Brian Epstein: The Man Behind the Beatles

By | Feb 08, 2013
2006 July-August, Arts & Culture

On July 7, 1967, Harry Epstein died at the age of 63. Brian Epstein was at Queenie’s side within hours of the death and made the arrangements. “The loss of his father shattered Brian,” wrote Coleman. “The years of pre-Beatles misunderstanding had been replaced by Harry’s pride in his eldest son’s achievements and fame. On the return from the cemetery to the new Epstein home in Woolton, he sobbed uncontrollably in the car.”

Epstein stayed with Queenie at her house during the week of shiva. Away from the world of the Beatles, he found time for reflection. “My father’s passing has given me the added responsibility of my mother,” he wrote his friend Nat Weiss. “The week of shiva is up tonight and I feel a bit strange. Probably been good for me in a way. Time to think and note that at least now I’m really needed by Mother. Also time to note that the unworldly Jewish circle of my parents’ and brother’s friends are not so bad. Provincial, maybe, but warm, sincere and basic.”

For the next three weekends Epstein traveled to Liverpool to be close to his mother. When he was away he phoned her every night, and on August 14th, she came to London for a 10-day visit, during which he comforted and lavishly entertained her. “He rose at early times and went bed at a normal time, a routine refreshingly different for him,” wrote Coleman. They made plans for Queenie to move to London so that she could be near him.

Two days after she left, on August 25th, he drove up to his new five-acre 18th century country home—Kingsley Hill. He dined with friends Peter Brown and Geoffrey Ellis, and then waited for some guests he had invited for the evening. When they didn’t show, he drove back to his home in London.
The next morning several friends made calls to Epstein’s house but received no answer. When no one heard from him by evening, they became alarmed and broke down to his bedroom door. They found his body, still in bed. Next to him was a pile of open correspondence, a working script for the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine and a book he was reading, The Rabbi, by Noah Gordon.

The coroner’s report ruled his death accidental, the result of an overdose of the sedative Carbirtal. Brian’s brother, Clive, and his wife Barbara, then eight months pregnant, got the call and were the ones to break the news to Queenie. Still in mourning, she had sustained another unthinkable loss. “The poor woman was devastated at having lost her husband and son within three months,” says Weiss.

The Beatles were on retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, spiritual leader and founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement, in Wales, when they were notified. “It was just like one of those phone calls: ‘Brian’s dead,’” recalled McCartney. “You just sort of went pale and immediately traipsed off to the Maharishi. We said, ‘Our friend is dead. How do we handle this?’ And he gave us practical advice. ‘Nothing you can do. Bless him, wish him well, get on with life’ kind of thing. But we were very shocked and what added to it, as it always does with celebrities, the media wanted to know how you feel and it’s always too quick… you just can’t talk about it.”

Rumors spread that Epstein committed suicide but his friends and family never believed this likely. There was no note or legal will, and Epstein had many plans for the future. Most of all, he was devoted to his mother, who needed him more than ever at the time of his death.

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