Born February 25, 1943, in Liverpool, England; son of Harold (a school bus driver) and Louise Harrison; married Patricia Ann Boyd (a model and actress) on January 21, 1966 (divorced 1977); married Olivia Arias (a secretary) in 1978; children: Dhani (a son by second marriage). Addresses: Home --Friar Park Rd., Henley-on-Thames near London, England; Office --c/o Warner Bros. Records, Inc., 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505.
George Harrison is perhaps best known as one-fourth of what was probably the most popular and influential quartet in the history of rock, the Beatles. In 1958 Harrison joined John Lennon and Paul McCartney to form the core of what would--after name changes such as the Quarrymen and the Silver Beatles, the entrances and exits of members Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best, and the final addition of drummer Ringo Starr--become the renowned English group. When the Beatles followed up their phenomenal success in their native country by taking American pop fans by storm in 1964, Harrison was with his fellow band members for U.S. concert appearances and their celebrated television introduction on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Throughout the changing trends in rock that the late 1960s brought, the Beatles remained not only popular but were acclaimed as serious, innovative musicians. Harrison helped influence the group with his explorations into Eastern music and religion, but the Beatles' breakup in 1970 gained him greater exposure for his own compositions, previously shadowed by those of Lennon and McCartney. Harrison has had mixed success as a solo artist; his first album, 1971's All Things Must Pass, was highly praised and included the hit single "My Sweet Lord," but his "finest since," according to Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone, is his 1987 effort, Cloud Nine.
Harrison was born February 25, 1943, in Liverpool, England. He grew up in a public housing project, and was a mediocre student. Harrison's early efforts at guitar playing were somewhat futile--he bought a guitar as a young adolescent, but found he couldn't understand the chording patterns. While he was experimenting with one of the screws, the instrument fell apart. In frustration Harrison hid the guitar in the closet and turned his efforts to the trumpet, where he met with a similar lack of success. Eventually one of his older brothers repaired the guitar, and on his next attempts Harrison managed to learn a few chords. After that he practiced diligently, listening to recordings of famed guitarists Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy in order to perfect his style. At roughly the same time, Harrison became friends with Paul McCartney, a fellow student at the Liverpool Institute, and the two young musicians often took their guitars and went camping together in the country. Later, of course, Harrison would join the band that McCartney had formed with John Lennon.
Though during the Beatle years Harrison's musical compositions often took a back seat to those of Lennon and McCartney, he was always an integral part of what was happening to the group. The Beatles's legendary musical apprenticeship in Hamburg, Germany, came to a premature end partly due to the fact that the Hamburg police found out that Harrison was under eighteen and therefore ineligible to work in a foreign country. At the time of their appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," polls showed Harrison to be the most popular Beatle with American audiences. In the late 1960s, as DeCurtis phrased it, "Harrison led the Beatles to Maharashi Mahesh Yogi and transcendental meditation." Fascinated by the work of Indian musician Ravi Shankar, he also learned to play the sitar. And, while they were no match in number to the group's Lennon-McCartney efforts, Harrison's compositions for the Beatles included impressive hits such as "Something," "Taxman," "Here Comes the Sun," "I Need You," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Right after the Beatles broke up, Harrison was perhaps the most visible of the four musicians. He released the three-album set, All Things Must Pass, the following year. Harrison explained to DeCurtis that years of his songs coming second in priority to those of Lennon and McCartney left him with a lot of material: "By the time All Things Must Pass came, it was like being constipated for years, then finally you were allowed to go." In 1971 he was asked by his friend Shankar to organize a benefit concert for famine relief in Bangladesh; Harrison complied, and brought together many of the current rock stars of the day for a successful effort. "The Concert for Bangladesh," as it was called, was the forerunner for the "Live Aid" efforts of the 1980s for famine relief in Ethiopia.
But then Harrison fell on relatively hard times. Perhaps because the orchestra of Indian musicians accompanying him was judged too esoteric for most audiences, his 1974 American tour was a failure. And in 1976, "My Sweet Lord," his biggest hit from All Things Must Pass, cost him $587,000. According to Steve Dougherty of People magazine, Harrison was found guilty of "'subconsciously plagiarizing' the Chiffons tune He's So Fine " with the song. His divorce from actress and model Patti Boyd in 1977, and the assassination of Lennon in late 1980, were personal blows to Harrison. Though his tribute to Lennon, "All Those Years Ago," on Somewhere in England brought him back into the musical spotlight, his reaction to his friend's death gave rise to rumors that Harrison had become a recluse. He admitted to Dougherty, "I am leery about big crowds of people. If somebody comes rushing up in the street, it does go through your mind." But the rumors, Harrison declared, are unfounded. "All it is, really, is that I just don't go to discos where the gossip columnists hang out.... But I was going out all the time. I go out with friends, go to dinner, go to parties. It's all a joke."
Harrison has also become involved in filmmaking. Of course, as a Beatle, he appeared in the motion pictures A Hard Day's Night and Help!, and provided the voice for the cartoon image of himself in the animated film Yellow Submarine, but in the 1980s he has busied himself as the co-owner of the production company Hand Made Films. The company has brought to the screen popular works such as Monty Python's Life of Brian and Time Bandits. Harrison told Dougherty: "We tend to do low-budget movies that nobody else will do."
Musically, Harrison has been very active in the late 1980s. His 1987 album, Cloud Nine, produced hits with the singles "Got My Mind Set on You," lauded by DeCurtis as a "cocky, early-rock kicker"; "When We Was Fab," a recollection of being a Beatle; and "Devil's Radio," which DeCurtis described as an "assault on gossip journalism." He also joined in 1988 with musical acquaintances Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and the late Roy Orbison to form the Traveling Wilburys. The Wilburys's first album, Volume One, became a huge chart success.
Harrison died of cancer on November 29 in Los Angeles.
by Elizabeth Thomas
George Harrison's Career
Lead guitarist, singer, songwriter; apprentice electrician in Liverpool; joined group that eventually became the Beatles in 1958; stayed with them until group's dissolution in 1970; solo performer, 1970--; member of the Traveling Wilburys, 1988. Appeared in motion pictures A Hard Day's Night and Help!; provided voice for animated film Yellow Submarine; co-owner of film production company Hand Made Films; organized charity concert for Bangladesh, 1971.
George Harrison's Awards
Grammy Awards and British Songwriters' Guild Award with the Beatles; made member of the Order of the British Empire, 1965.
- Selective Works
- All Things Must Pass (includes "My Sweet Lord," "Isn't It a Pity," "Beware of Darkness," "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp," and "What Is Life"), Apple, 1971.
- Living in a Material World Apple, 1973.
- Dark Horse (includes "Bye Bye, Love"), Apple, 1974.
- Extra Texture Apple, 1975.
- 33 1/3 (includes "Crackerbox Palace"), Dark Horse, 1976.
- George Harrison Dark Horse, 1979.
- Somewhere in England (includes "All Those Years Ago" and "Blood From a Clone,") Warner Brothers, 1981.
- Gone Troppo Warner Brothers, 1982.
- Cloud Nine (includes "Got My Mind Set On You," "When We Was Fab," "Devil's Radio," "Just for Today," "Someplace Else," "Breath Away From Heaven," "This Is Love," "That's What It Takes," "Fish in the Sand," and "Wreck of the Hesperus"), Warner Brothers, 1987.
- (With the Traveling Wilburys) Volume One Warner Brothers, 1988.
September 13, 2003: The guitar Harrison played at the Beatles' last concert in 1969 was auctioned for $434,750. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, September 16, 2003.
March 15, 2004: Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. He had previously been inducted into the Hall as a member of the Beatles. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, March 16, 2004.
- Harrison, George, I, Me, Mine, Simon & Schuster, 1980.
- People, October 19, 1987.
- Rolling Stone, October 22, 1987.