Brian Epstein dies at 32

Sunday, August 27, 1967

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On this day, Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles, was found dead in his home in Chapel Street, London. From Wikipedia:

Epstein attended a traditional shiva in Liverpool after his father died, having just come out of the Priory clinic where he had been trying to cure his acute insomnia and addiction to amphetamines. A few days before his death he made his last visit to a Beatles recording session on 23 August 1967, at the Chappell Recording Studios on Maddox Street in Mayfair, London.

On 24 August, Epstein asked Peter Brown and Geoffrey Ellis down to Kingsley Hill for the bank holiday weekend. Approximately 50 miles from his home in Chapel Street, Kingsley Hill was Epstein’s country home in Warbleton, Sussex. After they arrived, Epstein decided to drive back to London alone because an expected group of friends he had invited failed to arrive, although they did turn up after Epstein left. Epstein phoned Brown at 5 p.m. the next day from his Chapel Street house in London. Brown thought that Epstein sounded “very groggy” and suggested he take a train back down to the nearest railway station, in Uckfield, instead of driving under the influence of Tuinal. Epstein replied that he would eat something, read his mail, and watch Juke Box Jury before phoning Brown to tell him which train to meet. He never called again.

Epstein died of an overdose of Carbrital, a hypnotic preparation combining the barbiturate pentobarbital with the bromoureide carbromal, in his locked bedroom on 27 August 1967. He was discovered after his butler had knocked on the door and then, hearing no response, asked the housekeeper to call the police. Epstein was found on a single bed, dressed in pyjamas, with various correspondence spread over a second single bed. At the statutory inquest his death was officially ruled an accident, caused by a gradual buildup of Carbrital combined with alcohol in his system. It was revealed that he had taken six Carbrital pills to sleep, which was probably normal for him, but in combination with alcohol they reduced his tolerance.

The Beatles were on a retreat in Bangor in northern Wales at the time, with the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Epstein had previously agreed to travel to Bangor after the August Bank Holiday. The second of two shows by Jimi Hendrix at Epstein’s Saville Theatre was cancelled on the evening of Epstein’s death.

Peter Brown wrote in his memoir, The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles, that he had once found a suicide note written by Epstein and had spoken with him about it. According to Brown the note read in part, “This is all too much and I can’t take it any more.” Brown had also found a will in which Epstein left his house and money to his mother and his brother, with Brown also being named as a minor beneficiary. When confronted with the notes, Epstein told Brown that he would be grateful if Brown did not tell anyone, and that he was sorry he had made Brown worry. He explained that when he wrote the note and composed the will he had simply taken one pill too many, and that he had no intention of overdosing, promising to be more careful in the future. Brown later wrote that he wondered if he had done the right thing by not showing the note to Epstein’s doctor, Norman Cowan, who would have stopped prescribing drugs. The coroner, Gavin Thurston, told the Westminster inquest that Epstein’s death was caused by an overdose of Carbrital and ruled it as an accidental death. The pathologist, Dr Donald Teare, stated that Epstein had been taking bromide in the form of Carbrital for some time, and that the barbiturate level in Epstein’s blood was a “low fatal level”.

The Beatles did not attend Epstein’s funeral, both to allow his family some privacy and to avoid attracting fans and the media. According to Geoffrey Ellis, chief executive of NEMS Enterprises, the day before the funeral George Harrison had given Nat Weiss, Epstein’s good friend and confidant, a single flower (Ellis remembers it as a chrysanthemum) wrapped in a newspaper on behalf of all four Beatles, with instructions to place the flower on Brian’s coffin as a final farewell. However, flowers are forbidden at Jewish funerals and burials. Weiss and Ellis discussed this dilemma while walking back to the grave, where they observed two men beginning to shovel dirt onto the casket. Ellis later wrote: “Nat, who himself was Jewish, cast the newspaper package unopened onto Brian’s coffin, where it was swiftly covered by earth.” Epstein was buried in section A grave H12, in the Long Lane Jewish Cemetery, Aintree, Liverpool. The service at the graveside was held by Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon, who said, disparagingly, that Epstein was “a symbol of the malaise of our generation”. A few weeks later, on 17 October, all four Beatles attended a memorial service for Epstein at the New London Synagogue in St John’s Wood (near Abbey Road Studios), which was officiated by Rabbi Louis Jacobs. The Bee Gees’ 1968 song “In the Summer of His Years” was written and recorded as a tribute to Epstein.

I don’t think there was anything sinister in his death. There were rumours of very sinister circumstances, but I personally think it was a drink-and-sleeping-pills overdose.

Paul McCartney – from the Beatles Anthology book

I think what happened – and there’s no evidence whatsoever except people I talk to – was that Brian was going down to his house in the country. It was a Friday night, and there were going to be friends there. Brian was gay and I think there were going to be young men at the house. Brian went down with one of his friends, but no one had showed up – so he thought: ‘Ugh – it’s Friday night! I’ve got time to get back to London if I rush. Then I can get back to the clubs.’ It seems feasible to me, knowing Brian. Then he drove back up to London and went to the clubs, but they were all closing and there was not a lot of action.

So he had a few bevvies, then to console himself had a sleeping pill or two before to bed Brian always did that, he was quite into the pills. And then I think he woke up in the middle of the night and thought: My God, I can’t sleep. I haven’t had a pill.’ Then he had a few more pills, and I think that could have killed him.

I went round a couple of days later and saw Brian’s butler. He didn’t seem to feel there was anything suspicious, nor that Brian was in any kind of black mood. My feeling was that it was an accident.

Paul McCartney – from the Beatles Anthology book

In retrospect, the death of Brian Epstein was interpreted by many as the beginning of the end of the Beatles. Even if the emancipation of The Beatles had already started (eg. their decision to stop touring), they were still respecting and looking for Brian for guidance. Now he was gone, they were without that stabilizing influence.

By necessity, they would get into the business side of things, realize that their songs didn’t belong to them, and launch Apple. Paul McCartney would emerge as the leader of the band, which would create some frustration and tension within the band.

The business thing was out of necessity. We suddenly felt naked when it came to the business stuff. The last thing I wanted to be is a boss. The boss is a hated figure. But I suddenly felt I had to. So I told myself, ‘Just try and be a reasonable boss and not the stereotype.’ And I’ve tried to do that.

Paul McCartney – From an interview with Los Angeles Times, 2006

Brian would fetch in everything – ‘sign it, sign it’. We found out in the last year we’d signed our lives away and we tried to get ‘em back. And then suddenly he’d gone and there was this big responsibility and we really didn’t know how to handle it. Paul assumed leadership after Brian died. I keep saying it and he keeps denying it but I think that.

Ringo Starr – Circa 1969 – From “Northern Songs: The True Story of the Beatles Song Publishing Empire” by Rupert Perry

After Brian died we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.

John Lennon – From “Northern Songs: The True Story of the Beatles Song Publishing Empire” by Rupert Perry

After Epstein died there was nobody to comfort them or tell them how to handle things so Paul thought he was personally responsible. “I constantly saw Lennon & McCartney together because Paul came along to see that I wasn’t rude to John – who I can’t say I got on with. Paul didn’t want me to upset John and thought he could handle me better than Lennon which of course he could.

Sir Joseph Lockwood – EMI’s chairman – From “Northern Songs: The True Story of the Beatles Song Publishing Empire” by Rupert Perry
Brian Epstein and Paul, in 1967

BRIAN EPSTEIN is dead and world show business has lost its most spectacularly successful manager.

In his short but fantastic career he guided the Beatles, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and others to the pinnacles of pop success. He had his failures too along the way, but they were overshadowed by the stupendous conquests of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Epstein’s career as a manager, paralelled theirs as entertainers. Before that he’d become bored with acting, window dressing, selling furniture, records and books. People often asked — did he make the Beatles or did they make him? And Epstein himself was always the first to say the Beatles would have been as big without him. But his strongpoint was his deep belief in their fabulous future when they were still unknown.

He told the world they would outstrip the great Elvis Presley and was laughed at. He was right. But, characteristically, he didn’t have the last laugh. He was too polite for that.

Last month, the Melody Maker ran a remarkable series of interviews with Brian Epstein. They were arranged and written in Knokke, Belgium, where Epstein’s team of singers from his NEMS Enterprises had just won the European Song Contest. With candour and complete honesty he talked to the MM on three lengthy sessions.

On his possible addiction to LSD and marijuana, both of which he’d admitted sampling, he commented: “I took that risk. It was a calculated risk.”

On his own failings he said: “I reproach myself most often for being bad tempered and for being mean from time to time.” On failings in others he said: “I think I have overcome a very large ego so I’m very forgiving and tolerant of egomaniacs.” When asked if the Beatles would have been so successful if managed by someone else he replied: “They may have been as successful, but I don’t think they would have been as happy.”

Asked to comment on suggestions that he’d used the Beatles to promote other artists he replied: “This is absolutely untrue. I have always been perfectly single-minded about this and I must say in fairness that the Beatles have been easy to manage.” On the possibllity of him marrying being remote he said: “It is one of the biggest disappointments to me because I must be missing out somewhere not having a wife and children,”

Asked if he’d ever contemplated suicide:“Yes. But I think I’ve got over that period now.”

On the thing he feared most in life: “Loneliness. I hope I’ll never be lonely. Although, actually, one inflicts loneliness on oneself to a certain extent.”

The Epstein Interviews, as the serles was called, were written by the MM’s Mike Hennessey. He knew Epstein over a long period.

This week he commented:

It may seem lunatic to talk of failure in connection with a millionaire. Yet the impression I formed of Brian Epstein was of a man desperately wanting to be Creative, to express himself artistically, but knowing in his heart that he was destined for second hand fame — the reflected glory of the Beatles for whom his devotion and admiration were absolute. He wanted so much to be known as the fifth Beatle but I’m sure he was only too aware that he could not match their wit, their creative genius, their inexhaustible inventiveness. « The Beatles,” he said to me revealingly in our last interview, “always make an effort to involve me in what they’re doing.” This significant remark is made more poignant by his further admission that his greatest fear was loneliness. Brian Epstein, a basically kind, sometimes petulant, always scrupulously honest man, had come to terms with the fact that the Beatles could have suceeded without him. And, although he had no inctination to put it to the test, he must also have wondered “Could I Succeed without them?”

From Melody Maker – September 2, 1967
From Melody Maker – September 2, 1967

Last updated on November 10, 2021

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