George Harrison's heirs sue over deathbed souvenirs. A doctor violated the dying ex-Beatle's confidentiality and coerced him into autographing a guitar for his son, Harrison's widow and son allege

By Gary Susman
Updated January 06, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
George Harrison
Credit: George Harrison: Express Syndication/Getty Images/NewsCom

As George Harrison lay dying of cancer in November 2001, his doctor was far too concerned with trying to capitalize on his famous patient, revealing confidential medical information to the press and cadging souvenirs from the ex-Beatle on his deathbed. So say Harrison’s widow and son, who have filed a $10 million suit against Dr. Gilbert Lederman and his three children, according to Reuters and the Associated Press. The suit, filed Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court, seeks the return of autographed cards that Harrison signed for Dr. Lederman’s daughters and an autographed guitar he signed for the doctor’s 12-year-old son — a signature that the doctor guided letter by letter after the enfeebled musician had begged off, saying: ”I do not even know if I know how to spell my name anymore,” according to the suit.

Lederman, a director of radiation oncology at New York’s Staten Island University Hospital (which is also named as a defendant), treated Harrison for lung cancer and a brain tumor in the weeks before the musician died at age 58. Olivia and Dhani Harrison allege in the suit that he also violated the musician’s privacy in several interviews, including one in the National Enquirer that was accompanied by a photo of the boy holding the signed guitar. In fact, the New York State Health Department reprimanded Dr. Lederman for talking to the press without his patient’s consent and fined him $5,000, AP reports. The hospital, however, said in a statement on Tuesday: ”Staten Island University Hospital takes patient confidentiality very seriously and has not breached confidentiality.”

Dr. Lederman’s lawyer, Wayne Roth, called the Harrisons’ lawsuit ”absurd,” telling AP, ”He didn’t coerce Mr. Harrison.” Of the guitar, he told the New York Daily News, ”It’s his son’s guitar, and the Harrison family doesn’t have any right to that guitar. I think patients sign things out of gratitude for their physicians all the time… and when the truth comes out, you’ll learn the extent of the relationship between Dr. Lederman and Harrison and the circumstances under which it was signed.”