quiet Beatle" succumbs to cancer at 58

Maybe it’s our fault for saddling him with a sobriquet like ”The Quiet Beatle.” For the better part of his last few decades, George Harrison seemed all too happy to live up to the tag—in public, anyway, even if in private, as his friend Michael Palin recently joked, it was hard to shut the guy up. Since 1982, the singer-guitarist had released only one studio album, the well-received Cloud Nine. It was almost as if he’d slipped out on us years before he actually slipped away.

Now this most reluctant of rock stars is utterly quiet. Which, if you’re to believe his lyrics, is just the way he would have preferred it. ”I hope to get out of this place/By the Lord Sri Krsna’s grace/My salvation from the material world,” sang the man who wrote the book on spirituality in pop music, in one of dozens of allusions to death peppering his work. On Nov. 29, the moment he’d anticipated so often, and with such seeming cheer, finally came to pass. Good old George—immaterial at last.

The blow for those left behind and bereft in the material world was softened, a little, by the fair warning. Unlike John Lennon, Harrison, who was 58, succumbed to natural causes, if you can call cancer natural. Still, the loss hurt like hell, and not just because any Beatle’s death diminishes us all. He was a singular talent as well as one fourth of the fabbest of godheads. And it was a universally accepted truth that in a business that makes bastards out of boys who hit the toppermost of the poppermost less quickly or massively than he did, George was one of the good guys, a kind and gentle—if sometimes caustic—soul who never succumbed to his own press.

Mourning fans had a hard time picking a proper place to set up a shrine, which is presumably just as the privacy-craving legend wanted it. In London, the wake settled around the studio gates at Abbey Road. In New York, the faithful gravitated toward Strawberry Fields, the clearing in Central Park that was turned into a tribute to Lennon after he was shot to death across the street in 1980. In Los Angeles, no one was about to hold a vigil outside the home of security guru Gavin de Becker, where Harrison and his family reportedly went to spend his last hours. And there was no gravesite to visit, since officials from the Hollywood Forever mortuary were called to the home within an hour of Harrison’s passing to take the body away for cremation, per Hindu custom; his ashes were due to be scattered by his wife, Olivia, 54, and son, Dhani, 23, in India’s holy Ganges River. That left the Beatles’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a gathering point for the grieving. Over the weekend, dozens of fans congregated at any given time around the star, buried under a sea of bouquets, sun-shaped balloons, tear-streaked messages about guitars and hearts gently weeping, and signs proclaiming ”Heaven = 2 Beatles, Earth = 2 Beatles” and ”Say hi to John!”

”This is very Sgt. Pepper, isn’t it?” said Kim Bockus, quietly surveying the collage-like assemblage. George was her favorite Beatle because ”he had the guts to pursue the mysterious. He was one of the first seekers to go to the East. Having grown up in the ’50s, that was significant to me, because that time was so insular.” But she loved him even earlier, when she saw the Ed Sullivan appearances. Within the pandemonium, ”the aura of mystery he had was very attractive to me.” Even in death, that quiet thing gets the girls.