On August 27, 1967, Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, was found dead of an accidental drug overdose. The following day, the headline in the London Daily Mirror read “EPSTEIN (The Beatle-Making Prince of Pop) DIES AT 32.” Brian Epstein was, by all accounts, the man who truly got the Beatles off the ground, and in John Lennon’s estimation, it was difficult to see how they’d manage to go on without the man who had managed every aspect of the Beatles’ business affairs up until his unexpected death. “I knew that we were in trouble then,” John later recalled. “I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music. I was scared. I thought, ‘We’ve ******* had it.'”
The relationship between Brian Epstein and the Beatles dated back to Liverpool in late 1961. Entirely self-managed and without a recording contract, the Beatles had just recently returned from Hamburg and begun playing Liverpool’s Cavern Club. Epstein was then running his family’s record and musical instrument shop on Walton Road, just blocks away from the Cavern, but as he would later tell the story, he hadn’t heard of the Beatles until he had two young customers in quick succession enter his store looking for a copy of a record they’d made in Hamburg as the backing group for vocalist Tony Sheridan. Based on this rather modest “buzz,” Epstein arranged to go see the future Fab Four several weeks later.
The band that Epstein saw the first time he laid eyes on the Beatles was very different from the one that would soon conquer the world. They dressed in black leather, they played only cover tunes and they would freely eat and drink onstage during and between songs. Yet Epstein was immediately taken with their charisma and the crowd’s response to it. On January 24, 1962, he was officially hired by John, Paul, George and drummer Pete Best in a deal that gave Epstein a 25 percent cut of the band’s gross earnings for the next five years.
As a business deal, that management contract may seem to have been tilted very much in Epstein’s favor, but it is fair to say that the world might never have heard of the Beatles were it not for their manager and good friend. Epstein put the Beatles in suits, had them bow in unison after each number and, just a few months after being hired, got them their first recording contract with Parlophone Records.