George Harrison, 58, the Beatles' low-key lead guitarist who was a major influence in pop-rock music and pushed the band to include his pensive compositions about love, mysticism and peace, died of cancer Thursday at a friend's home in Los Angeles.
Harrison's reticent public profile and humble demeanor often obscured the major contributions he made to the Beatles. A critic once called him the band's "unnoticed mover." He influenced the group to experiment with different instruments, especially the sitar. And the songs he wrote were among the gentlest and most meditative of the Beatles' output, including "Within You, Without You," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something."
With Harrison's death, there remain two surviving former Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. John Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan in 1980.
In recent years, Harrison had wrestled with throat and lung cancer. McCartney and Starr made a teary sojourn three weeks ago to see him at a hospital on New York's Staten Island, where he underwent an operation for a brain tumor.
A private funeral for Harrison has already taken place.
Yesterday, tributes began pouring in worldwide from musicians, government officials and fans of all ages, who spoke reverently about Harrison and the loss of another Beatle.
"I remember all the beautiful times we had together, and I'd like to remember him like that, because I know he would like to be remembered like that," said McCartney, calling Harrison his "baby brother."
Beatles drummer Ringo Starr said he had lost "a best friend. We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music and his sense of laughter."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 48, said people of his generation "grew up with the Beatles, and they were the background to our lives." Harrison, he said, "wasn't just a great musician, an artist, but did a lot of work for charity as well."
Harrison died at the Los Angeles home of Gavin de Becker, a Hollywood security expert. "He died with one thought in mind -- love one another," de Becker said.
Harrison's wife, Olivia, and their son, Dhani, 24, were with him when he died. The family issued a statement, saying Harrison "left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said, 'Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.' "
John Chambers, of the Liverpool Beatles Appreciation Society, said Harrison's death dashed the hopes of fans that the band might reunite, perhaps with Julian Lennon standing in for his father.
"It really is the end of a dream," Chambers said. "The only comfort we can take is the legacy of the music, which is as powerful and mysterious today as it ever was."
Harrison was the youngest of the Beatles, a Liverpool-born quartet that achieved world fame in the early 1960s with such optimistic tunes as "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." By the time the Beatles broke up in 1970, it was the most popular and wealthiest band on the planet and had evolved into an imaginative and technically disciplined group that experimented with instruments and themes, from the string-backed elegy "Eleanor Rigby" to the hippie anthem "All You Need Is Love."
Harrison exhibited enormous skill on the 12-string guitar. But his most radical contribution to the band's music was the sitar, a long-necked, lutelike instrument with a broader musical range than the guitar. He was introduced to the sitar by Ravi Shankar, a respected Indian musician who also spurred Harrison's interest in Eastern philosophy. Harrison played sitar on Lennon's "Norwegian Wood" in 1965, and he later wrote an entire composition, "Love You To," for the "Revolver" album to showcase the instrument.
Even as Harrison's interest in songwriting increased, he rarely got more than a tune or two on a Beatles album. The records were dominated by the compositions of Lennon, the band's resident social observer, and McCartney, whose love for dance-hall melodies was prevalent in many recordings. Harrison, often called "the quiet Beatle," said he felt musically stifled and was grateful for his freedom when the Beatles disbanded.
Several songs he wrote for the Beatles remained popular over the years and became standards for other artists. Frank Sinatra called "Something," a ballad about a woman's allure, one of the greatest love songs ever written, though he mistakenly thought of it as a Lennon-McCartney composition. Ray Charles, James Brown and Smokey Robinson also recorded it.
Like Lennon, Harrison brought an overt political dimension to the music with such pieces as "Taxman," which savaged Britain's high tax rate, and "Piggies," which critiqued the greed of the upper classes. In a bizarre brush with infamy, "Piggies" and Lennon and McCartney's "Helter Skelter" were said to have influenced Charles Manson, who supposedly read apocalyptic visions into the lyrics. Manson's followers scrawled "kill the pigs" on the wall of the home of one of their victims, alluding to Harrison's song.
Only 27 when the Beatles broke up, Harrison went on to have a successful solo career. His first major album, 1970's "All Things Must Pass," featured "My Sweet Lord" and was a critical and popular sensation. The triple album, which combined spirituality, lyricism and musical virtuosity, had an array of tunes that immediately thrust him out of the Beatles shadow.
But "My Sweet Lord," which blended gospel, pop and Hare Krishna chants and sold nearly 1 million copies as a single, also brought him years of litigation when the publisher of the Chiffons 1962 hit "He's So Fine" sued Harrison for plagiarism.
He denied cribbing the tune but was eventually fined $587,000 for having "unconsciously plagiarized" the song. This and other legal entanglements led him to write "This Song" and "Sue Me, Sue You Blues."
Another album, "Living in the Material World" in 1973, sold a million copies, but his later work that decade was regarded by some critics as his least-successful period. He released such albums as "Dark Horse" (1974), "Extra Texture" (1975) and "33 1/3" (1976).
Much to Harrison's dismay, "Beatlemania" persisted, and promoters offered lavish sums trying to reunite the band -- until Lennon was murdered.
In 1981, his "Somewhere in England" album featured "All Those Years Ago," an acclaimed tribute song about Lennon. It referred to his former bandmate as "the one who imagined it all" and spoke of feeling "cold and sad" at his passing. His last solo album to receive high praise was "Cloud Nine" in 1987, which blended pop songs with the chart-topping "Got My Mind Set on You."
In 1988, Harrison formed the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne (of the Electric Light Orchestra) and, before his death later that year, Roy Orbison.
Never one to embrace the public spotlight, Harrison became increasingly attached to his residence in England, Friar Park, an abandoned convent in Henley-on-Thames. He seemed content to tend the large property, perfecting his garden for aesthetic reasons but also seeing in that hobby a keen metaphor for his own lifelong search for meditative peace.
"I'm really quite simple," he wrote in his 1980 autobiography, "I, Me, Mine." "I don't want to be in the business full-time, because I'm a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don't want to go out to clubs and partying. I stay at home and watch the river flow."
Harrison, who also had a home in Hana, Hawaii, dedicated the book to "gardeners everywhere."
George Harold Harrison was born on Feb. 25, 1943, in the port city of Liverpool to Harold, a bus conductor, and Louise Harrison. The youngest of four children, he was a quiet yet independent child who rebelled against the forced discipline of school and found refuge in his father's extensive record collection.
He was particularly entranced by the American country-rock sounds of Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and Chet Atkins, and the earliest Beatles records showcased forceful country-blues licks he adopted from those musicians.
Harrison said the song that awoke his musical passion was guitarist Lonnie Donegan's 1956 recording of "Rock Island Line," regarded as a classic of the good-time skiffle sound that combined blues and American folk influences.
Later, he grew to admire the Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia.
Such eclectic influences -- shared by all the Beatles -- helped distinguish the group from most other rock bands. Harrison remained among the most stalwart proponents of musical experimentation.
"I don't understand people who say, 'I only like rock and roll,' or 'I only like the blues' or whatever," he said. "I would say that even the crap music that we hated -- that late '40s, early '50s American schmaltz records like 'The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House' . . . even that has had some kind of influence on us, whether we like it or not."
In 1956, Harrison met McCartney, who rode the same bus to school and was similarly smitten with American pop. McCartney introduced him to Lennon, who led a skiffle band called the Quarry Men. Harrison dropped out of school at 17 and became a full-time band member.
The group's name would undergo a few more permutations, including Johnny and the Moondogs, the Silver Beatles and, in 1960, the Beatles. The name was partly a tribute to Holly's band, the Crickets, but with Lennon suggesting the pun of "Beat" to emphasize rhythm.
The band's first long-term booking was in the red-light district of Hamburg, Germany. But they were playing in Liverpool in 1961 when Brian Epstein, a music store owner, saw them and took over their management, convinced that the rakishly handsome quartet had appeal.
Under the guidance by Epstein and EMI records executive George Martin, a furor known as "Beatlemania" hit Britain and then America. The band members' mop-top hair-dos differed from the greased-back and crew-cut fashions of the time, and their music was fresh and exuberant.
Their American television debut on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964 was watched by an estimated 73 million people.
The band also appeared in two wildly successful and waggish films directed by Richard Lester, "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) and "Help!" (1965). In the former, there was a scene in which the Beatles, playing themselves, were asked at a news conference what their hair style was called.
"Arthur," Harrison answered drolly.
Harrison began writing songs as a lark, according to his autobiography. Even in later years, he said, he never put much advance thought into his songwriting, preferring the power of the moment. He wrote, "Mainly the object has been to get something out of my system, as opposed to 'being a songwriter.' "
"Here Comes the Sun," for example, was written on a beautiful spring day in 1969 when Harrison left the Beatles business office feeling frustrated by nitty-gritty accounting details. He walked over to his friend Eric Clapton's house and strolled around the garden with a guitar. The result was one of the most buoyantly joyful of his songs: "Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter/Little darling it feels like years since it's been here/Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun/And I say . . . It's alright."
The Beatles experimented with LSD and also visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a bearded Transcendental Meditation spiritualist whose message of "inner peace" resonated most with Harrison.
In his youth, he had turned away from his Catholic upbringing, and he found Eastern religions and their emphasis on direct experience very appealing. His song "Within You, Without You" on the 1967 album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" reflected his growing respect for Indian culture.
"When you've seen beyond yourself -- /Then you may find, peace of mind, is/Waiting there -- /And the time will come when you see/We're all one, and life flows on within/You and without you."
Harrison, impatient to receive larger personal recognition for his songs, did his first solo albums, "Wonderwall Music" (1968) and "Electronic Sound" (1969).
When the Beatles broke up, Harrison said, "The good thing about being on one's own is all the time being able to use other musicians. There's an advantage to that because a single new musician can change your music."
Harrison's extensive philanthropic career began in 1971 when he organized the first large-scale benefit concert by rock musicians. His George Harrison and Friends Concert for Bangladesh, featuring Dylan, Clapton and noted Indian musicians, raised millions of dollars for child refugees in the newly independent nation.
The concert album won a Grammy Award as Album of the Year, but an Internal Revenue Service dispute tied up the proceeds for about a decade and most of the money never got to those who needed it right away.
Nevertheless, the concert was considered precursor to later music benefits such as Live Aid and Farm Aid.
Harrison was involved in film production from the late 1970s until the mid-1990s, when his HandMade Films incurred millions in debt. Among the more successful films he produced was the Monty Python romp "Life of Brian" (1979), which piqued members of the religious establishment, and "Time Bandits" (1981), a fantasy-adventure directed by Terry Gilliam.
In 1988, the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Harrison's health began declining in 1998, when he developed throat cancer that was treated with radiation.
"I got it purely from smoking," he said then. "I gave up cigarettes many years ago but had started again for a while and then stopped in 1997."
In 1999, Harrison was stabbed in the chest by a Beatles-crazed stalker who broke into his home. He underwent surgery last year at the Mayo Clinic to remove a cancerous growth from a lung. This summer, he began treatment for the brain tumor.
Harrison's marriage to model Patti Boyd ended in divorce. She left him in 1974 for Clapton, but the two musicians remained friends. He married Olivia Arias, a secretary at his record company, in 1978.
Besides his wife and son, survivors include a sister and two brothers.
Staff researcher Margot Williams contributed to this report.