On this date in 2001, English musician and songwriter George Harrison dies at the age of 58. Harrison achieved global fame as a member of the Beatles and went on to a successful solo career that included frequent collaborations with many of the foremost musicians of his generation.
The youngest member of the Beatles, Harrison was born in Liverpool in 1943 and joined the group, then known as the Quarrymen, when he was barely 15. Harrison became the group’s lead guitarist and frequently sang, but he developed a reputation as the “quiet Beatle” and was oftentimes overshadowed by the duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Nonetheless, his influence on the group, and on rock music in general, was profound. Harrison’s use of sitar on the 1965 track “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” introduced the instrument to Western popular culture. Along with other Harrison innovations, such as the backwards guitar solo on “I’m Only Sleeping,” it became a defining feature of psychedelic rock.
Harrison’s first solo album, All Things Must Pass, featured former bandmate Ringo Starr as well as guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton, a close friend of Harrison’s, and was an enormous success. The following year, Harrison organized the Concert for Bangladesh, a charity event now recognized as the first celebrity benefit concert. The concert drew over 40,000 people to Madison Square Garden and the resulting live album won the Grammy for Album of the Year. After Lennon’s murder, Harrison wrote the tribute “All Those Years Ago” and recorded it with McCartney and Starr.
Harrison released many solo records, but he was known for his love of collaboration. In 1988, he formed a supergroup, the Travelling Willburys, with Jeff Lyne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. He befriended the surrealist comedy troupe Monty Python, mortgaging his home in order to finance their iconic film, Life of Brian, and remained close with Clapton even after Patti Boyd left Harrison for him. One of the Pythons, Eric Idle, described Harrison as “one of the few morally good people that rock and roll has produced.” Harrison died of throat cancer on this day in 2001, with his second wife Olivia and their son Dhani by his side.