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George Harrison was always a private person, but in his last months, he craved privacy like no other time in his life. He and his wife, Olivia, took every precaution to keep those few months as private as possible, but their efforts were mostly in vain.

George Harrison with his wife, Olivia, and their son, Dhani, at LAX Airport in 1988.
George Harrison, his wife, Olivia, and their son, Dhani | Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

George Harrison and his wife, Olivia, kept his treatment as private as possible in his last months

In 1997, doctors diagnosed George with throat cancer. They successfully removed the lump, and George underwent two radiation treatments at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

George downplayed his illness by saying, “I am very lucky. I’m not going to die on you folks just yet.” Shortly after becoming cancer-free, George almost died in a home invasion in 1999. The former Beatle downplayed the injuries he sustained during the attack. However, George’s son, Dhani, later said the injuries likely took years off George’s life.

In March 2001, that seemed to be true. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota diagnosed him with lung cancer. That May, he underwent successful surgery to remove a growth. However, by the summer, George received news his cancer had spread to his brain.

Again, George tried to throw reporters and fans off the scent and keep his treatment private by downplaying his illness. In late July, the Mail on Sunday published a fabricated story that claimed George was dying from cancer. They used a fake quote from The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, that said George was preparing to die.

George released a statement: “The reports were unsubstantiated, untrue, insensitive and uncalled for, especially as Mr. Harrison is active and feeling very well in spite of the health challenges he has had this year. George Martin… has emphatically denied speaking to any newspaper.”

When George and Olivia started a worldwide search for treatment, they kept everything private. It was reported that he was recovering from his lung surgery in a villa in Luino, Italy, but he was actually receiving “grueling” cobalt treatments for a brain tumor at the San Giovanni hospital in Bellinzona, Switzerland.

Then, in November, the Harrisons’ treatment search led them to Dr. Gil Lederman at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. However, they didn’t pick the best doctor if they wanted to remain private.

George didn’t get any privacy in Staten Island during his last months

Throughout most of George’s treatment, he publicly thanked fans for their concern but urged them not to worry. However, his friends knew his illness was far worse than he let on. They also knew he was downplaying his illness for the sake of privacy.

For the most part, that privacy lasted. That is until George began receiving treatment from Lederman on Staten Island. On Nov. 15, 2001, the Staten Island Advance wrote, “Since the media got wind of University Hospital’s involvement in Harrison’s treatment, reporters have descended upon Staten Island and staked out the hospital’s Ocean Breeze campus looking for celebrity visitors and whatever new information they can get.”

A source claiming to be close to George witnessed Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr’s arrival for their final meeting together. “Paul was tearful and sad about seeing George sick,” the source said. Lederman also claimed he was there and told Rolling Stone about the private moment between the three former bandmates.

“It was a spirited affair,” Lederman claimed, “not a somber one. There were lots of laughs and lots of fun. There were tears, but George remained very much the man of dignity. At the end, after both Paul and Ringo had left, he was fine and calm. He was a very happy man. This meeting meant so much to him.”

Lederman did not uphold his duties of doctor-patient confidentiality by any means. He divulged what it was like treating George to his friends, co-workers, and the world while promoting himself.

Days after the Advance’s report, George departed Staten Island for L.A. Rolling Stone wrote, “With the end approaching, Harrison was determined that his death not become the object of media attention. He hired Los Angeles security specialist Gavin de Becker.”

He used Olivia’s maiden name to check into UCLA Medical Center as Jorge Arias. When doctors couldn’t do anything for him, George moved to a private home. However, that didn’t remain private.


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George’s privacy was breached even after death

Tom Petty, George’s fellow Traveling Wilbury, witnessed how the press treated George in his last months. They hounded him and intruded on his privacy, so it’s no wonder George did everything in secret.

“I’ll tell you, the media wasn’t very sweet in the last year of his life,” Petty told Rolling Stone. “He was probably the most hounded of his whole life when he was trying to deal with that. Especially in Europe, he never got a moment’s peace. He would have helicopters follow him when he left the house. I guess that comes with the territory. That’s part of the price you pay. He paid that price so many times — well, overpaid.”

However, George continued to pay the price even in death. Lederman gave “touching anecdotes” to Good Morning America, CNN, NBC, Fox News, Us Weekly, Newsweek, the New York Post, the Daily News, various British tabloids, and the National Enquirer.

Because of the media frenzy that George’s death sparked worldwide, the details of his funeral were kept entirely secret. Annette Lloyd, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery coordinator, told Rolling Stone, “We were told everything must be handled in the strictest secrecy and that the arrangments were to remain completely confidential, and that was the way we handled it.”

George’s funeral, memorial service, and the scattering of his ashes in the Ganges River were the only private affairs that stayed between the attendees. The former Beatle might not have been granted peace in his last months, but none of that mattered once he was ready to leave his body.

Later, the only details Olivia would divulge about the moment George’s soul left his body for the spiritual world was that you wouldn’t need to light the room if you were trying to film it. Her husband “lit the room.”