He was the quiet Beatle only in that he was standing alongside two louder-than-life characters and in front of a guy playing drums. He held many strong opinions--on Beatlemania, on global want, on his right to privacy, on his God--and gave firm voice to most of them. But George Harrison was certainly the most reluctant Beatle, wanting out almost as soon as he was in. He often said that his luckiest break was joining the band and his second luckiest was leaving it. And he said once, "Being a Beatle was a nightmare, a horror story. I don't even like to think about it." He never really looked comfortable in his tight suit and pudding-basin haircut, not even in the fun-fest A Hard Day's Night, and in this he was perhaps the most honest Beatle, the one least convincing when wearing the mask. The standard line is that George Harrison was an enigma, but perhaps he was transparent: a terrific guitarist, a fine songwriter, a wonderer, a seeker and, overriding all, a celebrity who hated and feared celebrity.
Harrison died at a friend's home in Los Angeles last week at age 58, losing his last battle with cancer. In 1997 he had a cancerous lump removed from his neck; earlier this year he was operated on for a cancer found on his lung and subsequently received treatment for a tumor on his brain, including a controversial form of radiation therapy at the Staten Island University Hospital in New York City. "George is very different from many people in that he didn't have fear of death," said Gil Lederman, one of his doctors there. "He felt that life and death were part of the same process." Harrison's passing leaves only Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as surviving members of the Fab Four--John Lennon was murdered in New York City in 1980.
Harrison's wife Olivia and son Dhani, 23, were at his bedside when he died, and as word spread about his death, Harrison was mourned and eulogized by the crowds who gathered outside the Abbey Road studios in London and in Strawberry Fields, the area of Manhattan's Central Park across from where Lennon was shot, and by his former bandmates. "He was a beautiful man. He was like my baby brother to me," said Sir Paul, who lost his wife Linda to breast cancer in 1998. Starr, long Harrison's best friend in the band, said, "We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter."