Of all the individual solo output following the break-up of The Beatles, George Harrison provided the real surprise with the 1970 triple album set All Things Must Pass – a three million-selling US Number One.
True or not, it was hailed as a masterpiece and achieved a degree of success he was unfortunately never able to repeat.
Harrison was joined on the album by a stellar cast, including Billy Preston, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, and the remnants of the Delaney and Bonnie band (drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock) who were playing with Clapton as Derek and the Dominoes at the time.
In an unhappy twist, Harrison was sued in February 1971 by lawyers representing the publishers (Bright Tunes) and writer (Ronald Mack) of The Chiffons‘ 1963 hit He’s So Fine, who claimed that My Sweet Lord sounded suspiciously similar to their record.
Also in 1971 Harrison organised two charity concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden to raise money for the victims of the war and famine in Bangladesh. He took on this task in response to a personal plea from his friend, sitar player Ravi Shankar.
The shows became the most successful charity events to date, but sadly huge tax demands in the UK and US prevented a great deal of the money raised from going through to those for whom it was intended.
George then wrote a personal cheque to boost the Bangladesh Relief Fund and the concerts became a valuable lesson for future fundraisers of the need to avoid being crippled by bureaucracy.
The charity shows were also recorded as a triple-album box set, which when released in December 1971 topped the UK charts and made it to Number two in the US.
In 1976, the US District Court ruled that Harrison had indeed adapted The Chiffons‘ He’s So Fine for his My Sweet Lord single. While the court ruled that the adaptation could have been subconscious, they still allowed damages of over half a million.
Legal wranglings meant the case rolled on for another 20 years, and Harrison withdrew from public life, staying behind the walls of Friars Park, a mock Gothic curio in Henley-on-Thames. He married Olivia Arias, his personal secretary at A&M Records, in 1978.
Recording intermittently, his albums still contained proof of their author’s talents, and his response to John Lennon’s assassination, All Those Years Ago, from 1981’s Somewhere In England, was as touching as its subject demanded.
In 1979 he formed Handmade Films with Denis O’Brien, funding The Long Good Friday and Withnail and I, though the partnership turned sour following 1986’s Madonna-starring flop Shanghai Surprise, with Harrison winning an $11 million lawsuit against his former partner.
Its debut single release, Got My Mind Set On You, reached Number two in the UK – but if its success was an opportunity for a large-scale public return, Harrison wasn’t interested.
His last public work was on Free As A Bird and Real Love, the two John Lennon songs updated by the surviving Beatles. Harrison turned in some excellent contributions: his opening slide guitar solo on the former being particularly gorgeous.
George Harrison’s next appearance in the headlines was less celebratory.
In December 1999 he was attacked and stabbed by an obsessed Beatles fan, Michael Abram, who had broken into Friars Park.
The attack shattered Harrison’s closely guarded privacy and low-key lifestyle. Following the attack it was revealed that George had been treated for throat cancer.
His decades-long Senior Service habit had perhaps taken its toll: he later developed lung cancer and, in 2001, underwent an operation in Switzerland for a brain tumour.
Still, towards the end of his life, George seemed to regain that sense of quiet and calm, partly founded on the philosophies that had first turned his head in the mid-60s.
George passed away on 29 November 2001 at a Hollywood Hills mansion. The cause of death was lung cancer. He was just 58.
He was cremated at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges River by his close family in a private ceremony.
2002 saw the release of Brainwashed, a collection that Harrison had begun prior to his death: the set was completed by producer Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison (George’s son) based upon extensive notes made by Harrison in the months before his death.