LONDON — A who’s who of British society paid tribute to George Harrison Friday following news of the former Beatle’s death in Los Angeles.
Paul McCartney, with Ringo Starr one of the two surviving ex-Beatles, said: “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’s a beautiful man. The world will miss him.”
Starr described Harrison as his “best friend” and said: “We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter.”
McCartney as well cancelled his scheduled appearance on “Top of the Pops,” the BBC’s pop music chart TV show.
Prime minister Tony Blair, himself a guitarist and one-time rock musician, said: “The music and the personalities of the (Beatles) were the background of our lives. He was not only a great musician and artist, but he did an immense amount for charity as well, and so he will be very, very sadly missed round the world.”
And in a statement from Buckingham palace, Queen Elizabeth expressed her sorrow, saying she was “very sad.”
Although many Brits had anticipated Harrison’s death given his widely-publicized struggle with cancer, the fact of it was still a profound blow.
The Beatles put the U.K. on the map in the 1960s, opening the gates for a flood of British music and helping to create a vital record industry that persists today. The Beatles were also at the forefront of a social movement that changed not only Britain but the world.
Brit music major EMI, home to the Beatles and Harrison as a solo artist, said: “We are all deeply saddened by the death of George Harrison. As someone who shaped our musical and cultural history, his influence cannot be overestimated. As a musician and humanitarian, he helped change our world. He was truly inspirational. We are proud to have known him.”
Like Beatles bandmate John Lennon, who was murdered in New York in 1980, Harrison had a highly-developed sense of humor.
Monty Python member Michael Palin said Harrison – who backed the Pythons’ controversial “Life Of Brian (1979)” and in the process set up his own film company, HandMade – was in fact not, as many believe, the “quiet Beatle.”
Palin, a friend of Harrison, said he “never stopped talking when I was with him. George always had a great number of friends and he was a great entertainer, he wasn’t the silent one who sat in the corner by any means.”
Palin added that Harrison’s spirituality had been a help in coming to terms with his disease: “Death held no terrors for George whatsoever, and he still got a lot out of life and found the humor was there right up to when the last time I saw him, which was in August.”
Harrison was also well regarded for his charitable work, most notably “The Concert For Bangladesh” in 1972.
Bob Geldof, musician and organizer of Live Aid in 1985, said he had consulted Harrison for advice. “I remember him with a profound sense of gratitude,” he said.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 listeners, Geldof added: “I doubt there’s a person listening to this show that can’t remember each one of his guitar lines.”