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Eric Idle couldn’t get George Harrison on board with David Bowie

It’s no secret that George Harrison was a close friend of Monty Python’s Eric Idle. In fact, it had been Harrison who financed the acclaimed 1979 Monty Python film Life of Brian simply because he adored the comedy troupe and wanted to see the film. Idle first met Harrison in the mid-1970s in a moment Idle later described as “love at first sight” and they bonded over their shared passion for music and comedy.

In his 2018 memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography, Idle explained that he met Harrison at a screening for 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.”

“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.”

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In reflection, Idle realised that part of his bond with Harrison was also due to their shared position in 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 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.”

After their friendship had blossomed, Idle was keen for Harrison to get on with his other rock star pal David Bowie. Idle revealed in his memoir that he was always a keen follower of Harrison’s word and was particularly fond of his ideas about spiritual enlightenment. However, Harrison was ostensibly more difficult for Idle to get on his side, especially when he tried to convince the late Beatle of the wonderment of a friendship with Bowie. “I would say to George [Harrison], ‘[Bowie is] wonderful and brilliant and funny,’ but then George would become very much a Beatle, ‘Oh, Bowie,’ he would say contemptuously to rhyme with ‘Bowwow,’” Idle wrote in his memoir.

It is unclear why Harrison seemed to be dismissive of Bowie, but the Starman once outlined that the two didn’t see eye to eye on a spiritual level. “For him, there is a belief in some kind of system,” Bowie said, referring to George’s Hindu faith. “But I really find that hard. Not on a day to day basis, because there are habits of life that have convinced me there is something solid to believe in.” Bowie was, without doubt, less spiritual than Harrison. Of the Beatles, he was more akin to John Lennon, whom he was close with even collaborated with while recording his 1975 album Young Americans.