Nobody can dispute that the Beatles were one of the most successful and impactful music groups of the 20th century. But while anyone could rest on their laurels after being one of the Beatles, George Harrison was far from content with that legacy. For more than 30 years after his time with the Beatles, Harrison proved himself to be a very diverse artist, not just in the world of music alone. Here are 43 facts about George Harrison.
For a long time, George Harrison and his family celebrated his birthday on February 25, 1943. However, much to Harrison’s surprise, he later found out via his birth record that he’d actually been born before midnight of the 24th.
One person who never failed to support Harrison’s love for music was his mother, Louise. She was a passionate fan of music herself and was known to sing loudly while in the house. Interestingly, we have Louise to thank for Harrison’s interest in the music scene of India. During the time that she was pregnant with Harrison, Louise frequently played sitar music that could be heard on Radio India.
Harrison’s musical influences while growing up included Cab Calloway, George Formby, Carl Perkins, and Lonnie Donegan. Known as the King of Skiffle, a genre popular in Britain in the 60s, Donegan, in particular, was highly influential on Harrison. His first band, the Rebels, played skiffle.
Before Harrison’s music career kicked off, he began working as an electrician’s apprentice when he was 16 years old. His father, Harry Harrison—yes, that was his real name—tried to push his sons towards a future business venture as a family unit, since one of Harrison’s brothers was a groundskeeper and the other was a mechanic.
Harrison, however, never had any interest in being an electrician, and was determined to be a musician no matter what.
For some of you, this will probably be common knowledge, but it’s still worth pointing out. Harrison was known as “the Quiet Beatle,” and he was often overshadowed by Paul McCartney and John Lennon in the group. However, his impact was impossible to doubt; nearly all the Beatles albums released after 1965 contained at least two tracks written by Harrison.
The most popular of Harrison’s songs include numbers like “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something,” and “Taxman.”
It’s worth pointing out that despite being known as “the Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison was a very talkative man, according to Tom Petty. To put it in Petty’s exact words, Harrison “never shut up.”
The first song that George Harrison wrote on his own was while he was staying at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth, England back in 1963. He was ill at the time, and he was feeling particularly grumpy as a result. Fittingly, the song he wrote was titled “Don’t Bother Me.” Although Harrison was dismissive of the song, it included in the Beatles’ second album With the Beatles.
Speaking of 1963, that year also marked a much more important first for not just George Harrison, but for any member of the Beatles. At the time, Harrison’s sister, Louise, was married and living in Benton, Illinois. That year, Harrison went to visit her, and ended up on a music stage with a band known as the Four Vests.
With this performance, Harrison became the first of the Beatles to perform in the United States.
George Harrison first became acquainted with other members of the Beatles when he encountered Paul McCartney while both youths were on their way to school at the Liverpool Institute. The pair instantly hit it off over their love for music.
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One musician who was admired by all of the Beatles, including Harrison, was American folk legend, Bob Dylan. However, after the group finally met Dylan in 1964, it was Harrison who formed the closest bond with him. The two of them later went on to become bandmates themselves.
Even in 1966, at the height of the Beatles’ fame, Harrison was already turning towards a different direction when it came to music. The year before, Harrison had been introduced to the music of Indian music legend Ravi Shankar. Harrison later described Shankar as being the first person who didn’t try to impress him, yet was also the first person to genuinely impress him as a result.
The two men would collaborate together on numerous occasions in their lives.
In the early days of the Beatles’ career, Harrison accompanied the rest of the band to Hamburg, Germany. Despite the fact that Harrison was a minor at the time, they performed in sleazy bars as a house band. Future Beatles fans would never have been able to recognize these youths, however, as they were clad in leather, smoked and swore onstage, ate chicken while they performed, and even nailed condoms to the wall before lighting them on fire!
One of Harrison’s lesser-known passions was gardening. His vast home at Friar Park also included a considerable ground of vegetation, which he hired ten workers to maintain. Harrison himself viewed gardening as an escape from the stress of life, and even dedicated his autobiography I, Me, Mine “to gardeners everywhere.”
In 2009, the film Nowhere Boy was released, depicting the early years of John Lennon’s life. Unsurprisingly, Harrison was a character in the film. Sam Bell not only portrayed Harrison, but also performed music as Harrison. Oddly, as of 2019, it’s the only credit to Sam Bell’s name on IMDb.
During Harrison’s school years at the Liverpool Institute, he was dismayed to find that guitars were not an option for him to play in their music class. Moreover, Harrison later reflected that the school was less about teaching music and more about scaring students with their rigid discipline.
On January 20, 1988, Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Beatles.
At one point in the 1970s, George Harrison was at a party when he was approached by none other than John Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin. Bonham was an admirer of Harrison’s, and wanted to get his picture taken with him. Harrison agreed but suspected that Bonham wanted to play a joke on him, so he came up with a plan.
Harrison struck first by smashing a piece of cake on Bonham’s head. To Bonham’s credit, he took it in stride, laughing it off as he threw Harrison into the pool.
During the height of Beatlemania, Harrison introduced a new slang word to the English language. In the 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night, Harrison says the word “grotty.” This slang is a shortened form of the word “grotesque,” used by Harrison to criticize items of clothing. Much to Harrison’s own dismay—John Lennon claimed that Harrison cringed every time he had to say it in the film—his slang word caught on and is still occasionally used to this day.
When it comes to the post-Beatles careers, few people tend to remember that it was, in fact, Harrison who was the first person to top both the singles and albums charts after the breakup. This was achieved with his triple album All Things Must Pass, released in 1971. The album spent weeks at #1, as did its main single, titled “My Sweet Lord.”
For his impact upon film and pop culture in general, Harrison received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 14, 2009. We can imagine that many of you would have preferred it to be placed on Abbey Road.
It might surprise you to think of it now, but Harrison had become world-famous at a very young age. In fact, when the Beatles broke up, he was only 27 years old. By that same age, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix were already dead!
To call Harrison a talented musician is underselling just how versatile he was in his life, specifically when it came to instruments. He learned how to play no fewer than 26 different instruments! In case you’re curious what they were, we’ll list them here: guitar, sitar, four-string guitar, bass guitar, arp bass, violin, piano, moog synthesizer, harmonica, autoharp, tamboura, dobro, swardmandel, tabla, organ, claves, African drum, conga drum, tympani, ukulele, mandolin, marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, and Jal Tarang. That’s a mouthful.
In 1971, Harrison headlined the Concert for Bangladesh, which was an attempt to raise funds for the people of Bangladesh, who had gone through both a war and a cyclone. Unlike previous charity concerts, Harrison’s ambition pushed it to the same “megastar” level that Live Aid later reached. Inspired by his friend, Ravi Shankar, Harrison gathered a plethora of famous musicians such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Leon Russell.
The Concert for Bangladesh, as well as the film and soundtrack produced about the event, raised more than $12 million by 1985. The profits of that event still benefit the George Harrison Fund, which is organized by UNICEF.
In 1971, George Harrison began financing and producing films, starting with Ravi Shankar’s documentary, titled Raga. Harrison went professional in 1978 by forming his own production company titled HandMade Films. Harrison often made cameo appearances in these films and even recorded music for their soundtracks as well.
Of the 27 films that credited Harrison as a producer, we can guarantee that you’ve seen at least one or two of them.
Another music legend whom Harrison befriended in his lifetime was, perhaps surprisingly, “Weird Al” Yankovic. Less surprisingly, Yankovic went on to make a parody of one of Harrison’s songs. Specifically, it was based on “Got My Mind Set on You,” and was titled “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long.”
In the late 1980s, Harrison first began talking about making an album with his friends within the music industry. Ultimately, he brought together a band which was comprised of himself, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. This supergroup was known as the Traveling Wilburys, and the bandmates all took on personas with “Wilbury” as their fake surname.
The success of their tours and albums were such that both Harrison and Petty experienced career resurgences.
Despite the incredible potential of Harrison’s supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys only released two albums. In a bit of cheek, the first album was titled Volume 1 and the second was titled Volume 3. It’s worth pointing out that only one of them featured Roy Orbison, who died the same year that their first album was released.
Believe it or not, you have Harrison to thank for what is one of Monty Python’s best films. In case that sentence doesn’t mean anything to you, the British comedy troupe Monty Python was comprised of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam. They’d spent the 1970s making a hit TV show in the UK, followed up with their film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
By 1979, they were hoping to make another film, this time parodying the time period in which the prophet Jesus Christ lived called Monty Python's Life of Brian. Naturally, this was considered too blasphemous for most producers, but Harrison was deeply interested in seeing that film. When Monty Python couldn’t come up with the money for their film, Harrison single-handedly raised $4 million for them to use.
He explained his reasons very plainly, “I want to go see it.” As Eric Idle later joked, it was the most that anyone had ever spent on a movie ticket!
Fans of Monty Python’s Life of Brian might have noticed that Harrison, in addition to financing the film, also makes a cameo appearance. He portrays Mr. Papadopolous, who simply shakes the titular character’s name and states “’Ullo!” In a somewhat-ironic moment, it was later revealed that they didn’t actually use Harrison’s voice.
His original recording wasn’t usable, so Monty Python member Michael Palin proceeded to imitate Harrison’s voice and accent for the one line he had. To be fair to Palin, we doubt any of you noticed when you first watched the film.
Believe it or not, if John Lennon had had his way, Harrison wouldn’t have been a member of the Beatles in the first place. Auditioning for the group in 1958, Harrison was initially dismissed by Lennon because he thought Harrison was far too young—he was 15 at the time. Paul McCartney insisted that Lennon give Harrison another chance.
Harrison’s guitar skills were such that Lennon changed his mind.
While some artists can’t seem to hold onto their money, George Harrison was not one of them. At the time of his death, his worth was over £100 million! We can imagine that financing Time Bandits and Life of Brian certainly contributed to that sum.
In 1981, Harrison was an executive producer for Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure film Time Bandits. As well as having a former Monty Python member in the director’s chair, the film also featured John Cleese and Michael Palin. As before with Life of Brian, nobody was willing to finance the film, leading Harrison to mortgage his office building to raise money.
The film proved to be a huge hit for all involved, grossing more than $40 million on a $5 million budget.
Not only was Time Bandits a highly profitable venture for Harrison as its executive producer, but the film also included a song by Harrison titled “Dream Away.” As many of you probably know, this is one of his most well-remembered songs, but Harrison’s music fans were frustrated when it took Harrison three whole years before he put “Dream Away” on an album.
This album in question was Gone Troppo, and despite the presence of the beloved track, it had a mediocre reception.
Speaking of those early days performing in Hamburg, it’s worth pointing out that Harrison and the rest of the Beatles weren’t making a lot of money with this venture, to the point that they all shared the same small room, sleeping in bunk beds. This made it especially awkward when Harrison, then 17, lost his virginity in said room.
According to Harrison himself, his bandmates kept quiet and looked away during the act, and after Harrison was finished, they gave him applause for having popped his cherry.
One aspect of the Beatles that few people like to talk about is the fact that most of them weren’t exactly kind to their spouses, and some were downright vile. Harrison himself was no exception. His first marriage to Pattie Boyd was rife with friction, due to the fact that they were childless and each suspected the other of being infertile.
At the time, Harrison was also refusing to allow Pattie a chance to lead an independent life or have her own career. Moreover, Harrison’s bandmate, Ringo Starr, was abusing his own wife, Maureen Cox.
George Harrison was cheating on Boyd quite frequently by 1972 and then took his infidelity one step further by sleeping with Cox behind Starr’s back. Keep in mind, this was all happening while John was bringing Yoko Ono into the spotlight, which makes us feel sorry for Paul being stuck in the middle of all this.
If you thought the above situation sounded awful, Harrison managed to make things even more uncomfortable and dramatic. One evening, he and Boyd were invited to dinner at Star and Cox’s, where Harrison began playing some music for the others. He ended it by abruptly putting down his guitar and openly announcing that he was in love with Maureen.
Nobody took that revelation well. Star and Cox divorced in 1975, while Boyd and Harrison divorced two years later. Boyd famously went on to marry Eric Clapton, who wrote “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” for her.
While Harrison was still married to Pattie Boyd, he became acquainted with Olivia Arias while she was working for the marketing department of A&M Records. At the time, Harrison was involved with A&M, as they were the distributors for his own record label, Dark Horse. Drawn to Arias, Harrison arranged so that she worked directly for Dark Horse instead.
The pair became romantically involved and were married in 1978, shortly after Harrison’s divorce went through, and about a month after the birth of their son, Dhani. In a sense, he was able to turn his terrible romantic history around, as they remained together until his death.
In 2001 it was revealed that George Harrison was suffering from tumors that had first appeared in his lungs before then spreading to his brain. Despite traveling around the world for different treatments, Harrison died of cancer on November 29, 2001. He was 58 years old.
Prior to his death, Harrison had become deeply involved in Hindu philosophies, traveling to India several times in his life. As per Harrison’s wishes, his body was cremated just hours after his death. His ashes were taken to India and were scattered into the Ganges River.
On December 30, 1999, George Harrison was in his Friar Park home with his second wife, Olivia, when the couple were attacked by an intruder. Michael Abram was a 34-year old man who was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Once inside Harrison’s home, Abram proceeded to attack Harrison with a kitchen knife until Olivia incapacitated him by wielding a fireplace poker.
The attack by Michael Abram left Harrison with no fewer than 40 stab wounds, including one which had pierced his lung. Part of his lung had to be removed as a result. Despite the seriousness of his injuries, Harrison was able to make a quip about the attack when he spoke publicly about it, stating “he certainly wasn’t auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys.”
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