George Harrison made a lasting impression on virtually everyone he came in contact with. For being the “quiet” Beatle, he sure did have many friends from all walks of life. George was friends with race car drivers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, actors, pop stars, and especially comedians. He loved to laugh. One of his closest friends was Monty Python’s Eric Idle. While the friends were pals who partied and hung out together often, they were also much more than that. George passed along his spirituality to Idle and taught him something precious. In a way, Idle says the ex-Beatle became his guru.
George Harrison taught Eric Idle that fame is not real
In an interview with The Off Camera Show, Idle talked about being friends with George. He said George had a profound effect on him. That’s why Idle dedicated an entire chapter about George in his book, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography.
Idle said he enjoyed writing about his experiences with all of his great friends because it humanized them. George always rejected fame. The interviewer pointed out that it was a little ironic that Idle writes about how he learned kindness, humanity, “how to take the simple things more seriously,” and how to not put so much “stock” into fame from a Beatle, one of the most famous people on Earth.
Idle said that George knew about all this because The Beatles had been the most famous in the world. Idle knew his friend very well. He saw that George was disenchanted with fame and everything that came with it. But warning Idle about the dangers of fame wasn’t all that George taught his friend.
George taught Idle to live in the here and now
One of the biggest reasons why George didn’t care about fame was because he knew death could come at any moment. He’d rather live in the here and now, and that’s what he told Idle. “He said, ‘Well you know we’re still going to die,” Idle explained, “‘fame you know doesn’t give you anything, you’re going to die.'”
George’s outlook wasn’t completely cynical. It was more spiritual. Since he started learning spirituality through Hinduism, George had begun to prepare himself for death so he’d be able to leave his body the way he wanted. “He’d been preparing, from about the time I met him, he just you know to die. And I was with him at the end, so he was quite calm about dying. That was remarkable,” Idle said.
Idle continued to say that George’s whole influence was remarkable. “I was fortunate that he was kind of a guru to me. I mean, he was a pal, we got drunk, we did all sorts of wicked, naughty things, and had a ball. But he was always saying, ‘Well, don’t forget you’re gonna die.’ I think these sort of good people encourage people to remember your here now. You might get hit by a bus on the way out, so just make sure that you’re living exactly to the fullest as you can, every single moment.
“I think that’s very useful help, especially when you’re in the confusion of showbusiness where people think you’re something that you’re not and admire you for things you probably aren’t responsible for. I think comedy helps that too. It breaks down that sense of self-importance and taking yourself seriously. He was a remarkable influence on me.”
George prepared for death most of his life
George’s first brush with death happened when John Lennon’s mother tragically died in 1958. It shook him to his core. But when he started to get into spirituality, George realized that if you prepared for death, there was nothing to be afraid of, and you could leave your body the way you wanted.
“George put so much emphasis and importance on the moment of death, of leaving your body,” George’s wife, Olivia, explained in Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World. “That was very–that’s really what he was practicing for. It’s like the Dalai Lama said something that really made him smile. He said, ‘And what do you do in the morning?’ He said, ‘I do my practice, I do my mantras, I do my spiritual practice.’ ‘And how do you know it will work?'” George didn’t know. “I’ll find out when I die,” he told Olivia.
“And it was so great, but it’s like, that was it. I’m practicing this so that when I die, I will know how to leave my body, and I’ll be familiar, and I won’t be frightened,” Olivia said.
George was upset that John didn’t leave his body peacefully after being murdered in 1980. The only thing that comforted him was knowing that John knew about these things, and with help from George, so does Idle.