Brian Epstein receives the Edison Award for the Beatles at Grand Gala du Disque 1965
|Born||Brian Samuel Epstein
19 September 1934
|Died||27 August 1967
|Cause of death||Accidental barbiturate and alcohol overdose|
|Known for||Manager of:
Brian Samuel Epstein (//; 19 September 1934 – 27 August 1967) was an English music entrepreneur, best known for managing the Beatles. Epstein first discovered the Beatles in November 1961 during a lunchtime Cavern Club performance. He was instantly impressed and saw great potential in the group. Epstein was rejected by nearly all major recording companies in London, until he secured a meeting with George Martin, head of EMI's Parlophone label. In May 1962, Martin agreed to sign the Beatles, partly because of Epstein's conviction that the group would become internationally famous.
The Beatles' early success has been attributed to Epstein's management style, and the band trusted him without hesitation. In addition to handling the Beatles' business affairs, Epstein often stepped in to mediate personal disputes within the group. The Beatles' unquestioning loyalty to Epstein later proved detrimental, as the band rarely read contracts before signing them. Shortly after the song "Please Please Me" rose to the top of the charts in 1963, Epstein advised the creation of Northern Songs, a publishing company that would control the copyrights of all Lennon–McCartney compositions recorded between 1963 and 1973. Music publisher Dick James and his partner Charles Silver owned 51-percent of the company, Lennon and McCartney each owned 20%, and Epstein owned 9%. By 1969, Lennon and McCartney had lost control of all publishing rights to ATV Music Publishing. Still, Epstein's death in 1967 marked the beginning of the group's dissolution and had a profound effect on each Beatle. In 1997, Paul McCartney said, "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian."
Epstein's influence on the Beatles and his complicated personal life continue to provoke controversy. In 2012, Tom Hanks announced that his production company Playtone will back a biopic of the famed Beatles manager. They describe the film as "the story of a man who threw the biggest party of the 1960s, but ultimately forgot to invite himself." In 2013, author Vivek Tiwary released the graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story. A film of the same name was scheduled for release in 2014, originally to be produced by Bruce Cohen and directed by Peyton Reed. Tiwary said about that project that the film would "be less a music bio and more of an inspirational human-interest story about an outsider". Tiwary, Stuart Ford, and Simon Cowell went on to co-produce a film by that name, said to be set for release in 2016. Tiwary, credited as the film's writer, wrote at the IMDb: 'His story will unfold via a mixture of history, fantasy, allegory, dream sequences, and hallucinations.' In March 2016, it was announced that the project would be a television series.
- 1 Ancestry
- 2 Early life
- 3 The Beatles
- 4 Business dealings
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Death
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Epstein's family was Jewish; his grandfather Isaac Epstein was from Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire) and had arrived in Britain in the 1890s at the age of eighteen. His grandmother Dinah was the daughter of Joseph (a draper) and Esther Hyman, who had emigrated from Russia to Britain (c. 1871/72) with their eldest son Jacob. The Hymans had six more children.
Isaac Epstein married Dinah Hyman in Manchester in 1900. In 1901, Isaac and Dinah were living at 80 Walton Road, Liverpool with Isaac's sister Rachael Epstein, above the furniture dealership that he founded. Dinah and Isaac's third child was Harry Epstein, Brian Epstein's father. Eventually the family moved to a larger home at 27 Anfield Road, Liverpool. After Harry and his brother Leslie had joined the family firm, Isaac Epstein founded I. Epstein and Sons and enlarged his furniture business by taking over adjacent shops at 62/72 Walton Road to sell a range of other goods, such as musical instruments and household appliances. They called the expanding business NEMS (North End Music Stores), which offered lenient credit terms, and from which Paul McCartney's father once bought a piano. Epstein's mother Malka (nicknamed "Queenie" by her family, as Malka means "queen" in Hebrew) was also involved in the Hyman furniture business, which also owned the Sheffield Veneering Company.
In 2003, the family home on Anfield Road was converted into a Beatles-themed hotel called Epstein House.
Epstein was born on 19 September 1934 in Rodney Street, Liverpool. Harry and Queenie also had another son named Clive who was born 22 months after his older brother. During World War II, the Epsteins moved to Southport—where two schools expelled Epstein for laziness and poor performance—but returned to Liverpool in 1945. The Epsteins lived at 197 Queens Drive, Childwall in Liverpool, and remained there for the next 30 years.
Epstein's parents moved him from one boarding school to another, including Clayesmore School in Dorset. He spent two years at Wrekin College in Shropshire, where he was taught the violin. Shortly before his 16th birthday, he sent a long letter to his father, explaining that he wanted to become a dress designer, but Harry Epstein was adamantly opposed, and his son finally had to "report for duty" at the family's furniture shop, after serving an apprenticeship for six months at another company. He started work at his family's business on a £5 per week wage, and was congratulated on his first day of work for selling a £12 dining room table to a woman who had originally wanted to buy a mirror.
In December 1952, Epstein was conscripted to do his national service as a data entry clerk into the Royal Army Service Corps, and was posted to the Albany Street Barracks near Regent's Park in London, where he was often reprimanded for not picking up his army pay. After returning to Liverpool, he was put in charge of the Clarendon Furnishing shop in Hoylake and was made a director of NEMS in 1955. In September 1956, he took a trip to London to meet a friend but after being there for only one day, was robbed of his passport, birth certificate, chequebook, wristwatch, and all the money he had on him. He did not want his parents to find out, so he worked as a department store clerk until he had earned enough money to buy a train ticket back to Liverpool. Back in Liverpool, he confessed his homosexuality to a psychiatrist—a friend of the Epstein family—who suggested to Harry Epstein that his son should leave Liverpool as soon as possible. During the sessions, Epstein revealed his ambition of becoming an actor, so his parents allowed him go to London to study.
Epstein attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. His RADA classmates included actors Susannah York, Albert Finney, and Peter O'Toole, but Epstein dropped out after the third term, saying that he had become "too much of a businessman to enjoy being a student, and I didn't like being a student at all." He said in 1964 that he "felt like an old man at the age of 21". He also revealed that he would have liked to produce a theatre play, or even act, "in something by Chekhov", or a "straight drama" by John Osborne.
Back in Liverpool, his father put his son in charge of the record department of the family's newly opened NEMS music store on Great Charlotte Street. Epstein worked "day and night" at the store to make it a success, and it became one of the biggest musical retail outlets in Northern England. The Epsteins opened a second store at 12–14 Whitechapel, and Epstein was put in charge of the entire operation. He often walked across the road to the Lewis's department store (which also had a music section) where Peter Brown was employed. He watched Brown's sales technique and was impressed enough to lure him to work for NEMS with the offer of a higher salary and a commission on sales.
Epstein first noticed the Beatles in issues of Mersey Beat and on numerous posters around Liverpool, before he asked the editor of Mersey Beat Bill Harry who they were. Harry had previously convinced Epstein to sell the magazine at NEMS, with the Beatles featured on the front page of its second issue. The Beatles had recorded the "My Bonnie" single with Tony Sheridan in Germany, and some months after its release Epstein asked his personal assistant Alistair Taylor about it in NEMS. Epstein's version of the story was that customer Raymond Jones walked into the NEMS shop and asked him for the "My Bonnie" single, which made Epstein curious about the group. Taylor later claimed that he had used the name of Jones (a regular customer) to order the single and paid the deposit himself, knowing that Epstein would notice it and order further copies. Harry and McCartney later repudiated Epstein's story, as Harry had been talking to Epstein for a long time about the Beatles—the group that he promoted the most in Mersey Beat—with McCartney saying, "Brian [Epstein] knew perfectly well who the Beatles were; they were on the front page of the second issue of Mersey Beat". On 3 August 1961, Epstein started a regular music column in the Mersey Beat called "Stop the World—And Listen To Everything In It: Brian Epstein of NEMS".
The Beatles were due to perform a lunchtime concert in the Cavern Club on 9 November 1961. According to club owner Sytner, Epstein had visited the club quite a few times previously on Saturday nights, once asking Sytner to book a group for his twenty-first birthday party. Epstein asked Harry to arrange for Epstein and his assistant Taylor to watch the Beatles perform. The club allowed Epstein and Taylor to enter without queuing. They bypassed the line of fans at the door and heard Bob Wooler, the resident DJ, announce a welcome message over the club's public-address system: "We have someone rather famous in the audience today. Mr. Brian Epstein, the owner of NEMS ..."
Epstein later talked about the performance:
"I was immediately struck by their music, their beat and their sense of humour on stage – and, even afterwards, when I met them, I was struck again by their personal charm. And it was there that, really, it all started".
After the performance, Epstein and Taylor went into the dressing room (which he later described as being "as big as a broom cupboard") to talk to the group. The Beatles, all regular NEMS customers, immediately recognised Epstein, but before he could congratulate them on their performance, George Harrison said, "And what brings Mr. Epstein here?" Epstein replied with, "We just popped in to say hello. I enjoyed your performance". He introduced Taylor, who merely nodded a greeting, said, "Well done, then, goodbye", and left. Epstein and Taylor went to Peacock's restaurant in Hackins Hey for lunch, and during the meal Epstein asked Taylor what he thought about the group. Taylor replied that he honestly thought they were "absolutely awful", but there was something "remarkable" about them. Epstein sat there smiling for a long time before exclaiming, "I think they're tremendous!" Later, when Epstein was paying the bill, he grabbed Taylor's arm and said, "Do you think I should manage them?"
The Beatles played at the Cavern over the next three weeks, and Epstein was always there to watch them. He contacted Allan Williams (their previous promoter/manager) to confirm that Williams no longer had any ties to the group, but Williams advised Epstein "not to touch them with a fucking barge pole" because of a Hamburg concert percentage that the group had refused to pay.
In a meeting with the group at NEMS on 3 December 1961, Epstein proposed the idea of managing the Beatles. John Lennon, Harrison, and Pete Best arrived late for the meeting, as they had been drinking at the Grapes pub in Mathew Street. McCartney also did not arrive on time because he had just got up and was "taking a bath", as Harrison explained. Epstein was upset, but Harrison placated him by saying, "He may be late, but he'll be very clean." Lennon had invited Wooler to be at the meeting so that he could give his opinion of Epstein, but he introduced Wooler by saying, "This is me dad". Epstein was reticent throughout the short meeting, only asking if they had a manager. After learning that they had not, he said, "It seems to me that with everything going on, someone ought to be looking after you". He had further meetings with the group on 6 and 10 December 1961.
McCartney, Harrison, and Best were under 21, and therefore needed the consent of their parents to enter into a contract. Best and his mother—Mona Best, owner of the Casbah Coffee Club—were impressed with Epstein's professional image, as were the other Beatles, because he was a businessman, wore expensive suits, and owned a large car. Best's mother said that Epstein "could be good for them [the Beatles]". McCartney's father was sceptical about a Jewish manager and warned his son to be careful about finances. Lennon's aunt and guardian Mimi Smith was against the idea, believing that Epstein would lose interest when something else would attract his interest; but Lennon had just turned twenty-one and he ignored his aunt's advice.
The Beatles signed a five-year contract with Epstein on 24 January 1962 which gave Epstein 10-15 per cent of their income. They signed a new contract in October 1962 which gave Epstein 15, 20, or 25 per cent of revenues, depending on how much he helped the band earn. The Beatles would then share any income after various expenses had been deducted. Epstein then formed a management company, NEMS Enterprises, telling his parents that managing the group was only a part-time occupation and would not interfere with the family business.
The Beatles signed Epstein's first management contract, but Epstein did not. He later told Taylor, "Well, if they ever want to tear it up, they can hold me but I can't hold them". (Note: English law would have enforced the contract through the doctrine of part performance). The contract stated that Epstein would receive a management commission of 25 per cent of the group's gross income after a certain financial threshold had been reached. The Beatles argued for a smaller percentage, but Epstein pointed out that he had been paying their expenses for months without receiving anything in return. On 1 October 1962, four days before the release of "Love Me Do", Epstein signed Lennon and McCartney to a three-year NEMS publishing contract.
The Beatles' appearance on stage
Epstein had no prior experience of artist management, yet he had a strong influence on the band's early dress code and stage demeanor. They had previously worn blue jeans and leather jackets, and they would stop and start songs when they felt like it or when an audience member requested a certain song. David Pomerran Szatmary states that when Epstein first saw them at the Cavern Club, he thought, "They were a scruffy crowd in leather, and they were not very tidy and not very clean. They smoked as they played and they ate and talked and pretended to hit each other." Epstein encouraged them to wear suits and ties, insisted that they stop swearing, smoking, drinking, or eating on stage, and also suggested the famous synchronised bow at the end of their performances. McCartney was the first to agree with Epstein's suggestions, believing that they reflected Epstein's RADA training. Epstein explained that the process from leather jackets and jeans to suits took some time: 'I encouraged them, at first, to get out of the leather jackets and jeans, and I wouldn't allow them to appear in jeans after a short time, and then, after that step, I got them to wear sweaters on stage, and then, very reluctantly, eventually, suits.' The collarless suits which the group started wearing were of German design, which they had previously seen in Hamburg but which Epstein approved of: 'I thought it was an excellent design at the time.'
Lennon resisted wearing suits and ties, but later said, 'I'll wear a suit; I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me.' Epstein began seeking publicity by 'charming and smarming ... the newspaper people', as Lennon said in 1972. According to McCartney, 'The gigs went up in stature and though the pay went up only a little bit, it did go up'; they were 'now playing better places.' The group was now far more organised, having one single diary in which to record bookings, rather than using whoever's diary was to hand. The group usually called him 'Mr. Epstein' or 'Brian' in interviews, but in private the group abbreviated his name to 'Eppy' or 'Bri'.
Epstein made numerous trips to London to visit record companies in the hope of securing a record contract, but many rejected him, including Columbia, Pye, Philips, Oriole, and most notoriously Decca. On 13 December 1961, at Epstein's invitation, Mike Smith of Decca travelled from London to Liverpool to watch the group at the Cavern Club, which led to an audition in London on 1 January 1962 (see The Decca Audition). Decca informed Epstein one month later that the audition tapes had been rejected. The Beatles later found out that Epstein had paid Decca producer Tony Meehan (ex-drummer of the Shadows) to produce the studio recordings. While Epstein was negotiating with Decca, he also approached Ron White, an EMI marketing executive, who contacted EMI producers Norrie Paramor, Walter Ridley, and Norman Newell, but they all declined to record the group. White could not contact EMI's fourth staff producer George Martin, as he was on holiday.
On 8 May 1962, Epstein visited the HMV store (owned by EMI) in 363 Oxford Street, London to have the Decca tape transferred to 78 rpm acetates. An HMV disc-cutter named Jim Foy liked the recordings, suggesting that Epstein should contact Sid Coleman, the head of EMI's record publishing division which controlled the publishing company Ardmore & Beechwood. Coleman liked the recordings and sent Epstein to Martin, the A&R manager of Parlophone. On the next day, 9 May 1962, Epstein met Martin at EMI's Abbey Road Studios.
Supposedly, Martin had no intention of signing The Beatles after listening to the Decca recordings, but he offered a contract after learning that Epstein would cancel all his substantial NEMS business with EMI. Martin denied this account by saying that Epstein's conviction that The Beatles would become internationally famous finally convinced him to offer a recording contract. He also later admitted that EMI had 'nothing to lose' by signing a contract with The Beatles, as the terms of payment were negligible. At this point, almost every other British record company had rejected the group, and Martin had never heard the group live. The Beatles were eventually signed to EMI's small Parlophone label, which had very little experience with pop or rock artists. Upon signing the contract, Epstein immediately sent a telegram to The Beatles (who were in Hamburg) and to the Mersey Beat music journal in Liverpool.
The recording contract gave The Beatles one penny (1d) for each record sold, which was split among the four members, meaning that each earned one farthing per copy. The royalty rate was further reduced for singles sold outside the UK; the group received half of one penny per single, which was again split amongst the whole group. Martin scheduled the first recording session to be on 6 June 1962 at Abbey Road Studios. Epstein later renegotiated EMI's royalty rate and, on 27 January 1967, the Beatles signed a new nine-year contract with EMI. The contract stipulated that 25 per cent would be paid to NEMS for the full nine years even if The Beatles decided not to renew their management contract with Epstein, which was up for renewal later that year.
Dismissal of Pete Best
After the first recording session on 6 June 1962, Martin had one reservation, as he felt that using an experienced studio session drummer would improve the recording, rather than using Pete Best (this was normal practice at the time). Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison asked Epstein to sack Best when they learned that Martin wanted to replace him on their recordings. Epstein agonised about the decision, asking the Cavern's DJ Bob Wooler if it was a good idea. Wooler replied that Best was 'very popular with the fans' who would not like it at all. Epstein dismissed Best on 16 August, over two and half months after the first recording session at EMI studios. Best was never given an explanation for his dismissal.
Epstein initially offered the vacant position to Johnny Hutchinson of The Big Three, a group that Epstein later managed. Hutchinson turned down the offer, saying, 'Pete Best is a very good friend of mine. I couldn't do the dirty on him'—although Hutchinson did play for The Beatles at short notice when Best did not turn up on the evening of his dismissal and for two subsequent bookings, until Ringo Starr was able to join. Starr was well known to the group, as he was then playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the resident group at Butlins' holiday complex in Skegness. He had also occasionally replaced Best when the drummer was ill, and had performed at a recording session with Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison in Hamburg.
After Candlestick Park
The Beatles' hectic schedule kept Epstein very busy between 1963 and 1965 with touring plus television and film work. Their last live concert was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on 29 August 1966, and Epstein's management duties then changed to reflect the changing nature of their career. He pressured them to continue touring but they steadfastly refused.
Epstein once offered all four Beatles a fixed wage of £50 a week for life. Harrison remembered that he was earning £25 a week at the time, which was more than the £10 a week that his father was earning. The group declined Epstein's offer, believing that they were worth much more than £50 a week.
NEMS had a staff of twenty-five at the time of its move from Liverpool to London in 1964. NEMS booked the Beatles' concerts, and it also presented groups as an opening act. It accrued money as promoter, booking agent, and manager for all concerts. The Beatles were constantly in demand by concert promoters, and Epstein took advantage of the situation to avoid paying some taxes by accepting "hidden" fees on the night of a performance, which he always kept in a brown paper bag.
Epstein also successfully managed Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (who had four hits with Lennon–McCartney songs), the Fourmost (Lennon wrote their first two singles), the Cyrkle (Epstein's first American group), and Cilla Black (who was Epstein's only female artist), as well as Tommy Quickly and Sounds Incorporated (later known as Sounds Inc.). He sent his roster of artists on "package tours" around the UK, a common practice at the time. This involved short sets by each act, alternating with a compère or a comedian. Epstein once revealed that, even though he was entitled to be reimbursed by acts for expenses incurred, he paid for his own flights to and from the US, as he did not see himself as being part of a touring group. Photographs, transport, and international telephone calls were paid from his own 25 per cent share in profits.
The Beatles toured the Philippines in July 1966, playing two shows at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila. Epstein unintentionally snubbed the nation's first lady Imelda Marcos when presented with an invitation to a breakfast party. He had politely declined on behalf of the group, as it was their policy never to accept such official invitations. The Beatles and their entourage were ejected from their hotel on the same day and given a police escort to the airport, even though Epstein had publicly apologised for the misunderstanding in a televised statement, which was not seen or heard because of static. The entourage boarded the plane for home, but Epstein and Beatles' assistant Mal Evans were ordered off, both believing that they would not be allowed back on the plane. Epstein was forced to give the tax authorities £6,800 worth of Philippine peso notes earned from the Manila shows and to sign a tax bond verifying the exchange before being allowed back on the plane with Evans.
Epstein added the Vic Lewis Organisation to NEMS in 1966, and later brought impresario Robert Stigwood in as a manager. He once offered to sell the control of NEMS to Stigwood, without telling any of his artists about the offer. McCartney was taking a more active interest in NEMS' finances as it became known that some artists with more ruthless managers claimed to be benefiting from more commercially advantageous terms, such as the Rolling Stones under the management of Allen Klein. After Epstein's death, Clive Epstein assumed control of NEMS as the company's second largest shareholder. Stigwood then tried to take over management of NEMS, but all four Beatles vigorously objected, with Lennon saying, "We don't know you. Why would we do this?"
McCartney admitted that they had always signed all the contracts that Epstein presented to them without reading them first, but after Epstein's death, Lennon complained, "Well, he was alright. I've found out since, of course, that he wasn't quite as honest to us as he made out". Despite this, other interviews with Lennon report him as being loyal to Epstein's memory: "We had complete faith in him when he was running us. To us, he was the expert". When asked in 1964 about his standing as a manager or businessman, Epstein replied, "Fair, as a businessman, fair. I've got a business background, and probably a reasonable business brain. I'm no, sort of, genius [laughter]." Asked about his deficiencies, Epstein replied, "I'm probably too conscious of ideas, rather than finance behind ideas."
Before the Beatles achieved nationwide success in Britain, Epstein had permitted a company (run by his cousins and initially catering to fan club members), to produce Beatles' sweaters for 30 shillings (£1.50) and badges for 6 pence (6d) (2½p). It sold 15,000 sweaters and 50,000 badges as the group's popularity grew. When Beatlemania swept the UK in November 1963, Epstein was besieged by novelty goods companies desperate to use the Beatles' name on plastic guitars, drums, disc racks, badges, belts and other merchandise. Epstein refused to allow the Beatles to endorse any product directly, but through NEMS Enterprises he granted discretionary licences to companies who were able to produce quality products at a fair price, even though many companies were already selling products without a licence.
During the first Beatles' trip to the US, merchandisers pitched many products to Epstein, including Beatles clocks, pens, cigarette lighters, plastic wigs, bracelets, games, etc., but he rejected them all. This was because he had already allowed David Jacobs, the lawyer for NEMS, to give away 90 per cent of merchandising rights to one Nicky Byrne, in the UK. This was later deemed to be a disastrous mistake, as it left only 10 per cent for Epstein, NEMS and the Beatles. Byrne then took over Epstein's Stramsact merchandising in the UK and set up Seltaeb (Beatles spelled backwards), in the US. While the Beatles were ensconced in the Plaza Hotel in New York, Epstein was further besieged by calls and visits from promoters, retailers, television commentators and hustlers.
Mindful of the number of records the group was selling in the US, Capitol Records sent a well-spoken Yorkshire woman, Wendy Hanson, to the Plaza Hotel to act as Epstein's secretary and to filter his calls. Hanson later worked solely with Epstein in his Albemarle Street office in London, which was separate from the NEMS office. Lennon later said, "On the business end he [Epstein] ripped us off on the Seltaeb thing". McCartney said years later, "He [Epstein] looked to his dad for business advice, and his dad knew how to run a furniture store in Liverpool".
Epstein asked chartered accountant James Trevor Isherwood to set up a company to collect Lennon and McCartney's PRS payments—called Lenmac—which he did on 12 May 1964. When he first visited Epstein's office, Isherwood was surprised to learn that Epstein took 25 per cent of the gross income, and not the 10 per cent that he believed most other managers received at that time. All of Epstein's expenses were deducted from his artists' gross income, including office rental, staff wages, travel, telephone costs, and entertaining expenses. Before his death, Epstein knew that the renegotiation of his management contract (up for renewal on 30 September 1967), would lower his management fee from 25 to 10 per cent, and that NEMS would no longer receive a share of the Beatles' performance fees, reducing its revenues still further.
The Beatles entered into a publishing agreement with Dick James Music (DJM), so James set up a company called Northern Songs. James and his financial partner and accountant, Charles Silver, would each receive 25 per cent of the shares. Lennon and McCartney received 20 per cent each, with Epstein receiving the remaining 10 per cent. The Beatles' PRS income increased rapidly, so Epstein asked Isherwood to devise a way of avoiding the tax that Lennon and McCartney would owe. Isherwood suggested a stock market flotation for Northern Songs. He also suggested to Epstein that during the flotation Lennon and McCartney should move to houses near Isherwood's own in Esher. Lennon, Harrison and Starr agreed, while Epstein and McCartney remained in London.
Promoter and presenter
After settling in London in 1965, Epstein rented an office in Monmouth Street, and later bought the lease of the Saville Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. He promoted new works by writers such as Arnold Wesker, in productions that occasionally fell foul of the Lord Chamberlain for including "obscene" content or nudity. In 1966 Epstein reinvented it as a music venue featuring various US acts. On 20 February 1967, Epstein sacked the manager of the theatre, one Michael Bullock, for lowering the safety curtain the previous day shortly before the end of a Chuck Berry concert that Epstein was attending with Lennon and Starr. Two fans had climbed onto the stage to dance, the curtain came down, and they were pushed from the stage. Although Bullock had not given the order, he was held responsible. In the wake of the Beatles' success Epstein was asked to appear on several music-based TV programmes in Britain. He also hosted a regular part of the US TV show Hullabaloo, filming his appearances in the UK.
Throughout Epstein's life he was known to be kind and caring to his family, friends of his family, and business colleagues. When Lennon married Cynthia Powell, on 23 August 1962, Epstein served as best man and paid for the couple's celebration lunch afterwards. During Cynthia's pregnancy Epstein paid for a private room in a hospital and offered the Lennons the sole use of his flat on Falkner Street, Liverpool, when they needed a home. He also agreed to be godfather to Lennon's son Julian.
While Epstein was in the Army, he commissioned a tailor to make an officer's uniform for him that he wore when cruising the bars of London, but was arrested one night at the Army and Navy Club in Piccadilly by the military police for impersonating an officer. Epstein managed to avoid a court martial by agreeing to see an army psychiatrist, who learned of Epstein's sexuality. After 10 months he was discharged from the army on medical grounds for being "emotionally and mentally unfit". Epstein later stated that his first homosexual experience was when he returned to Liverpool after being discharged.
Epstein spent a year studying acting at RADA, but dropped out shortly after his arrest for "persistent importuning" outside a men's public toilet in Swiss Cottage, London; cottaging, as it was called, was one of the few public places gay and bisexual men could meet at the time, especially if they were closeted. When Epstein first saw the Beatles perform he noticed their stage attire first, saying, "They were rather scruffily dressed, in the nicest possible way, or I should say in the most attractive way: black leather jackets, jeans, long hair of course." McCartney said that when Epstein started to manage the Beatles they knew that he was homosexual but did not care, because he encouraged them professionally and offered them access to previously off-limits social circles.
Although Lennon often made sarcastic comments about Epstein's homosexuality to friends and to Epstein personally, no one outside the group's inner circle was allowed to comment. Ian Sharp, one of Lennon's art school friends, once made a sarcastic remark about Epstein, saying, "Which one of you [Beatles] does he fancy?" Sharp was sent a letter by Epstein's office within 48 hours that demanded a complete apology. Sharp apologised, but was then completely ostracised. McCartney sent him a letter directing him to have no contact with any of them in the future. Epstein went on holiday to places such as Amsterdam, Torremolinos and Barcelona or Manchester at weekends, as the attitude to homosexuals there was more tolerant than Liverpool, even though Liverpool did have several gay bars.
In his autobiography, Best stated that Epstein drove them both to Blackpool one evening where Epstein expressed his "very fond admiration." Epstein then supposedly said, "Would you find it embarrassing if I ask you to stay in a hotel overnight?" Best replied that he was not interested, and the two never mentioned the incident again. There were reports of a brief sexual encounter between Lennon and Epstein during a four-day holiday in Barcelona, in April 1963. Lennon always denied the rumours, telling Playboy in 1980: "Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated ... but we did have a pretty intense relationship." Lennon's first wife Cynthia also maintains that Lennon's relationship with Epstein was platonic. A fictionalised account of the Spanish holiday is featured in the 1991 film The Hours and Times.
Epstein's autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise, was published in the UK in October 1964, and later in the US. It was ghost-written by journalist Derek Taylor, who served as Epstein's assistant that year, and then as the publicist for NEMS from 1968 to 1970. Lennon reportedly once quipped that the memoir should have been titled A Cellarful of Boys. Male homosexual activity was illegal in England and Wales until September 1967, when it was decriminalised; however, this was one month after Epstein's death.
After the start of his management career, Epstein started taking stimulants, usually Preludin, which did not require a prescription at the time. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr had also taken it since their days in Hamburg. Epstein explained his use of the drug as the only means of staying awake at night during numerous concert tours. In 1964, Brown suspected that Epstein was taking too many pills, as he would often cough at parties, which Brown realised was Epstein's way of secretly putting pills into his mouth without anyone noticing. McCartney often met Epstein at late night clubs in London, and remembered that Epstein would often grind his jaws, once saying to him, "Ugghhh, the pills". Epstein also developed dependencies on the drug carbromal, a barbiturate-like sedative/hypnotic drug.
In 1964, after having been introduced to cannabis by Bob Dylan in New York, Epstein was observed by McCartney standing in front of a mirror, pointing at himself and repeatedly saying "Jew!", while laughing loudly, which McCartney found hilarious and "very liberating". Epstein later became heavily involved in the 1960s drug scene. During the four months when the Sgt. Pepper album was being recorded, Epstein spent his time on holiday, or at the Priory Clinic in Putney, where he tried unsuccessfully to curb his drug use. He left the Priory to attend the Sgt. Pepper launch party at his house on 24 Chapel Street, but returned to the Priory immediately after.
Epstein added his name to an advertisement that appeared in The Times on 24 July 1967, which called for the legalisation of cannabis, the release of all prisoners imprisoned because of possession, and research into marijuana's medical uses. The advertisement was sponsored by a group called Soma and was signed by sixty-five people, including the Beatles, Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing, sixteen doctors, and two members of parliament. Epstein responded to questions about the advertisement by saying, "My opinion is that pot smoking is definitely less harmful than drinking alcohol. I am not addicted to either, but I have been very drunk and very 'high'." In June 1967, after McCartney had admitted to LSD use, Epstein defended him to the media, stating that he had taken the drug himself.
In August 1965, the Beatles and Epstein visited Elvis Presley at his house in Perugia Way in Los Angeles, where Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker, set up a roulette wheel and several packs of playing cards. Epstein immediately asked to play, as he was known for his love of gambling. McCartney frequently visited gambling clubs in London, such as Curzon House, Epstein's favourite club, where he often ran into Epstein. He once saw Epstein put a Dunhill lighter worth £100 on the table, then lose it during a game of cards. Epstein often lost thousands of pounds by playing baccarat or chemin de fer, the original version of baccarat when it was introduced to France, but would stay at Curzon House the whole evening, eating an expensive meal and drinking fine wines. The club never presented Epstein with a bill, as they knew he lost so much in the casino.
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, London.
On 24 August, Epstein asked 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 rent boys he had invited failed to arrive, although they did turn up after Epstein left. Epstein phoned Brown at 5 pm the next day from his Chapel Street house in London. Brown thought that Epstein sounded "very groggy", and suggested that he take a train back down to the nearest railway station, in Uckfield, instead of driving under the influence of Tuinals. 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 Carbitral, a form of barbiturate or sleeping pill, 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 Carbitral in his system, combined with alcohol. It was revealed that he had taken six Carbitral pills in order to sleep, which was probably normal for him, but in combination with alcohol they reduced his tolerance to lethal levels.
The Beatles were in Bangor, Gwynedd, at the time, with the Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Epstein had previously agreed to travel to Bangor after the August Bank Holiday. The shocked and stunned Beatles asked the Maharishi for his advice, and were told, "being within the direct realm of the physical world, [Epstein's death] is not important". The second of two shows by Jimi Hendrix at Epstein's Saville Theatre was cancelled on the evening of his 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 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 Carbitral, and ruled it as an accidental death. The pathologist, Dr. Donald Teare, stated that Epstein had been taking bromide in the form of Carbitral 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, George Harrison had given Nat Weiss, Epstein's good friend and confidant, the day before the funeral a single flower (Ellis remembers it being 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: "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.
Epstein was overlooked when Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr were honoured with the MBE in 1965, even though Harrison had once said that the MBE stood for "Mister Brian Epstein". The four letters that were mailed to the Beatles informing them of the Queen's acceptance of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's MBE recommendation sat in sacks for three weeks, thought to be fan mail. When they were finally opened, it was discovered that the acknowledgement deadline was the next day. Epstein was upset that he wasn't honoured as well. The Beatles were among the earliest entrants into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Epstein had not been included in the Hall's "Non-Performers' Section" until his 2014 induction. Martin Lewis—previously Taylor's assistant—created the Official Brian Epstein Website, which included a petition that Epstein be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Lewis also organised the 1998 re-publication, in the US, of Epstein's 1964 autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise.
McCartney summarised the importance of Epstein when he was interviewed in 1997 for a BBC documentary about Epstein, saying, "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian". In his 1970 Rolling Stone interview, Lennon commented that Epstein's death marked the beginning of the end for the group: "I knew that we were in trouble then ... I thought, 'We've fuckin' had it now'". Thirty years after Epstein's death, McCartney said, "Brian would really be happy to hear how much we loved him". The first contract between the Beatles and Epstein was auctioned in London in 2008, fetching £240,000.
Epstein was once asked about the future of the Beatles, and as he termed it, their "fresh honesty", which the interviewer thought could be "corrupted by time". He replied by saying, "I think they will go in the reverse direction, and become more honest."
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