Harrison's hometown gently weeps

Published November 30, 2001 9:35PM (EST)

As word of George Harrison's death spread in this prosperous town where he lived for almost three decades, a stream of people stopped to leave bouquets and tributes at the gate of his 19th century Gothic mansion.

"My guitar will gently weep forever," said a note pinned to some yellow roses, alluding to one of Harrison's Beatles compositions.

"Love you! Love all! Say hi to John," wrote another Beatles fan.

Several generations of residents came to pay tribute to the 58-year-old musician and the band he helped form four decades ago. One note was signed by a family, "from 15 years old to 54 years old -- we loved you and your music and always will."

Adults remembered listening to their parents' Beatles records. Claire Warr, 34, said she played Beatles songs in the car for 3-year-old daughter Olivia.

"She's fascinated with the Beatles," Warr said. "All this week, she's been asking about John, because we told her about John Lennon and how he died. And now George. It's peculiar."

Kym Freedman, a 17-year-old student, wore a Beatles T-shirt in tribute to a man she called her idol.

"I was brought up with the Beatles, and George was my favorite, she said. "It's the songs -- 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' is the best song I've ever heard.

A handsome riverside town 40 miles west of London, Henley is home to wealthy London commuters, a handful of high-tech businesses -- and, since the early 1970s, one of the world's biggest rock stars.

Henley residents say Harrison was not the recluse often portrayed in the press.

"When I was a youngster, you'd see him out and about," said Chris Jackson, manager of Henley's tourist information center.

The assassination of John Lennon in 1980 made Harrison more security conscious. Today his 34-acre estate is protected by high walls and a gatehouse, where a guard on Friday prevented mourners and journalists lingering on the wide driveway.

But neighbors said Harrison remained a familiar figure in town, glimpsed walking down the main street or standing in line at the supermarket.

Mayor Tony Lane recalled Harrison joining a citizens group's campaign to save the local movie theater in the 1980s.

"He was a great person on the committees," Lane said. "By George becoming involved with us, we have a cinema in Henley today."

Harrison's presence drew tourists to Henley, a town best known for its Georgian architecture and the boating regatta held each July on the River Thames.

Jackson said visitors would regularly ask at the information center for directions to the star's home.

At the town hall in Liverpool -- the Beatles' home town -- the Union Jack was lowered to half-staff.

Gerry Marsden, leader of Gerry and the Pacemakers, said it was "a black day, a sad day" and called Harrison a "very talented lad" who was too young to die.

And in London, fans made pilgrimages to Abbey Road and adorned the iron railings outside the Beatles' old recording studio with candles, cards, bouquets and photos.

Joe Noonan, a 22-year-old Londoner, tucked his card -- which read "You will be missed. God bless." -- into the railings.

Nearby, other tributes referred to lyrics from Harrison's songs. Said one: "Something in the way you moved us ..."

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By Jill Lawless

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