50 Years Ago: The Death of Beatles Manager Brian Epstein
Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, was found dead of an accidental drug overdose in his Chapel Street, London home on Aug. 27, 1967. Meant to be spending the holiday weekend with friends at Kingsley Hill, his country side house in East Sussex, Epstein retreated back to London just as his festive getaway began.
Seemingly saddened by the turnout of guests, Epstein was in low spirits as he drunkenly returned to London on that Friday evening. Peter Brown, chief executive of Epstein’s family-owned music store in Liverpool, had attended the weekend holiday at Kingsley Hill and was reported to have spoken with Epstein over the phone that Saturday.
“He called late in the afternoon and was speaking in a woozy voice,” Brown said of Epstein’s condition. Brown added that he, “urged [Epstein] to come back to the country. But there was no way he could drive back because he sounded pretty awful, and I suggested him coming on the train. It was an unlikely thing for him to do.”
After not hearing from him for an entire day, Epstein’s butler, Antonio, and his wife Maria had begun to worry. Unable to reach Brown, Antonio contacted Epstein’s assistant, Joanne Newfield who urged them not to panic. Despite her indifference, Newfield arrived at Chapel Street that afternoon to check on Epstein.
Upon her arrival, Newfield recalled, “I knocked on the door and I called out his name. I called, 'Answer the door. Are you there?' And then I went up to my room and I tried the intercom, and there was no reply. ... I knew I didn't want to be there on my own.” Antonio and Maria were present but could speak little English. Newfield called Peter Brown who told her to call his doctor, John Galway. Galway arrived, broke down Epstein’s bedroom door and told Newfield to “just wait outside.” Newfield then reported that, “A few minutes later John Galway came out. I've never seen a doctor so white. We were all white and we knew that Brian had died.” The autopsy revealed that the cause of death was due to "incautious self-overdoses" of Carbrital, a sleeping pill.
Only 32 years old when he passed, Brian Epstein departed being known as the man who truly elevated the Beatles career after signing them in 1961. Credited for having added a degree of old-school polish -- such as getting them out of leather jackets and into suits, and bowing after each tune -- he also brought about their first recording contract and handled all of their business and financial affairs. He was one of the few people who could legitimately lay claim to the title of "Fifth Beatle."
Epstein was the mechanic behind the Beatles machine. After the unexpected death of their manager, friend, and trusted confidant, John Lennon was quoted speaking on how he felt the loss would impact the Beatles, “I knew that we were in trouble then. ... I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music. I was scared. I thought, ‘We’ve f---in' had it.”
The group was then left with the difficult task of finding a replacement. They had originally attempted to manage themselves with the founding of Apple Corps in May 1968. But when that proved to be a disaster, Paul McCartney had looked to bring in Lee Eastman, his new father-in-law, while the other three wanted Allan Klein, who had managed the Rolling Stones. McCartney lost the battle when Klein was hired in February 1969. This disagreement would be considered as one of the contributing factors that broke the Beatles up.
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