Brian Epstein dies

Late on the night of Friday 25 August 1967, The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein had returned from his Sussex country retreat. The following day he remained in his bedroom, and by the Sunday morning his housekeepers had become concerned by his non-appearance.

The Beatles with Brian Epstein, 25 June 1967

Epstein had invited his assitant Joanne Newfield, to spend the bank holiday weekend at his house in Kingsley Hill, Sussex. His assistant Peter Brown and the chief executive of NEMS, Geoffrey Ellis, had also been invited. At the time The Beatles were in Bangor, north Wales, with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Epstein asked Newfield to bring along a mutual friend, the Scottish singer Lulu. However, both women had prior engagements and declined Epstein's offer. Nonetheless, Epstein departed his London home in good spirits on the afternoon of 25 August, and was joined later in Sussex by Brown and Ellis.

A young man whom Epstein hoped to become better acquainted did not show up. Epstein was disappointed at the prospect of having to spend the long public holiday with two friends he saw frequently, and following dinner - during which he drank a considerable amount - Epstein chose to drive back to London in his Bentley convertible.

Shortly after Epstein's exit, a London taxi arrived at Kingsley Hill containing four people Epstein had invited. Although surprised that the host had left, they stayed the night at the house, partying with Brown and Ellis.

After lunch on Saturday 26 August, Brown spoke to Epstein on the telephone.

He called late in the afternoon and was speaking in a woozy voice. He apologized for not coming back and maybe letting us worry. I suspect that when he went back to London he did go out, cruised the West End for a bit and then went home.

I urged him to come back to the country. But there was no way he could drive back because he sounded pretty awful, and I suggested him coming on the train. It was an unlikely thing for him to do but it was the only thing I could think of at the time.

Peter Brown
The Brian Epstein Story, Deborah Geller

Epstein's Spanish butler, Antonio, and his wife Maria, saw their employer when he returned late on the Friday, but heard nothing from him on the Saturday. By the following day they had become worried. They were unable to contact Brown and Ellis, but Antonio did speak to Joanne Newfield. She urged him not to worry, but did decide to go to Chapel Street to check in the early afternoon.

Since it was Sunday, there was no one around and it was a very quick trip across town. I got to Chapel Street, let myself in, found Antonio and went up to Brian's door and knocked on it. There were double doors leading into a dressing room and then there was a single door leading into a bedroom, so there was quite a bit of a distance between the hallway and Brian's room.

I knocked on the door and I called out his name. I called, 'Answer the door. Are you there?' And then I went up to my room and I tried the intercom, and there was no reply...

I knew I didn't want to be there on my own. Antonio and Maria couldn't speak very good English and they were a very shy couple. I needed someone nearer, that could be a support system. So I called Peter back and I told him that Dr Cowan wasn't there and Peter suggested I call his doctor, John Galway. He was there so I told him that I was concerned about Brian and asked if he could come over to the house. He would. And in the meantime I also called a few other people but I couldn't find them. Then I found Alistair [Taylor] and asked him to come to the house.

Then John Galway arrived and we went up to Brian's room, up to the outside doors. Antonio and John Galway broke the doors down. I think in the meantime I'd called Peter back and left the line hanging. Then I went up as they broke the doors down.

Antonio and John Galway were in and I followed them. Maria was staying behind. The curtains were drawn and John Galway was directly ahead of me. I could just see part of Brian in the bed and I was just totally stunned. I knew that something really bad had happened. Then I think John Galway told me, 'Just wait outside.' I stood in the doorway. A few minutes later John Galway came out. I've never seen a doctor so white. We were all white and we knew that Brian had died.

Joanne Newfield
The Brian Epstein Story, Deborah Geller

In the meantime, Brown was waiting on the telephone line. Galway informed him that Epstein had died, and Brown called David Jacobs, a lawyer and friend to Epstein who lived in Brighton. He and Ellis then left for London.

Epstein's personal assistant Alistair Taylor arrived at the house. Those who found Epstein's body were still in a state of shock, and went to the study to have a brandy. They delayed calling the police as they wanted to first make sure there were no illegal substances in the house.

Within literally very few minutes of the police being informed, there's a ring on the doorbell and it's a reporter I knew. He just looked at me and said, 'What are you doing here? I hear Brian's ill.' And I said, 'No, he's fine. He's gone out. He just called me over, actually. You know what he's like, you know, typical Brian. I've come over specially on a Sunday morning and he's gone out in the car.' Then I wondered if the garage door was closed because if the car's sitting there the reporter's going to say, 'Which car?' I was concerned that, before this news broke, somehow we had to get hold of [Epstein's mother] Queenie, and we couldn't find her.
Alistair Taylor
The Brian Epstein Story, Deborah Geller

Joanne Newfield was surprised at the reactions of Geoffrey Ellis and Peter Brown when they arrived at Chapel Street.

Peter and I were good friends, and I was really wanting him to get back. I remember the first thing I asked was why did Brian come back from Kingsley Hill? Neither of them answered. They just started to go up the stairs. And I remember thinking that they seemed weird and I knew there was something wrong.

They appeared distant when I expected them to be grief-stricken. I expected that Peter would give me a hug, but he didn't. He was just cool and I'm not sure that it was shock. I've asked myself many times what happened in Kingsley Hill. It's just one of the question marks I have about Brian's death.

Joanne Newfield
The Brian Epstein Story, Deborah Geller

An inquest found the cause of death to be accidental, resulting from 'incautious self-overdoses' of the drug Carbitral, a drug taken to assist sleep.

I don't think there was anything sinister in his death. There were rumours of very sinister circumstances, but I personally think it was a drink-and-sleeping-pills overdose. I think what happened - and there's no evidence whatsoever expect people I talk to - was that Brian was going down to his house in the country. It was a Friday night, and there were going to be friends there. Brian was gay and I think there were going to be young men at the house. Brian went down with one of his friends, but no one had showed up - so he thought: 'Ugh - it's Friday night! I've got time to get back to London if I rush. Then I can get back to the clubs.' It seems feasible to me, knowing Brian. Then he drove back up to London and went to the clubs, but they were all closing and there was not a lot of action.

So he had a few bevvies, then to console himself had a sleeping pill or two before to bed Brian always did that, he was quite into the pills. And then I think he woke up in the middle of the night and thought: My God, I can't sleep. I haven't had a pill.' Then he had a few more pills, and I think that could have killed him.

I went round a couple of days later and saw Brian's butler. He didn't seem to feel there was anything suspicious, nor that Brian was in any kind of black mood. My feeling was that it was an accident.

Paul McCartney
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9 responses on “Brian Epstein dies

  1. Dan Rodgers

    I just finished reading “A Cellarful of Noise” which Brian wrote in 1963. It’s a well-written and revealing book in which he bares his soul about his history and then-current feelings about the Beatles.

    Someone wrote on here that his death was the beginning of the end for the Beatles. I can see what they were getting at because he was a major uniting force for the group. But it seems to me that the seeds were planted much earlier.

    At the end of the book, Brian writes about how Beatlemania had worn on all of them by 63. He even considered selling the Beatles (for 150,000 pounds!) and retiring. He was planning an American tour at the end of the book and none of them were really looking forward to it. And the rest – as they say – is history.

  2. Luther Peterson

    Until recently I always thought that Yoko was the reason the Beatles broke up, but I have changed my thinking. Of course, nothing is ever simple, and there were likely many reasons, but I think Brian’s death was the biggest one, or maybe just the one that finished them off. It seems like, after Brian’s death, Paul assumed a pseudo-manager role (which was reasonable because he seemed to be the only one who took business seriously – at least, a little bit) and the others resented it. I get this idea from listening to interviews and reading about the band. Paul wanted the band to accept the Eastman’s (his in-laws) management and the rest of the band wanted Allen Klein – probably as a way of rebelling against Paul. Yoko figures into it as do a lot of other things, but without Brian there was no longer a center.

    I’m sure that someone might write that I don’t know what I am talking about – and I don’t. I wasn’t there, I don’t know. It is just a feeling I get after many years and much introspection.

  3. Paul

    I was born in 1965 in Queensland Australia, Rockhampton in fact. And one of my first memories I can recerlect is my two older sisters listening to the Beatles in their bedroom on their little dansett record player. Priceless Time.

  4. Joe Michael

    Joe-Michael here.
    Always, in revisiting the past, a movement or a world experience and eventual maturity enables us to grasp more information from past records, films, photographs, articles, etc. Where the world was heading towards from late 1966 into June 1967 was a very anxious time; exciting and nervous … exhilarating. All art forms were maturing and blossoming into a true Renaissance, only prior to the horrible excess that was looming just around the corner. In old photographs of Brian and John and Cynthia on vacation, they are odd; for me, I feel that there was something between John and Brian … once reciprocated perhaps for success and exposure, … gain … maybe still a lot more to their relationship than ever given credit for. If the homosexual rumors were anywhere near truthful then Cynthia must have felt awful but went along with it … the elephant in the room, John must have felt awful and began medicating himself; enter Yoko. In the photographs where Brian is smiling … in 1967 … he is beautiful and it is visible to see how success has enabled and empowered him, as well. BEATLEMANIA … The situation that alters and changes your life forever and for the better soon becomes the bone of contention; those screaming fans that won’t even listen to our music. They scream off-key and out of beat and syncopation. Annoying, a period, a phase to evolve to get to Sgt. Pepper. Brian asked for a brown cover to the album; a little out of the loop from the Beatles at this point; they were experimenting with LSD. Was Brian? Who Knows? We only care about these beautiful people who beautified our young and beautiful lives on our way to each our destiny. Brian’s was short-lived. The fiasco of Magical Mystery Tour more than points out Brian’s proper guidance, i.e. business approach. Without Brian, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy (Meet the Beatles was released here in the United States on November 22, 1963) the Beatles might not have ever occurred. Maybe not though, because they were THAT good; they still are. I like to imagine what if Sgt. Pepper’s had been the Beatles last album … WOW!! what an exit. Or at the very least, without their knowing that their fans were not going anyplace without them, the Beatles might should have taken some time off. Caught off guard, enter into the situation people like Allen Klein. Easy pickings. Brian was the solid foundation and he anchored the Beatles into world history forever. My God, isn’t 32 years young? If the rumors were true, about Brian and John, then what if John had left Cynthia for Brian instead of Yoke, had Brian lived until the end of 1968?

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