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George Harrison, the quiet Beatle

George, second from the right, with Beatles Paul, Ringo and John  

By CNN's Graham Jones

LONDON, England (CNN) -- George Harrison was The Quiet One. The Shy One. The Serious One. The Sad One. Not a Lennon, not a McCartney. Not as famous a songwriter as either. Perhaps not quite a legend.

But Harrison, who died on Thursday aged 58, was so much an influence on the music of the Beatles his massive contribution to the success of the world's most famous group should not be underestimated.

He was the man who (egged on by his first wife, Patti Boyd) brought Indian mysticism and the Maharishi to the Fab Four.

He was the man whose lead guitar underpinned all those early Beatles hits and whose wistful, lyrical style later forged the psychedelic sound of the late 60s.

A life in music and movies: CNN's Michael Okwu reports (November 30)

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And he did pen the odd Beatles classic -- "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

Yet despite his musical talent Harrison, The Overshadowed One, never managed the same professional or public recognition as Lennon and McCartney.

Though outwardly uncomplaining, this did seem to irk him - he never made up with John Lennon before the latter's murder in 1980 and said he wouldn't want to join a band with Paul McCartney in it.

Harrison's former record company and 1974 album were named "Dark Horse" - his preferred epithet for himself -- "the one who suddenly pulls out from behind the rest and barrels ahead to actually win the race. That's me I guess."

To many, though, he was an enigma -- John Lennon said of him: "George himself is no mystery. But the mystery of George inside is immense."

Certainly, Harrison's life contained many contradictions.

The "quiet one" who, as Monty Python's Eric Idle remarked, never stopped talking. The melancholy one who was a wisecracker.

The spiritual man who liked Formula 1 motor racing. The rock star who was never happier than spreading fertiliser on his garden. He even dedicated his autobiography "I Me Mine" (1982) "to all gardeners everywhere."

George Harrison was born on February 25, 1943, in Wavertree, Liverpool, one of three children of a bus driver and a housewife. He attended Dovedale Primary School, two years below John Lennon, and Liverpool Institute, one year below Paul McCartney.

His rebellious streak was shown when he defied school rules to grow long hair and wear jeans. This didn't go down well with his strict Roman Catholic parents. Yet mum bought him a guitar and he and his brother Peter formed a skiffle group.

A more important musical friendship was with Paul McCartney, the two of them catching the same bus to school and finding they had guitars, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and Lonnie Donegan in common.

McCartney introduced him to his group The Quarrymen, though because of Harrison's age (14) it was some time before he became a regular member of the group.

"I never asked to be famous, I just wanted to be successful," he would say later.

In 1960 the Quarrymen had a new name, the Beatles. The group set off to work in Hamburg. But back in Liverpool they met record store owner Brian Epstein -- the hits followed and Beatlemania was born.

He may not have been the Beatles' "leader" but polls showed Harrison the most popular of the Fab Four with U.S. audiences.

With the Beatles: George is on the left. Relations turned sour  

A more personal partnership came in 1965 when, making the zany film "A Hard Days Night" he met a teenage model, Patti Boyd, with one line in the film ("Prisoners?"). They married in January 1966.

This was the Beatles' best period, of course, culminating in the album "Sgt Pepper" in 1967. It was the era of psychedelia and LSD and experimentation ... and Indian mysticism.

Harrison had introduced the sitar to pop music in "Norwegian Wood." Now Patti introduced him to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and all four Beatles and their wives jetted to India.

Harrison went on to become a devotee of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, to which he donated large sums of money.

But despite his huge influence on the Beatles, there still seemed to be a reluctance to record his songs -- though in 1968 "Something" was "allowed out" as a single and sold a million copies in the UK.

When the Fab Four split up in 1970 their hesitancy in recording Harrison songs was cited as one reason and it is no surprise that he was the first Beatle off the starting blocks to record a solo album.

He was later to say: "The biggest break in my career was getting into the Beatles in 1963. The second biggest break was getting out of them."

The new album "All Things Must Pass" was hailed as a masterpiece. But there was controversy after "My Sweet Lord" -- which swept all before it as a single in Europe and the U.S. -- was deemed by a court to have been based on the Chiffons 1962 hit "He's So Fine."

In 1971 Harrison, by now indelibly linked with the Hare Krishna movement, produced two benefit concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden for the people of Bangladesh after Ravi Shankar had told him of the poverty there.

The resulting three-record set with guest artists won a Grammy. But the $10 million raised was held up until 1981 after a tax investigation into the Beatles company, Apple. Harrison's 1974 recording "Dark Horse" was a runaway success. Its brooding nature fuelled by the collapse of his marriage to Patti Boyd, pursued by his friend Eric Clapton.

But around this time Harrison met his second wife Olivia, an assistant in the merchandising department at A&M records. They had a son, Dhani, in 1978.

After "Dark Horse" music critics never had the same regard for Harrison's solo recordings.

But better reviews did come in the late 1980s when he formed an impromptu supergroup "The Travelling Wilburys" which featured among others Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. Their album won Harrison a second Grammy.

In this period he also acted as a record producer and funded Monty Python's film "Life of Brian," going on to found Handmade Films, which produced "The Long Good Friday," "Mona Lisa" and "Shanghai Surprise."

There was one hint of the old days when, in 1987, Harrison's "Got My Mind Set on You" reached number two in the UK and number one in America.

In 1992 Harrison campaigned for the Natural Law Party, another example of his interest in all things mystic, at the UK general election.

Harrison's later years were dogged by more unwelcome publicity, including a January 1996 court case in which he was awarded £6 million ($11.6m) from a former adviser he had accused of mishandling his finances. Worse was to follow in 1999 when Harrison was attacked and almost murdered by a psychotic in his gothic mansion in Oxfordshire, southern England. He had a lung punctured by the stabbing and it was said that only the prompt action by his wife Olivia, who hit the intruder over the head with a poker and a table lamp, saved his life.

Harrison overcame throat cancer in 1998, which he blamed on smoking. He was given the all-clear after radiation therapy. But in 2001 it was revealed Harrison was having treatment at a Swiss clinic for lung cancer.

Harrison took much comfort from his religion and believed in reincarnation: "I don't know what as. You go on being reincarnated until you reach the actual Truth. Heaven and Hell are just a state of mind."

But above all Harrison will be remembered for his music. He once said: "I think people who can live their life in music are telling the world: 'You can have my love, you can have my smiles. Forget the bad parts, you don't need them.

"'Just take the music, the goodness, because it's the very best,' and it's the part I give most willingly."


• George Harrison: Albums, Songs and Lyrics
• The Beatles
• George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

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