This week marks the 21st anniversary of George Harrison’s death. The Beatles star lost his battle against cancer on November 29, 2001. But before his final days, he arranged to meet up with his former bandmates, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, on a momentous occasion that included “laughter and love” as well as a few tears.
Harrison seemingly didn’t want to dwell on the sadness of their meeting, however. So, just 17 days before his death, Harrison invited McCartney and Starr to a hotel room in Manhattan where he was staying at the time. Together, the three Beatles reminisced about old times and said their goodbyes.
Harrison’s doctor, Gil Lederman, also attended the meeting to monitor the star’s health. He later revealed what happened in the final, fateful meeting between the three Beatles.
Gil explained that, despite the meeting being surrounded by sadness, the three stars were determined to remain cheerful. “There were some tears,” he said. “But there was more laughter than anything else.”
“It was a spirited affair,” he went on. “Not a sombre one. There were lots of laughs and lots of fun. They spent hours reminiscing.”
McCartney and Starr were, eventually, bogged down by the reality that Harrison was slowly dying, however. It weighed heavy on their visit. But, despite being sick and weak, Harrison would not let it bring the mood down.
Lederman said: “There were tears, but George remained very much the man of dignity. At the end, after both Paul and Ringo had left, [George] was fine and calm. He was a very happy man. This meeting meant so much to him.”
A friend of the Beatles later explained: “George was clearly picked up by the afternoon. He was smiling, happy and seemed so delighted to see his friends. Deep down he knew this was their last moments together and realised just what a great life they had together.”
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Harrison’s friend went on: “Of course there were tears, but that was during the goodbyes. For the most part George, Paul and Ringo forgot about his condition and all seemed to carry on as if they hadn’t been apart from each other for 30 years.”
Years later, McCartney spoke candidly about the emotional and meaningful meeting. He said: “I sat with him for a few hours when he was in treatment just outside New York. He was about 10 days away from his death, as I recall. We joked about things – just amusing, nutty stuff. It was good. It was like we were dreaming. He was my little baby brother, almost, because I’d known him that long.”
He also opened up about how the pair held hands – which was a tough thing for them to do. “It’s funny,” McCartney looked back. “Even at the height of our friendship – as guys – you would never hold hands. It just wasn’t a Liverpool thing. But it was lovely.”
Harrison died on November 29, 2001, at 9:30pm. He was in a house owned by McCartney at the time. He was joined by his wife, Olivia Harrison, son, Dhani Harrison, and friends including Ravi Shankar.
The star was cremated the same day and had his ashes scattered in the Ganges River, in India, as per his Hindu tradition.
Olivia later announced his final words for the world: “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.”