- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

Millions gently weep for George Harrison, who died Thursday in Los Angeles after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 58.
Sly, cerebral and kind-hearted, the "quiet Beatle" also had the inner mettle of working-class English roots and the backbone of an old-fashioned rock 'n' roller. His death marks a pivotal moment for music fans who identify the lead guitarist with decades of youth and creativity.
"He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends," his wife, Olivia, and son Dhani said in a statement. "He often said, 'Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait,' and 'love one another.'"
Hundreds gathered to sing and reminisce at makeshift shrines here and abroad yesterday, celebrating the life of a meticulous and inventive musician known for complex but graceful songs of spirituality, whimsy and more than one raucous moment. Harrison was also mourned by Queen Elizabeth and President Bush, among other global luminaries.
"He was a great guy, full of love for humanity, but he didn't suffer fools gladly," said his former band mate Paul McCartney. "I loved him like a brother."
"He was a best friend of mine," said Ringo Starr. "We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter."
Armed with a Gretsch guitar and an appealing voice, Harrison persistently crafted his own musical identity in a world fixated upon hits written by John Lennon, who died in 1980, and Mr. McCartney. Harrison never bought into the teen-age hysteria of the early days, warding off an invasive press and swooning females with wry comments and watchful eyes.
"I'm really quite simple," Harrison wrote in his autobiography. "I stay at home and watch the river flow."
Many credit such serenity with smoothing creative differences among the tempestuous Fab Four as they moved from lovable moptops to profound cultural force throughout the 1960s.
"He was always acting as peacemaker between John and Paul," said Gerry Marsden, who once fronted Gerry and the Pacemakers, another Liverpool group from the mid-'60s.
"He was the major cog in the Beatles. He kept them together probably because of the calming effect he had," noted Alan Williams, who was the Beatles' first manager back in Liverpool where Harrison was born, the war baby of a school bus driver and a housewife.
He was a tough lad with a $6 guitar, pompadour, black trousers and a pair of blue suede shoes in 1958. His life changed the day he met Mr. McCartney on the bus his father drove.
Both joined the Quarrymen, a "skiffle" group headed by Lennon. The three honed their distinctive style in dim local clubs and basement recording sessions under names like Johnny and the Moondogs and the Rainbows.
Under the aegis of manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, the cleaned-up, carefully coifed Beatles finally rocketed to success in Europe and the United States with the release of such tunes as "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and the landmark pop film "A Hard Day's Night."
"Although we always felt that John Lennon was the flashiest and most interesting actor, George could always be relied on to hit the square in the middle and get the line right," recalled Richard Lester, who directed the film.
The Beatles' appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964 before hundreds of swooning "little chickadees" as Sullivan fondly called young female fans has become an icon in the annals of TV culture.
On his 21st birthday that same year, Harrison was unimpressed by success. "I doubt if we'll ever be millionaires," he told the BBC. "We'll probably be all right for a few years."
Even as the band recorded a string of chart-busting love songs and rock anthems, Harrison took the road less traveled. Under the guidance of an Indian guru, Harrison took up transcendental meditation and the thrumming, hypnotic sitar in 1966 using the multistringed instrument to accompany the band and fans on a rhythmic journey through psychedelia and reinvention.
The group traded slick Bond Street suits for sherbet-colored satin uniforms and embarked upon an artistic quest that produced the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Magical Mystery Tour" albums, both of which showcased an increasingly distinctive Harrison style.
On the final Beatles albums, Harrison's contributions included such songs as "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something," an evocative tune Frank Sinatra once called "the most beautiful love song ever written."
After six meteoric years in the public eye, the Beatles finally broke up in 1970, a moment mourned by fans but crucial for Harrison as he went from sideman to front man with the release of "All Things Must Pass," a solo album released later that year.
But the life of even a successful musician is complex. Harrison was later sued for plagiarizing "He's So Fine," by the Chiffons, an American girl group, to create his album's No. 1 tune "My Sweet Lord." After 20 years in court, the Chiffons won, and he was fined.
Harrison later parodied that experience in a song, and set his focus on humanitarian causes. In 1971, he banded together high-profile musical pals for an all-star Concert for Bangladesh, raising millions for famine relief. Though it was mired in legal complications, the idea set a precedent for splashy big-name events.
Harrison the only Beatle to grow up in a two-parent family married twice. His 1966 union to English model Patti Boyd lasted a decade before she ran off with his close friend, fellow guitarist Eric Clapton. The two men remained friends and musical collaborators, and gleefully referred to themselves as "ex-husbands-in-law" after Miss Boyd also left Mr. Clapton.
Harrison married Olivia Arias in 1978; the couple had one son, Dhani, and lived for decades in Friar Park, a neglected Gothic mansion west of London. Harrison restored the mansion, planted 45,000 flower bulbs and declared the place to be "like heaven."
In the years to follow, Harrison produced films for the Monty Python comedy troupe, recorded more albums, took up Formula One-style road racing and toured with the Traveling Wilburys, a superstar group that included Bob Dylan.
Nineteen years after Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan, Harrison was attacked at his home by a knife-wielding intruder. Already struggling with newly diagnosed throat cancer, Harrison was slow to recover but philosophical.
"I had a little throat cancer," he said at the time. "And then I was almost murdered." When his first solo album was reissued earlier this year, Harrison once again showed his simple values.
"My music, it doesn't matter if I did it 20 years ago or if I did it tomorrow. It doesn't go with trends," he said in a news conference. "My trousers don't get wider and tighter every six months. My music just stays what it is, and that's the way I like it."

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