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In May 2001, George Harrison underwent surgery for lung cancer. He released a statement saying it was successful and he was well into an excellent recovery. Two months later, he was treated for a brain tumor at a clinic in Switzerland. Still, George and his wife, Olivia, were hopeful of the ex-Beatle’s full recovery.

However, a publication fabricated a report that George was dying. While trying to recover, George had to see those reports. They “disappointed and disgusted” him.

George Harrison wearing a purple suit while performing during Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary celebration in 1992.
George Harrison | KMazur/WireImage

The Mail on Sunday fabricated a report that George Harrison was dying in the summer of 2001

In late July 2001, the Mail on Sunday published a story that claimed George was dying from cancer. However, the story was a complete fabrication. They used a fake quote from The Beatles’ producer, George Martin.

The publication wrote that George had told Martin that he did not have long to live.

The quote from Martin (per Wired) read: “He is taking it easy and hoping that the thing will go away. He has an indomitable spirit but he knows that he is going to die soon and he is accepting that.”

“George is very philosophical. He does realize that everybody has got to die some time,” the fabricated quote from Martin continued. “He has been near death many times and he’s been rescued many times as well. But he knows he is going to die soon and he’s accepting it perfectly happily.”

George had gone through a lot already. He was treated for throat cancer in 1998, was attacked and stabbed in a home invasion in 1999, underwent lung cancer in May 2001, and received treatment for brain cancer that July. However, seeing reports with fake quotes saying he knew he would die had to be shocking for George.

George was ‘disappointed and disgusted’ by the false reports

After George heard about the reports of his imminent death, he was “disappointed and disgusted.” He released a statement that said the reports were an exaggeration.

George’s statement said he was “active and feeling very well” and that Martin had told them he’d not given an interview about George’s health.

“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,” the statement said (per CBS News). “George Martin… has emphatically denied speaking to any newspaper.”

Martin’s agent, Adam Sharp, told CBS News, “George Harrison is fine and working on his new album.”

Although he knew the reports were false, Paul McCartney had to call his friend and fellow Beatle to see how he was doing.


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Paul McCartney talked to the ‘All Things Must Pass’ singer following the fabricated reports

In a 2001 interview, Rolling Stone brought the issue up with Paul. The “Yesterday” singer said he had to call George to hear the truth.

Paul said, “I spoke to George immediately after that. He said, ‘I suppose you’re ringing about [the newspaper reports].’ I said, ‘Not really, but I’m concerned.’ He said, ‘I just got an e-mail from George Martin, who said, ‘I promise you, George, I really didn’t say that. I wouldn’t ever.'”

Paul continued, “I don’t really like to talk about [George’s health] because I don’t know enough about it. I don’t really like to pry. Obviously he’s had problems, and I’m not sure of the current stage of things. But every time I ring him, he’s very upbeat. So I just cross my fingers and pray that things will be all right.”

Unfortunately, the Mail on Sunday’s false reports became a reality not long after. George lost his battle with cancer a couple of months later in November. That doesn’t make the fabricated reports any better, though. After going through all that George had gone through in his last months, he didn’t deserve to see reports saying he was already dying.

However, in George’s last weeks, all of the stress of those last months evaporated. In his final moments, George left his body the way he wanted.