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George Harrison, former Beatle, dies

By United Press International

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- George Harrison, the quiet, reflective member of the Beatles, played lead guitar and sang with the "Fab Four" from the 1960 beginnings in England through its dizzying decade as perhaps the most influential rock band in history.

He was his own man and went his own way off the bandstand, content to let John Lennon and Paul McCartney take the spotlight. He probably was he least affected when the enormously successful group broke up. But, he was the most affected by the vast sums of money the Beatles were earning and he became a quiet philanthropist.

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Harrison developed a deep interest in Eastern religion and music, gave the Hare Krishna sect a mansion and had a small temple on the grounds of his estate for meditation.

It was perhaps this calmness he had developed that helped him as his health deteriorated in the summer of 2001. He had undergone treatment for a brain tumor and lung cancer, and according to news reports, stunned friends by revealing he expected to die soon.

"George is very philosophical," said George Martin, the Beatles' longtime producer and a friend of Harrison. "He is taking it easy and hoping that the thing will go away. He has an indomitable spirit -- but he knows that he is going to die soon and he is accepting that." McCartney and Ringo Starr, the Beatles' drummer, reportedly were keeping in touch. Lennon died in a shooting in 1980.

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Martin told London's Mail that Harrison "has been near death many times and he's been rescued many times as well." He had been nearly killed in early 2000 when a deranged fan broke into his home in England and stabbed the musician repeatedly.

He was treated for a brain tumor at a clinic in Switzerland. Later, in May of 2001, he had surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to remove a cancerous growth from one of his lungs. But, at least one of the cancers had spread. He also fought throat cancer in 1998, blaming his illness on his lifelong smoking habit and urged teens to steer clear of cigarettes.

Harrison and McCartney were schoolmates and occasionally met on the bus taking them to the Liverpool Institute and they discovered a mutual interest in skiffle and early Bill Haley rock 'n' roll. They also compared notes on how to learn the guitar and one day McCartney said he had a new friend, John Lennon, who had formed a group called the Quarrymen and there was a place in it for Harrison if he wanted to audition.

Harrison played a few riffs for Lennon and the rest is intertwined with the history of the Beatles. Harrison was the youngest of the famous quartet when they were only a few years away from their working class roots in Liverpool, yet multimillionaires whose names were known over most of the world.

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He was in his own way the most strongly individual of the group and although Lennon and McCartney were the obvious leaders, Harrison was his own man when they left the bandstand.

"I know Ringo said that when the Beatles broke up it was like losing a steady job," Harrison once said. "I didn't agree. I said, thank God. People tell me the Beatles saved the world in the '60s. What rubbish. We couldn't even save ourselves. I'm glad that little factory burned down. Now I can deal with my life on a happier level."

Harrison was born Feb. 25, 1943, and was precocious in his dress. He was the first among his friends to wear tight trousers, blue suede shoes and to allow his hair to grow long. At 14 he asked his parents for three pounds -- $7 -- to buy an old guitar from a boy at school. He practiced until his fingers bled and then asked his parents for a $70 guitar. He and a friend played for $2 a night at a British war veterans club.

This stood him in good stead when he discussed music with McCartney and he was one of the group from then on. Harrison was only 17 when he went to Hamburg with the Beatles and it was his youth -- 18 was the minimum for playing in German night clubs -- that got him sent home with the rest of the group following. He was the best guitarist of the group and a big selling recording artist and songwriter on his own when the Beatles dissolved.

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In 1966, at the height of the Beatles craze, he married Pattie Boyd, a model and actress he had met on the set of the Beatles film, "A Hard Day's Night." They were divorced in 1977. They had no children.

A year later Harrison married Olivia Arias, a beautiful Mexican woman who had worked for his record company. They had lived together for some time and had a son, Dhani.

Lennon and McCartney were the major songwriters of the Beatles but it was sometimes forgotten that Harrison had songs of his own on many of their albums including the hits, "Something," and "Here Comes the Sun."

Following the break-up of the Beatles in 1969, Harrison made a solo album, "All Things Must Pass" (1970), which included the gospelly hit "My Sweet Lord," later the subject of an expensive plagiarism suit.

Later solo albums included Living in the Material World (1973), Dark Horse (1974), and Somewhere in England (1981), and he joined with other artists in the "super-group' The Traveling Wilburys (1988-90), and with Starr and McCartney to produce the Beatles anthology (1995).

He formed Dark Horse Records in 1974, and a film company, HandMade Films, in 1978, producing a number of feature films, such as "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979), "Time Bandits" (1981, also writing the music and lyrics), "A Private Function" (1984), and "Withnail and I" (1987). He was the first of the Beatles to publish an autobiography, a remarkable coffee table tome titled "I Me Mine" and retailing at $330. Despite the price the limited edition of 2,000 sold well. It contained facsimiles of lyrics and other memorabilia.

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Harrison was a vegetarian with a fanatical interest in motor racing. He wrote a song, "Faster," for motor racers and assigned the proceeds to ailing racing driver Gunnar Nilsson who later died. His other benefactions were many and always anonymous.

He lived on a magnificent estate outside London valued at $4.2 million. There were seven gardeners for its 33 acres, studded with manmade lakes and an alpine garden made of 20,000 tons of rock brought in by train.

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