George Harrison’s critically-acclaimed Cloud Nine album, released in 1987, was a welcome hit after a few years in the musical wilderness. It featured the hit single ‘Got My Mind Set On You’, a cover version of James Ray’s 1962 song, and ‘When We Was Fab’, a song with many musical and lyrical references about The Beatles, co-written with Jeff Lynne.
The video to ‘When We Was Fab’ featured Ringo Starr, plus a man in a walrus costume playing a left-handed bass. Guest appearances were also made by Elton John, Derek Taylor and Neil Aspinall. The cover of the single incorporated Klaus Voormann’s drawing of Harrison from the cover of Revolver, along with an updated picture of the older musician.
In 1988 Harrison formed the Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty, to record a b-side called ‘Handle With Care’ for a Harrison single. Encouraged by the record company, they recorded their debut album in two weeks.
In addition to music, George Harrison was also actively involved in his production company Handmade Films. He gave financial backing to the Monty Python film The Life Of Brian, and appeared in one scene. Handmade also produced Mona Lisa, Time Bandits, Shanghai Surprise, and Withnail And I.
He also appeared as a reporter in the Beatles parody film The Rutles, and appeared in an episode of The Simpsons.
Harrison reunited with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr between 1994 and 1996 for The Beatles’ Anthology project. In addition to the book and documentary series, he performed on ‘Free As A Bird’ and ‘Real Love’ with the surviving Beatles.
All things must pass
George Harrison was initially diagnosed with throat cancer in August 1997, and underwent radiotherapy and surgery. Throughout the late 1990s he battled the disease, having tumours removed from his throat and lung.
On the night of 30 December 1999 an mentally unstable intruder, Michael Abram, broke into the Harrison’ home at Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames. He stabbed George several times, puncturing his lung. George and Olivia fought off Abram and restrained him until the police arrived. The assailant, who believed he was on a “mission from God” to kill Harrison, was acquited of attempted murder on the grounds of insanity.
Harrison was deeply traumatised by the event, although he did joke that the man was “definitely not auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys”. He subsequently largely withdrew from public life, and his final recording session was for a new song, ‘Horse To The Water’, released in November 2001 on Jools Holland’s album Small World, Big Band.
Harrison’s cancer recurred in the same year, and was found to have spread to other organs. Although treated aggressively, it was diagnosed as terminal. He arranged to spend his final months with family and close friends, and worked on songs from an album with his son Dhani, released posthumously in 2002 as Brainwashed.
George Harrison died on 29 November 2001, at the age of 58. During a CNN interview with Larry King in 2007, Paul McCartney described visiting Harrison on his death bed and sitting silently with him, stroking his hand to comfort him.
Following his death Harrison was cremated. His family released a statement, saying: “He left this world as he lived in it: conscious of God, fearless of death and at peace, surrounded by family and friends.”