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All things must pass, but fans remember George Harrison

LONDON, England (CNN) -- George Harrison's friends and fans recalled him as the spiritual, unassuming Beatle who never sought the limelight and shrugged off fame but whose impact on the group's sound was profound.

"I love him," former band mate Paul McCartney said Friday. "We always hoped that there would be some miracle to happen, but he's such a brave guy and a beautiful guy, and we are all going to miss him."

Harrison, 58, died Thursday in the Los Angeles, California, home of a friend with his wife, Olivia, and son Dhani by his side. The singer was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

As a tribute to Harrison, the band U2 played "My Sweet Lord" in an appearance Friday night at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

McCartney, who described himself as "devastated," said he last saw Harrison three weeks ago. "He was full of fun, like he always was, such a brave lad. To me he's just my little baby brother."

In-Depth: George Harrison - the quiet Beatle 
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"It's been an awful shock," said Sir George Martin, the band's producer for years.

"We've known it's been coming for a long while, but it still doesn't prepare you for the day when it actually happens," Martin said. "George is a wonderful man. Fine musician. But most importantly, I think, he was a very loving person, full of humor.

"I don't think he really wanted to be a famous person. I think he wanted to do his own stuff by himself."

Songwriting craft grew over years

Unlike John Lennon and McCartney, who collaborated as songwriters, Harrison worked alone to influence the group, Martin said.

"He would craft his music meticulously with every little stitch in the canvas and gradually built up his songwriting technique to the point he became a great writer," Martin recalled. "He wasn't in the beginning."

At first Harrison's songwriting "was kind of tolerated," Martin said. "Oh, yes, we must have a George song on this thing."

The producer said he blamed himself in part. "I'd concentrate on the guys who were giving me the hits."

In time, Harrison "started writing frightfully good stuff," Martin said. Harrison's hits for the Beatles included "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something."

But it was Harrison's superb guitar work that helped give the group's songs a unique twist, Martin said.

"All of George's influence on the Beatles was very benign and tremendous," he said. "His message was: Love each other."

Musical legend Bob Dylan joined those who mourned Harrison's passing calling him "a giant, a great, great soul, with all of the humanity, all of the wit and humor, all the wisdom, the spirituality, the common sense of a man and compassion for people."

"He inspired love and had the strength of a hundred men," Dylan continued in his statement. "He was like the sun, the flowers and the moon, and we will miss him enormously. The world is a profoundly emptier place without him."

'He didn't fear death'

Though others may have been unprepared for the guitarist's death, Harrison was ready, his doctor said.

"He believed that death was part of life and that illness was part of health and the cause of death is birth," said Dr. Gil Lederman, Harrison's oncologist. "Therefore, he didn't fear death."

Lederman noted that his famous patient was adored by many. "Yet the paradox was, he only wanted quiet solitude."

Fans gather at Abbey Road Studios

In the youngest Beatle's hometown of Liverpool, England, where it all began, the flag above town hall hung at half-staff Friday as fans signed a book of remembrance.

"You gave the city and its people so much. You will always be missed in Liverpool," wrote one.

At Abbey Road Studios in London, where the band members recorded many of their hits, staff members put speakers in the window and serenaded a crowd that had gathered spontaneously with songs written by Harrison and the Beatles.

One fan left a note that read, "Forever in our thoughts for George. Something in the way you moved us. Thanks."

One American, who had not been born when the band broke up 31 years ago, was among those who had gathered. "My parents were big fans, and they turned me into a big fan," he said.

"He was one of the architects of the Beatles sound," said Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone magazine.

"He was underestimated by fans often but never by musicians," he said. "He was a very influential guitar player."

Bangladesh concert set standard for benefits

Harrison introduced Eastern music and spirituality to the other members of the Beatles. He arranged for them to travel to India, where they studied transcendental meditation and music.

In 1971, Harrison orchestrated the Concert for Bangladesh, a benefit at New York's Madison Square Garden that featured Harrison, fellow Beatle Ringo Starr, Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston and Ravi Shankar.

That concert "set the template for benefit shows, which continues to this day," DeCurtis said. "He made a lot of impact in an unfortunately short life."

Harrison's spirituality "was essential to his survival," DeCurtis said. "He believed in reincarnation; he believed that all things must pass. He wrote a song called 'The Art of Dying.' The idea that every soul is on a journey to perfection was something that was simply a fact for him."

Harrison, who gave up smoking only shortly before being diagnosed with throat cancer, joked about death even as it approached, DeCurtis said.

He pointed to a song Harrison recently co-wrote. "He listed his publishing credit as RIP Ltd.," DeCurtis said. "He was not one to be squeamish about that. He felt that everybody was traveling down the road he was traveling down."

That road almost didn't include a career with the Beatles. Lennon, then 16, initially told McCartney, 15, that he opposed including the 14-year-old Harrison because he was too young, DeCurtis said.

"They felt they wouldn't be able to get girls because George was too innocent-looking," he said. But the strength of Harrison's guitar work overcame Lennon's resistance.

"As a guitar player, he was exemplary," said Beatles historian Martin Lewis. "So many musicians talked about how they wanted the George Harrison sound."

In Los Angeles, fan Joan Flint recalled that the band had no problem attracting girls a few years later. The Manchester, England, native said she was one of legions of teen-agers who stood in line for hours to see the group perform in nearby Oldham in 1963.

"It was just fantastic," Flint said. "Inside, I think they were good -- we couldn't hear for ourselves because of the screaming. It was madness. It was wonderful."

Flint joined other fans Friday who paid homage to the star by leaving flowers, candles, notes and mementos at the Beatles' star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Similar offerings were made in Strawberry Fields, a section of New York's Central Park devoted to the memory of Lennon, who was shot to death in 1980 by a deranged fan.

Other musicians expressed their sorrow. "He was an unassuming, quiet, great musician," said singer Tom Jones. "Just a lovely man, he was."

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that President Bush "is very saddened by the death of George Harrison. He considers the Beatles to be one of the greatest groups of any time in music."

Harrison's legacy goes beyond his music. He founded Handmade Films, which produced the Monty Python movie "Life of Brian."

"He wasn't just a great musician and artist, but he did an immense amount for charity as well," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In recent years, Harrison lived on his estate in Oxfordshire with his wife and son.


• Beatle George Harrison dies
November 30, 2001

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