George Harrison was the “quiet Beatle,” a historically gifted musician, singer, and songwriter, the youngest member of the Liverpool band that became one of the most influential musical phenomena of the twentieth century. He was born in Liverpool, England, on February 24, 1943, the fourth and last child of bus conductor Harold Harrison and his shopkeeper wife, Louise. After an early education at Dovedale Primary School, he headed on to the Liverpool Institute, where he was a disinterested, introverted student. After his mother scraped together the money to buy her fourteen-year-old son the acoustic guitar he’d wanted for so long, he promptly formed a skiffle band (improvisational, with a heavy use of such homemade instruments as washboards, spoons, and comb-and-tissue-paper “harmonicas”) and began exploring his natural talent on the guitar. Somewhere along the line he happened to meet a fellow Institute student and bus mate named Paul McCartney, who had a skiffle band called the Quarrymen with his friend John Lennon, and despite John’s concern that he was too young to join the group, George became the Quarrymen’s guitarist.
The Quarrymen evolved into the Beatles and headed to Hamburg, Germany, for a series of appearances at the Kaiserkeller in
1960, a trip that was abbreviated by George’s deportation for being underage. And then, in November 1961, a record shop owner named Brian Epstein came to see the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool; he became their manager, and the magic of Beatlemania took root and lasted through the 1960s with a body of work that had an unprecedented impact on music and the youth of the world. George’s contributions as a songwriter were often overshadowed by those of his fellow Beatles John and Paul, but such distinctively “George” songs as “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” have become undeniable classics.
In the mid-1960s George was introduced to the sitar and one of its masters, Ravi Shankar. As George’s passion for East Indian music and culture grew, so did his interest in Hinduism and transcendental meditation. His fellow Beatles accompanied him to India to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and he and John Lennon returned in 1969 to explore the Hare Krishna tradition, a sect of Hinduism that George embraced and practiced for the rest of his life.
Beginning in 1970 with the breakup of the Beatles, George launched a string of albums whose success diminished as the 1970s progressed. Without a doubt one of his most notable accomplishments of that decade occurred in August 1971, when he became one of the musicians to organize a charity concert, the massively successful Concert for Bangladesh, at which George and fellow superstars Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and Ringo Starr, among others, raised more than $15 million for UNICEF efforts in that country and around the world.
George was wonderfully creative and diverse throughout the 1980s and 1990s, once he recovered from the shock of losing John Lennon in 1980 and wrote “All Those Years Ago” in his memory. He recorded albums with his friends Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison as an almost spontaneously formed group who called themselves the Traveling Wilburys. His film company, HandMade Films, produced twenty-three movies, including Monty Python’s Life of Brian. He recorded with one of his idols, rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins. He toured Japan with his old friend Eric Clapton, whom George also referred to as his “husband-in-law”—George’s first wife, Patti Boyd, to whom he was married from 1966 until 1977, was subsequently married to Eric Clapton from 1979 until 1988. He performed at charity concerts at Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden. He appeared in Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” music video, was a guest musician on friends’ albums, and continued producing albums of his own. And last but certainly not least among his post-Beatles accomplishments, he married Olivia Arias in 1978, a marriage that lasted until his death. Their son, Dhani, also born in 1978, is a successful musician today, with a look and a voice that are eerily reminiscent of those of his father.
In the late 1990s George began a series of battles with cancer, starting with throat cancer in 1997 and progressing to lung cancer, for which he underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in 2001. In the summer of that same year he began receiving radiation treatments for a brain tumor. He’d already curtailed public appearances at the end of 1999, after a crazed fan who believed George’s spirit had possessed him broke into his home in England and attacked him, stabbing him seven times. By the time cancer overtook him, he was rarely seen outside his Hollywood Hills mansion, where he quietly passed away on November 29, 2001. According to Hindu tradition, his closest family members gathered for a private ceremony to scatter George’s ashes in the sacred Ganges River.
How appropriate that George’s family followed Hindu tradition in his honor—he was a devout East Indian Hindu in the only other incarnation he lived on earth, which is why India, transcendental meditation, yogis, and the sitar struck such responsive, familiar chords in his soul. His previous life in India was a quiet, modest one, devoted to farming and raising his eight children with his wife, Marathi, whom he married again in this life in her current incarnation as Olivia Arias. He inherited his love of gardening and landscaping from that lifetime, giving thanks as he did every day in India to the generous earth, which provided nourishment to his family, and he’s one of our most esteemed, creative horticulturists and teachers on that subject.
He was welcomed Home by a massive crowd of admirers, including a historic group of gurus, and it speaks volumes for our priorities here that, while George’s music is widely known and appreciated, the word “Beatles” had nothing to do with the joy with which he was greeted, nor is it often mentioned. It’s very much worth mentioning, though, that John Lennon was among the first to embrace him. They’re frequently together, meditating in the Gardens of the Hall of Justice and taking long, quiet walks through what corresponds to your English countryside. But while John continues to compose and perform music, George plays the acoustic guitar, sitar, and mandolin only in the privacy of his secluded, windowless one-room cottage in the hills, a round adobe structure with a shrine centered inside. He still writes songs, but only to share with other Hindus at the temple where he practices his public worship.
He says he charted his part in the phenomenon of the Beatles, because he and the other three were kindred souls from Home, different from each other as they were, and made that contract for extraordinary success together before they incarnated.
George knew they would create music together that would bring lasting joy to vast numbers of people and, in doing so, “help unify the world a little.” He also knew it would provide him with a platform he would never have achieved on his own, not to loudly preach an agenda, but to quietly, by example, encourage the pursuit of individual spiritual growth.
George is a highly advanced soul, on the path to becoming a great guru in the tradition of his own treasured guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who is now among us and is one of his most constant companions. George is as introverted, contemplative, and filled with light here as he was on earth. He says of his wife and son nothing more and nothing less than, “I am with them always.” And to the world he left behind, but for which he continues to pray, he offers a peaceful “Namaste,” which he roughly translates to mean, “The God in me greets the God in you.”