Shortly after The Beatles’ emphatic rise to global stardom in the early 1960s, George Harrison met his first love, the model Pattie Boyd, on the set of the band’s film A Hard Day’s Night in 1964. On their first day of meeting, it seems that they fell for each other at first sight, and Harrison even asked Boyd if she would marry him, having known each other for just a few short hours. The couple finally married in 1966 and were together for 11 years until their divorce in 1977. The marriage had been turbulent for several years after a number of infidelities on both sides, most famously with Boyd falling for Harrison’s good friend Eric Clapton.
Harrison was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, and he was plunged into a stressful few years seeking treatment. He flew around the globe to visit some of the leading hospitals to see what treatment could be offered to him. Initially, he underwent surgery for lung cancer but later was treated in Germany for a brain tumour after the disease had spread. Of his initial diagnosis, Harrison said, “I got it purely from smoking. I gave up cigarettes many years ago but had started again for a while and then stopped in 1997. Luckily for me, they found that this nodule was more of a warning than anything else. It reminds you that anything can happen.”
Unfortunately, after a number of resurgences of the disease and several courses of radiotherapy, it became clear to Harrison that he was fighting a losing battle. In true George Harrison style though, he remained calm to the end. He made his peace with the material world and was sure to visit old friends and family one last time, even if he did opt to keep his illness to himself.
George kept his illness private as he didn’t want people to worry. He decided to visit his ex-wife Boyd one last time shortly before his death in 2001. Despite Harrison’s good nature and discretion about his illness, Boyd knew immediately that Harrison was ill. “About three months before he died, he was in my area. He was going to see Ringo, and he popped in,” Boyd explained. “He brought me a few little gifts and some music to listen to, it was really sweet. I knew he wasn’t well, I realised that he knew he wasn’t well.”
Although Boyd noticed that Harrison wasn’t well, she didn’t want to spoil the occasion by mentioning it. But she was aware that the visit was Harrison’s final goodbye. “In a way, I think he was coming to say goodbye,” she said. “I could see he was very drawn, and he was using energy more than he needed to, to appear up and happy. You could sense he wasn’t well.”
Listen to George Harrison’s ‘Something’ from The Beatles’ album Abbey Road. The song was written for his first love, Pattie Boyd.