The years following John Lennon’s murder were a delicate time for the remaining Beatles. On one hand, they were unified in their grief and rekindled a sense of brotherhood through the immense loss of Lennon. On the other, lingering tensions still remained, especially between Paul McCartney and George Harrison rooted in their difficult working relationship and subsequent aloofness of each other.
The unease between the three had mostly dissipated by the mid-90s, and all three living Beatles agreed to revisit their legendary body of work for the Anthology series. Those sessions, which coincided with the filming of the documentary of the same name, saw McCartney and Harrison largely let go of the ill feelings between each other and renew their creative and personal bond. This is best illustrated in the footage where they record new harmonies to songs like ‘Free As A Bird’, but also in the casual hangouts like the one filmed in Harrison’s garden with the members picking up ukuleles.
By 2001, Harrison was in ailing health due to his lung cancer diagnosis. While receiving treatment in New York, Harrison was informed that the cancer had spread to his brain and it was likely terminal. Radiotherapy began, but Harrison was are that he likely didn’t have long to live. As such, he invited McCartney and Ringo Starr out to New York for lunch, with the understanding that this was likely the final time all three would be together.
Despite the grim details that surrounded the meeting, Harrison would not let the proceedings be dour. Harrison’s doctor, who accompanied him to the meeting, described it thusly. “It was a spirited affair,” said Dr. Gilbert Lederman, “not a sombre one. There were lots of laughs and lots of fun. There were tears, but George remained very much a man of dignity. At the end, after both Paul and Ringo had left, he was fine and calm. He was a very happy man. This meeting meant so much to him. For me, it was a unique phenomenon to be there. The whole experience was an incredible one. These were the icons of my life – some of the most important people of the 20th century.”
Lederman’s role at the end of Harrison’s life is somewhat controversial. He allegedly leaked some of the more dire aspects of Harrison’s diagnosis to the press, and at one point even had a weakened Harrison sign a guitar for him. Harrison’s family would later claim damages from Lederman, but even the immoral doctor couldn’t dampen the lively spirits of the luncheon.
Harrison reportedly told jokes throughout lunch and mentioned some of his favourite memories from the past. McCartney and Harrison had mended their relationship well enough for McCartney to offer up his house as a place to stay when Harrison’s treatment moved him to Los Angeles. It would be in this house that Harrison would eventually succumb to his sickness on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58. It was less than three weeks after his final meeting with his Beatle bandmates.