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Music

The dark joke George Harrison made to Eric Idle following horrific 1999 attack

The Beatles’ lead guitarist George Harrison befriended Monty Python’s Eric Idle in the mid-1970s, and the pair discovered a deep connection. Following Harrison’s death in 2001, Idle revealed that he felt their connection had been strengthened by having a shared position within their respective groups.

Idle once told Rolling Stone: “It occurred to me later that we both played similar roles inside our groups with big power blocks. Once I was moaning a little bit on [Life of] Brian, saying, ‘It was hard to get onscreen with Michael Palin and John Cleese.’ He said, ‘Well, imagine what it’s like trying to get studio time with Lennon and McCartney.’ I said, ‘All right. Absolutely. Got it. OK. Check. I’ll shut up now.’ Then it occurred to me that yes, in fact, we were slightly the outsiders, playing similar roles in our groups.”

In his 2018 memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography, Idle explained that he first met Harrison at a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “I had heard that George wanted to meet me, but I was somewhat shy of meeting him.” Idle wrote. “I was shy and tried to avoid him, but he snuck up on me in the back of the theatre as the credits began to roll. I hadn’t yet learned he was unstoppable.”

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“We began a conversation that would last about twenty-four hours. Who could resist his opening line? ‘We can’t talk here. Let’s go and have a reefer in the projection booth.’ No telling what the startled projectionist felt as a Beatle came in with one of the actors from the movie he had just projected and lit up a joint.”

This cannabis fuelled meeting marked the beginning of a long and meaningful friendship between the comedian and musician and Idle has frequently praised Harrison as having been his “Guru” of sorts as he guided him through life with enlightening perspective. 

Among the important values that Harrison imparted unto Idle was to live in the moment and, ironically enough, to find humour in every situation, no matter how dark or risque. 

In December 1999, just over 19 years after former bandmate John Lennon met his fate after a fatal shooting in New York, Harrison was stabbed multiple times in the chest as he confronted an intruder at his home at Friar Park Estate in Oxfordshire. Fortunately, Harrison wasn’t killed by the attacker and his wife Olivia came to help subdue the intruder. 

Olivia struck the mentally unstable intruder, 33-year-old Liverpudlian Michael Abram, with a poker. Harrison’s wife recalled part of the incident: “I hit the guy several times, and I could see the blood spreading down his blonde hair, and then he got up, and he chased me. He had me around the neck, and George got up and jumped on his back. And poor George, you know, he said later: ‘Just when he got off of me, I was thinking, ‘Oh good, now I have to go fight him’”.

While the incident was tragic, it was overshadowed by the former Beatles’ well-placed sense of humour. When he and his family were questioned by the police about the incident, Harrison allegedly replied: “It wasn’t a burglar, and he certainly wasn’t auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys.” 

Shortly after the attack, while Harrison was still recovering from his wounds, Idle called to check on his friend. In his autobiography, Idle wrote that Harrison had said, “Why doesn’t this kind of thing happen to The Rolling Stones?”

This dark humour and quick wit was characteristic of Harrison and his fellow Beatles, but it masks the sad truth that fame of such dizzying heights can come with serious side effects beyond one’s control.