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Published: Saturday, 12/1/2001

Guitarist wanted music heard, tired quickly of rabid crowds

NEW YORK TIMES

George Harrison, the Beatles' lead guitarist and the composer of several of the group's most beautiful songs including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Something,” died Thursday in a friend's home in Los Angeles. He was 58.

Mr. Harrison had surgery for throat cancer in 1998 and was treated for lung cancer and a brain tumor this year.

His wife, Olivia, and son, Dhani, 24, were with him when he died in the home of Gavin De Becker, a longtime friend.

“He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends,” the Harrison family said in a statement. “He often said, ‘Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait.'”

One of the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney, said outside his London home yesterday: “He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby brother.”

The other surviving band member, Ringo Starr, said, “We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music, and his sense of laughter.”

John Lennon, a founding member of the group, was shot to death in New York in 1980.

In the more than 30 years since the Beatles broke up, Mr. Harrison made a series of variably successful solo albums, issued a varied catalogue of recordings by other performers, and was the executive producer of an independent production company that had several hits between the late 1970s and the early 1990s.

He made two albums with the Traveling Wilburys, a tongue-in-cheek supergroup that included Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. He organized several philanthropic projects, including a 1971 concert to aid refugees in Bangladesh, an event that set the pattern for all-star charity rock concerts.

In recent years, Mr. Harrison took part with his former colleagues in the Beatles' “Anthology,” a retrospective that included a video history, six discs of previously unreleased recordings, and a book. He supervised an expanded reissue of his 1970 solo album, “All Things Must Pass,” and was planning to remaster the rest of his recordings.

An album was in the works despite health problems. Mr. Harrison survived a stabbing by an intruder at his English home, Friar Park, in December, 1999.

Mr. Harrison was 19 when the group made its first recordings, yet from the start he projected an intense seriousness. He was the first to find the screaming crowds tiresome and the first to advocate abandoning the concert stage, arguing that it was pointless to perform for audiences that were making too much noise for the group to be heard.

“I always really enjoyed [it] in our early days, before we got too famous,” he once said in an interview. “But then we got famous, and it spoiled all that because we'd just go round and round the world singing the same 10 dopey tunes.”

In the summer of 1966, the others came around to his point of view, and after that the Beatles confined their work to the recording studio.

Mr. Harrison's fascination for Indian music - which began in 1965, after he became curious about the exotic instruments on the set of Help!, the group's second film - pushed the Beatles' sound world in yet another direction. After Mr. Harrison played a sitar solo on Mr. Lennon's “Norwegian Wood,” and began writing his own songs based on Indian motifs, dozens of rock bands, from the Rolling Stones to Jefferson Airplane, adopted the sitar, and “raga rock” flourished briefly.

George Harrison was born in Liverpool on Feb. 25, 1943, and was the youngest of Harold and Louise French Harrison's four children. His father drove the bus that brought him - and Mr. McCartney, who was a year older - to the Liverpool Institute. He showed little interest in academic work, devoting himself instead to the guitar.

By the time he was 14, the year he met Mr. McCartney, he had formed a band, the Rebels, and began taking his guitar to dances in the hope of being asked to play. Mr. McCartney had recently joined Mr. Lennon's group, the Quarry Men, as a guitarist (he later switched to bass), and early in 1958 he invited Mr. Harrison to a Quarry Men performance, after which he auditioned for Mr. Lennon. Mr. Lennon, who was three years older than Mr. Harrison, considered the guitarist talented but sullen and still a child. But Mr. Harrison continued to tag along with Mr. McCartney. By October, 1959, Mr. Harrison was asked to join the Quarry Men, which Mr. Lennon renamed the Beatles in 1960.

Mr. Harrison married Olivia Arias in 1978. She and their son Dhani, 24, are survivors.



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