News of the World
GEORGE HARRISON summoned the world's greatest private eye to his sickbed to map out secret plans for his own funeral. And today the News of the World can detail the meticulous arrangements that the two men carefully wrote down: the secret blueprint for the death of a superstar. We can also reveal that former Beatle George was cremated within just NINE HOURS of passing away.
Desperate to keep gawping crowds away from his wife Olivia and son Dhani, George turned to Gavin de Becker, security guru to stars such as Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joan Rivers, Jeff Goldblum and Brooke Shields. De Becker also helped comic Bill Cosby to capture the killer of his son Ennis. The meeting took place at George's bedside in New York's Staten Island University Hospital. His wife Olivia, 53, was there too, though 24-year-old son Dhani could not bring himself to help plan the secret disposal of his father's body.
De Becker, who has become George's close friend, started with a pen and a blank sheet of paper on his lap and began writing. Thirty minutes later the list was complete.
POINT 1: One of the most heart-rending of all. George would not return to Friar Park, the Henley-on-Thames mansion he had lovingly restored into one of the great stately homes of England. Nor would he ever see Liverpool again.
Epitaph - A source told the News of the World: "He knew if he died at Friar Park there'd be crowds outside the gate and it would be a circus. His body would have to be taken out by hearse or undertaker's van, and he didn't want that photograph as his epitaph. Nor did he want a scrum at the church or crematorium."
POINT 2: George could not be allowed to die in hospital, certainly not a New York hospital anyway. His death would immediately become public knowledge, crowds would gather and there would be a free-for-all as his body was removed. The hearse would have to crawl through streets clogged with traffic at any time of day or night and would be impossible to miss.
POINT 3: The most macabre of all. George was faced with the awful question: "Where shall I die?" At one point George contemplated ending his days in his Hawaii home. This was ruled out. Maui airport is relatively small and George would have been recognised and his home besieged. De Becker suggested his own large home in Beverly Hills. It had the space and the privacy and De Becker himself would be on home territory with all the vast security resources he could make available. It was vital, though, that George should get to De Becker's home secretly.
POINT 4: He would also need painkillers, especially diamorphine, and the journey from New York all the way to Beverly Hills would be too arduous for someone in his condition. They planned a stop-over at Los Angeles UCLA Medical Centre for 'pain management'. George signalled his approval. Every last second of his life was finally mapped out. Now all that remained were the details of his own funeral service.
POINT 5: A doctor would be on hand to provide a death certificate, allowing virtually immediate cremation. A local Los Angeles funeral home would be notified to expect an unidentified male deceased. A nondenominational chapel was chosen for a funeral service before moving on to a crematorium. His ashes would be scattered in the Far East, where George first famously let his spirituality blossom with the rest of The Beatles under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Crucially that meant building in a 10-12 hour gap between his death and the release of that news to the world.
George, 58, had been told on or about November 14 that it was unlikely he could survive another month. After being treated for lung and throat cancer, he had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. On Saturday, November 17, it was decided that he would leave the New York hospital as the De Becker plan was put into operation.
He had just a few days to say goodbye to his dearest friends, for the rest of his secret journey would have to be made without them. He picked up the telephone and dialled his elder sister Louise Harrison. After a bitter family row they had hardly spoken for ten years. Louise, 63, who has lived in America since 1963, immediately flew from Illinois where she runs a small hotel called A Hard Day's Night. A friend of hers said: "She and George hugged and said all was forgiven. They both cried. George told her, 'None of it matters any more'."
She would later be devastated when news of his death was released.
Among the next on George's list were Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Paul visited George and listened tearfully as Harrison is thought to have calmly told him: "I won't be here for Christmas."
Ringo was in Boston, Massachusetts, nursing his own daughter who is suffering from cancer. "He said he'd fly over that night," said our source. "He also said he'd cancel his band's tour of Canada to be with George to the end." Vigil George told him not to, and added: "I'm at peace." Ringo would be touring with his band in Canada when the news of his old friend's death reached him.
On Saturday, November 17, George was told by doctors that he could be taken from New York. With no publicity he boarded a private jet to LA's small Santa Monica airport. From there he entered UCLA Medical Centre, just as planned.
On Tuesday as Harrison's condition deteriorated, he was taken to Beverly Hills in a closed, unmarked ambulance. For the next 36 hours, Harrison drifted in and out of consciousness. Olivia and Dhani maintained a constant vigil. The only 'outsider' allowed to visit was his great friend Ravi Shankar who played gentle sitar music. An intravenous drip fed glucose into George's body. Occasionally he took sips from a liquid diamorphine drink.
The end came at 1.30 pm on Thursday Los Angeles time-9.30pm in Britain. His two best friends from the Krishna faith, Shayam Sundara and Mukunda, who George has known for more than 30 years, were said to be chanting quietly into their meditation beads as he passed away.
At 10.30pm in LA, by now 6.30 on Friday morning in Britain, George had been cremated. In a Hare Krishna funeral service George's simple wood coffin was sprinkled with rose petals, and the air was filled with essence of sandalwood. There were no hymns. A Hare Krishna priest read from the Bhagavad-Gita, a series of sacred Hindu verses. Krishna expert Radha Mohan explained: "The body has always been cremated as soon as possible in India and the ashes scattered on a sacred river. It is beneficial for the soul on its eternal journey."
At midnight in LA, 8 am in London, news of his death was released. By this time a plane was in the air with Olivia, Dhani and George's ashes. It was the same Learjet that had flown George from New York. De Becker had secured the 10 hours of space and private time that the family needed.
A source close to de Becker told the News of the World: "It was a classic Gavin operation to spoil any unwelcome attention." George's ashes have to be scattered over a holy river as the Krishna faith forbids ashes being scattered over land. Members of the faith believe George had chosen either the Ganges or the River Yamuna in Northern India, 40 miles from the Taj Mahal. Kripa Moya Das, of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, explained: "This holy river (the Yamuna) runs through Mr Harrison's favourite spiritual retreat in Northern India."
NEWS GROUP NEWSPAPERS LTD, 2001