In addition to his solo work, Harrison co-wrote two hits for Ringo Starr, another ex-Beatle, as well as songs for the Traveling Wilburys—the supergroup he formed in 1988 with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison.
Harrison embraced Indian culture and Hinduism in the mid 1960s, and helped expand Western awareness of sitar music and of the Hare Krishna movement. With Ravi Shankar he organised a major charity concert with the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, and is the only Beatle to have published an autobiography, with I Me Mine in 1980.
Besides being a musician, he was also a record producer and co-founder of the production company HandMade Films. In his work as a film producer, he collaborated with people as diverse as the members of Monty Python and Madonna. He was married twice, to the model Pattie Boyd in 1966, and to the record company secretary Olivia Trinidad Arias in 1978, with whom he had one son, Dhani Harrison. He was a close friend of Eric Clapton. Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001.
Harrison was born in Liverpool, England, on 25 February 1943, the last of four children to Harold Hargreaves Harrison and his wife Louise, née French.
He had one sister, Louise, born 16 August 1931, and two brothers, Harry, born 1934, and Peter, born 20 July 1940. His mother was a Liverpool shop assistant, and his father was a bus conductor who had worked as a ship's steward on the White Star Line. The family was Roman Catholic; his maternal grandfather, John French, was born in County Wexford, Ireland, emigrating to Liverpool where he married a local girl, Louise Woollam.
Harrison was born in the house where he lived for his first six years: 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool, which was a small 2 up, 2 down terraced house in a cul-de-sac, with an alley to the rear. The only heating was a single coal fire, and the toilet was outside. In 1950 the family were offered a council house, and moved to 25 Upton Green, Speke.
His first school was Dovedale Primary School, very close to Penny Lane, the same school as John Lennon who was a couple of years ahead of him. He passed his 11-plus examination and achieved a place at the Liverpool Institute for Boys (in the building that now houses the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts), which he attended from 1954 to 1959. When Harrison was 14 years old, he sat at the back of the class and tried drawing guitars in his schoolbooks: “I was totally into guitars. I heard about this kid at school who had a guitar at £3 10s, it was just a little acoustic round hole. I got the £3 10s from my mother: that was a lot of money for us then.” Harrison bought a Dutch Egmond flat top acoustic guitar. While at the Liverpool Institute, Harrison formed a skiffle group called The Rebels with his brother Peter and a friend, Arthur Kelly. At this school he met Paul McCartney, one year older, who played in a band called The Quarrymen.
Harrison became part of The Beatles when they were still a skiffle group called The Quarrymen. McCartney told Lennon about his friend George Harrison, who could play "Raunchy" on his guitar. Although Lennon considered him too young to join the band, Harrison hung out with them and filled in as needed. By the time he was 16, Lennon and the others had accepted him as one of the band. Since Harrison was the youngest member of the group, he was looked upon as a kid by the others for another few years.
Harrison left school at 16 and worked as an apprentice electrician at local department store Blacklers for a while. When The Beatles were offered work in Hamburg in 1960, the musical apprenticeship that Harrison received playing long hours at the Kaiserkeller with the rest of the group, including guitar lessons from Tony Sheridan, laid the foundations of The Beatles' sound, and of Harrison's quiet, professional role within the group; this role would contribute to his reputation as "the quiet Beatle". However, the first trip to Hamburg was shortened when Harrison was deported for being underage.
When Brian Epstein became The Beatles' manager in December 1961 after seeing them perform at The Cavern Club in November, he changed their image from that of leather-jacketed rock-and-rollers to a more polished look, and secured them a recording contract with EMI. The first single, "Love Me Do", with Harrison playing a Gibson J-160E, reached number 17 in the UK chart in October 1962, and by the time their debut album, Please Please Me, was released in early 1963, The Beatles had become famous and Beatlemania had arrived.
Harrison was popular with girls, receiving an estimated 30,000 gifts and cards for his 21st birthday. After he revealed in an interview that he liked jelly babies, audiences showered him and the rest of the band with the sweets at concerts, and fans sent boxes of them as gifts, with Harrison's least favourite black-coloured ones removed. Unfortunately American fans could not obtain this soft British confection, replacing them with the harder jelly beans instead. To the group's discomfort, they were frequently pelted with jelly beans during concerts in America.
The popularity of The Beatles led to a successful tour of America, the making of a film, A Hard Day's Night (during which Harrison met his future wife Pattie Boyd), and in the 1965 Queen's Birthday Honours, all four Beatles were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Harrison, whose role within the group was that of the careful musician who checked that the instruments were tuned, by 1965 and the Rubber Soul album, was developing into a musical director as he led the others into folk-rock, via his interest in The Byrds and Bob Dylan, and into Indian music with his exploration of the sitar. Harrison's musical involvement and cohesion with the group reached its peak on Revolver in 1966 with his contribution of three songs and new musical ideas. By 1967, Harrison's interests appeared to be moving outside The Beatles, and his involvement in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band consists mainly of his one song, "Within You Without You", on which no other Beatle plays, and which stands out for its difference from the rest of the album.
During the recording of The Beatles in 1968, tensions were present in the band; these surfaced again during the filming of rehearsal sessions at Twickenham Studios for the album Let It Be in early 1969. Frustrated by ongoing slights, the poor working conditions in the cold and sterile film studio, and Lennon's creative disengagement from the group, Harrison quit the band on 10 January. He returned on 22 January after negotiations with the other Beatles at two business meetings.
Relations among the Beatles were more cordial (though still strained) during recordings for the album Abbey Road. The album included "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something", which was later recorded by Frank Sinatra, who considered it "one of the greatest songs of the last twenty years". Harrison's increasing productivity, coupled with his difficulties in getting The Beatles to record his music, meant that by the end of the group's career he had amassed a considerable stockpile of unreleased material. Harrison's last recording session with The Beatles was on 4 January 1970. Lennon, who had left the group the previous September, did not attend the session.
Harrison's guitar work with the Beatles was varied, flexible and innovative; although not fast or flashy, his guitar playing was solid and typified the more subdued lead guitar style of the early 1960s. The influence of the plucking guitar style of Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins on Harrison gave a country music feel to the Beatles' early recordings. Harrison explored several guitar instruments, the twelve-string, the sitar and the slide guitar, and developed his playing from tight eight- and twelve-bar solos in such songs as "A Hard Day's Night" and "Can't Buy Me Love", to lyrical slide guitar playing, first recorded during an early session of "If Not for You" for Dylan's New Morning in 1970. The earliest example of notable guitar work from Harrison was the extended acoustic guitar solo of "Till There Was You", for which Harrison purchased a José Ramírez nylon-stringed classical guitar to produce the sensitivity needed.
Harrison's first electric guitar was a Czech built Futurama/Grazioso, which was a popular guitar among British guitarists in the early 1960s. However, the guitars Harrison used on early recordings were mainly Gretsch played through a Vox amp. He used a variety of Gretsch guitars, including a Gretsch Duo Jet - his first Gretsch, which he bought in 1961 second hand off a sailor in Liverpool; a Gretsch Tennessean, and his (first out of two) Gretsch Country Gentleman, bought new for £234 in April 1963 at the Sound City store in London, which he used on "She Loves You", and on The Beatles' 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
During The Beatles' February 1964 trip to the US, Harrison acquired a Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar. He had tried out the 12-string electric guitar during an interview with a Minneapolis radio station, and was given the guitar either by the Rickenbacker company or the radio station. The 360/12 was an experimental 12-string guitar with the strings reversed so that the lower pitched string was struck first, and with an unusual headstock design that made tuning easier. Harrison used the guitar extensively during the recording of A Hard Day's Night, and the jangly sound became so popular that the Melody Maker termed it "the beat boys' secret weapon". Roger McGuinn liked the effect Harrison achieved so much that it became his signature guitar sound with the Byrds.
He obtained his first Fender Stratocaster in 1965 and used it for the recording of the Rubber Soul album, most notably on the "Nowhere Man" track, where he played in unison with Lennon who also had a Stratocaster. Lennon and Harrison both had Sonic Blue Stratocasters, which were bought second hand by roadie Mal Evans. Harrison painted his Stratocaster in a psychedelic design that included the word "Bebopalula" painted above the pickguard and the guitar's nickname, "Rocky", painted on the headstock. He played this guitar in the Magical Mystery Tour film and throughout his solo career.
After David Crosby of the Byrds introduced him to the work of sitar master Ravi Shankar in 1965, Harrison---whose interest in Indian music was stirred during the filming of Help!, which used Indian music as part of its soundtrack---played a sitar on the Rubber Soul track "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", expanding the already nascent Western interest in Indian music. Harrison listed his early influences as Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers.
After years of being restricted in his song-writing contributions to The Beatles, his first "real" solo-album "All Things Must Pass" contained such a large outpouring of Harrison's songs that it was released as a triple album, though only two of the discs contained songs - the third contained recordings of Harrison jamming with friends. The album is regarded as his best work; it was a critical and commercial success, topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and producing the number-one hit single "My Sweet Lord" as well as the top-10 single "What Is Life". The album was co-produced by Phil Spector using his "Wall of Sound" approach, and the musicians included Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Billy Preston, and Ringo Starr.
Harrison was later sued for copyright infringement over the single "My Sweet Lord" because of its similarity to the 1963 Chiffons single "He's So Fine", owned by Bright Tunes. Harrison denied deliberately stealing the song, but he lost the resulting court case in 1976 as the judge accepted that Harrison had "subconsciously" plagiarised "He's So Fine". When considering liable earnings, "My Sweet Lord"'s contribution to the sales of All Things Must Pass and The Best of George Harrison were taken into account, and the judge decided a figure of $1,599,987 was owed to Bright Tunes. The dispute over damages became complicated when Harrison's manager Allen Klein changed sides by buying Bright Tunes and then continuing the suit against Harrison. In 1981, a district judge decided that Klein had acted improperly, and it was agreed that Harrison should pay Klein $587,000, the amount Klein had paid for Bright Tunes - so he would gain nothing from the deal, and that Harrison would take over ownership of Bright Tunes, making him the owner of the rights to both "My Sweet Lord" and "He's So Fine" and thus ending the copyright infringement claim. Though the dispute dragged on into the 1990s, the district judge's decision was upheld.
Harrison organised a major charity concert, The Concert for Bangladesh, with Ravi Shankar on 1 August 1971, drawing over 40,000 people to two shows in New York's Madison Square Garden. The aim of the event was to raise money to aid the starving refugees during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Ravi Shankar opened the proceedings, which included other popular musicians such as Bob Dylan (who rarely appeared live in the early 1970s), Eric Clapton, who made his first public appearance in months (due to a heroin addiction which began when Derek and the Dominos broke up), Leon Russell, Badfinger, Billy Preston and fellow Beatle Ringo Starr. Tax troubles and questionable expenses tied up many of the concert's proceeds. Apple Corporation released a newly arranged concert DVD and CD in October 2005 (with all artists' sales royalties continuing to go to UNICEF), which contained additional material such as previously unreleased rehearsal footage of "If Not for You", featuring Harrison and Dylan.
Early in 1989, Harrison, Lynne and Ringo Starr all appeared in the music video for Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", although Starr did not actually play on the track; Harrison played acoustic guitar. The same year also saw the release of Best of Dark Horse 1976–1989, a compilation drawn from his later solo work. This album also included two new songs, "Poor Little Girl", and "Cockamamie Business" (which saw him once again looking wryly upon his Beatle past), as well as "Cheer Down", which had first been released earlier in the year on the soundtrack to the film Lethal Weapon 2, which starred Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Unlike his previous greatest hits package, Harrison made sure to oversee this compilation. In 1989 Harrison played slide guitar on the "Leave a Light On" song from Belinda Carlisle's third album "Runaway Horses". The song was a commercial success worldwide.
In 1996, Harrison recorded, produced and played on "Distance Makes No Difference With Love" with Carl Perkins for his Go-Cat-Go record.
Harrison's final television appearance was not intended as such; in fact, he was not the featured artist, and the appearance had been intended to promote Chants of India, another collaboration with Ravi Shankar released in 1997, at the height of interest in chant music. John Fugelsang, then of VH1, conducted the interview, and at one point an acoustic guitar was produced and handed to Harrison. When an audience member asked to hear "a Beatles song", Harrison pulled a sheepish look and answered, "I don't think I know any!" Harrison then played "All Things Must Pass" and "Any Road", a song which subsequently appeared on the 2002 Brainwashed album.
In January 1998, Harrison attended the funeral of his boyhood idol, Carl Perkins, in Jackson, Tennessee. Harrison played an impromptu version of Perkins' song "Your True Love" during the service. That same year he attended the public memorial service for Linda McCartney. Also that same year, he appeared on Ringo Starr's Vertical Man, where he played both electric and slide guitars on two tracks.
In 2001, Harrison performed as a guest musician on the Electric Light Orchestra album Zoom. He played slide guitar on the song "Love Letters" for Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, and remastered and restored unreleased tracks from the Traveling Wilburys. He also co-wrote a new song with his son Dhani, "Horse to the Water". The latter song ended up as Harrison's final recording session, on 2 October. It appeared on Jools Holland's album Small World, Big Band.
Harrison's final album, Brainwashed, was completed by Dhani Harrison and Jeff Lynne and released on 18 November 2002. It received generally positive reviews in the United States, and peaked at number 18 on the Billboard charts. A media-only single, "Stuck Inside a Cloud", was heavily played on UK and US radio to promote the album (number 27 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart), while the official single "Any Road", released in May 2003, reached number 37 on the British chart. The instrumental track, "Marwa Blues" went on to receive the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance, while the single "Any Road" was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
In 1988, Harrison played an instrumental role in forming the Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty when they gathered in Dylan's garage to quickly record an additional track for a projected Harrison European single release. The record company realised the track ("Handle With Care") was too good for its original purpose as a B-side and asked for a full, separate album. This had to be completed within two weeks, as Dylan was scheduled to start a tour. The album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, was released in October 1988 and recorded under pseudonyms as half-brothers (supposed sons of Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr.). Harrison's pseudonym on the first album was "Nelson Wilbury"; he would use the name "Spike Wilbury" for the Traveling Wilburys' second album.
After the death of Roy Orbison in late 1988 the group recorded as a four-piece. Though Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 was their second release, the album was mischievously titled Vol. 3 by Harrison. According to Lynne, "That was George's idea. He said, 'Let's confuse the buggers.'" It was not as well received as the previous album, but did reach number 14 in the UK and number 11 in the US where it went platinum, while the singles "She's My Baby", "Inside Out", and "Wilbury Twist" got decent air play.
In late 1999, Harrison survived a knife attack by an intruder in his home. At 3:30 AM on 30 December 1999 Michael Abram broke into the Harrisons' Friar Park home in Henley-on-Thames and began loudly calling to Harrison. Harrison left the bedroom to investigate while his wife, Olivia, phoned the police. Abram attacked Harrison with a seven-inch kitchen knife, inflicting seven stab wounds, puncturing a lung and causing head injuries before Olivia Harrison incapacitated the assailant by striking him repeatedly with a fireplace poker. The attack lasted approximately fifteen minutes. 35-year-old Abram, who believed he was possessed by Harrison and was on a "mission from God" to kill him, was later acquitted of attempted murder on grounds of insanity, but was detained for treatment in a secure hospital. He was released in 2002 after 19 months' detention. Since John Lennon's assassination in 1980 Harrison had rarely made public appearances, except at tightly controlled settings such as Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductions. Traumatised by the 1999 break-in and attempt at murdering him, George Harrison lived in seclusion for most of the remaining 2 years of his life.
In November 2001, Harrison began radiotherapy at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City for lung cancer which had metastacised to his brain.. During his treatment there, Dr. Gilbert Lederman, a radiation oncologist, allegedly revealed confidential medical information to the public and forced Harrison to autograph a guitar. In the incident, Harrison was lying in bed at a house he was renting near the hospital. Dr. Lederman and his family came to visit George and began singing. In laboured breaths, George said, "Please stop talking." Later, Dr. Lederman allegedly had his son play the guitar for George. After the performance, Dr. Lederman asked Harrison for an autograph on the guitar. Harrison responded with, "I do not even know if I know how to sign my name anymore." Dr. Lederman then took Harrison's hand and guided his hand along to spell his name while encouraging him by saying, "Come on, George. You can do this. G-E-O...". The incident led to a lawsuit, which was ultimately settled out of court under the condition that the guitar be "disposed of".