The two surviving Beatles mourned George Harrison Friday as “a best friend” and a “baby brother,” and flags were lowered in Liverpool where the band was born.
“He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humor,” Paul McCartney told reporters outside his London home. “He is really just my baby brother.”
Ringo Starr said he would miss the band’s lead guitarist “for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter.”
“George was a best friend of mine. I loved him very much and I will miss him greatly,” he said in a statement from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Harrison was 13 when he befriended McCartney at their school in Liverpool, England, in 1956. McCartney introduced Harrison to John Lennon, and their friendship was the nucleus of the band that was finally completed with the addition of drummer Starr.
At Liverpool’s town hall, the flag was lowered to half-staff Friday morning in tribute. Harrison, 58, died Thursday in Los Angeles after a long battle with cancer.
Gerry Scott, Liverpool’s mayor, said Harrison was “a warm, peace-loving man who was more than just a talented musician.”
“This is a black day, a sad day. He was a very talented lad and he was too young to die,” said Gerry Marsden, leader of the Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers, part of the 1960s rock explosion in the city.
“George was always the quiet Beatle,” Marsden said. “He was always acting as peacemaker between John and Paul.”
Alan Williams, The Beatles’ first manager, said Harrison was an essential part of the band’s chemistry.
“I would say he was the major cog in The Beatles at that time. He kept them together probably because of the calming effect he had,” Williams said.
Harrison commented wryly on The Beatles’ acrimonious breakup in his song, “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” from his post-Beatles solo album, “Living in the Material World.”
But old grudges faded with time, and McCartney and Starr joined in recording “All Those Years Ago,” Harrison’s 1981 tribute to the slain Lennon.
“He was a great guy, full of love for humanity but he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s a great man. He’ll be sorely missed by everyone,” said McCartney, 59, who at times appeared emotional as he talked with journalists.
“I remember all the beautiful times we had together and I’d like to remember him like that because I know he would like to be remembered like that,” McCartney said.
He said he had seen Harrison a few weeks before his death.
“When I saw him last time, he was obviously very unwell but he was cracking jokes like he always was and he’ll be sorely missed,” he said.
Some fans and neighbors brought bouquets to the gates of Friar Park, Harrison’s Victorian mansion at Henley-on-Thames, west of London.
Kym Freedman, 17, came with her 16-year-old friend, Natalie West, to leave a bouquet of yellow roses. The card said, “My guitar will gently weep forever. We love you, man.”
“He was a big idol of mine,” Freedman said. “It’s because of his songs. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is the best song I ever heard.”
Within the Beatles, Harrison was known as the quiet, mystical one, the author of a few well-crafted songs such as “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” which were overshadowed by the torrent of Lennon-McCartney tunes.
“As he said himself, `How do you compare with the genius of John and Paul?’ But he did very well,” said Sir Bob Geldof, a fellow rock musician, in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Geldof said he regarded Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ as the best Beatles solo album.
Sir George Martin, producer of The Beatles’ recordings, said Harrison struggled as a songwriter.
“He was the baby of The Beatles, and unlike Paul and John, he had a hard time developing his songwriting talent and making his music alone,” Martin said.
“But he worked hard and with enormous patience, building his music meticulously, and he eventually came to write one of the greatest love songs of all time, ‘Something.”‘
Richard Lester, who directed the Beatle films “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” said Harrison took easily to acting.
“He took to his parts with some relish and although we always felt that John Lennon was the flashiest and most interesting actor, George could always be relied on to hit the square in the middle and get the line right,” Lester said.
Harrison organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, one of the first rock and roll benefits, and was generous with advice when Geldof was putting together Live Aid, a benefit for African famine in 1985.
“During that, he would fax me and ring me. He kept telling me not to make the mistakes they made with all the lawyers in the Bangladeshi concert,” Geldof said. “So I remember him with a profound sense of gratitude.”
Formula One motor racing driver Eddie Jordan said he would miss Harrison’s “great presence and vibe.” Harrison had a taste for fast cars and professional racing.
Michael Palin of Monty Python’s Flying Circus said Harrison’s spiritual side was balanced by a hardheaded business sense. Harrison stepped in to finance Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” film in 1978, and his Handmade Films company also produced Palin’s “A Private Function.”
“You know, George wasn’t head in the clouds all the time. When it came to business and all that he was feet very much on the ground. So there was a mixture there, and it was a rather pleasant mixture.” Palin said.
Palin said Harrison was more spirited than his nickname, “the quiet Beatle,” indicated.
“He never stopped talking when I was with him,” Palin said. “He wasn’t the silent one that sat in the corner by any means.”
John Chambers of the Liverpool Beatles Appreciation Society described Harrison’s death as “the end of an era” for fans of the band. He said Beatles followers had long hoped that the band might reunite, perhaps with Julian Lennon standing in for his father.
“It really is the end of a dream,” Chambers said. “The only comfort we can take is the legacy of the music, which is as powerful and mysterious today as it ever was.”
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