Neil Aspinall, The Beatles' Friend And Guide, Dies

(the below statement was released on behalf of the family of Neil Aspinall)

Neil Aspinall, The Beatles' friend, guide and Apple mastermind, has died.

One of the great legends of the music business, Neil Aspinall, has died in New York after a brief illness and a glorious life. 

He was 66. His wife Suzy and his five children were with him as he passed over.

Neil's family said today: "He was the centre of our universe and still is."

Neil Aspinall was the man who was closer to all of The Beatles than anyone. Under his creative and caring direction, The Beatles business phenomenon and its trademark Apple transcended far beyond the Sixties. 

He was the Beatles' friend who became their roadie who became the chief of their empire and the unassuming, modernizing mastermind behind the band's enduring appeal and influence for four generations. 

Although he would deny it, he was long considered to be "the real Fifth Beatle" by the music and entertainment industries which for 40 years revered and respected him as one of the wisest men in the record business.

Today Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr paid tribute to "a loyal friend and a great man."

In a statement on behalf of Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, Apple Corps said today: "The Beatles and the entire Apple Corps family, both past and present, wish to extend their greatest sympathy to the family of Neil Aspinall. As a loyal friend, confidant and chief executive, Neil's trusting stewardship and guidance has left a far-reaching legacy for generations to come. All his friends and loved ones will greatly miss him but will always retain the fondest memories of a great man."

Neil was born in October 1941 to Liverpool parents evacuated to Prestatyn, North Wales. He was the Liverpool schoolboy who became pals with Paul McCartney and George Harrison at the Liverpool Institute for Boys, where together they formed the 'Mad Lad' gang, sharing cigarettes behind the sheds, "doing ridiculous things together" and, as teenagers, adding John Lennon to the Mad Lads.

Although he studied for and briefly became an accountant, when his friends later formed The Beatles with Pete Best and then Ringo Starr, Neil remained at the centre of the gang that was to change the world. Always he was right at the Beatles side; captaining their flagship Apple for 40 years after beginning as their first road manager and driver of their old Commer van, doubling up as The Beatles' minder, spotlight operator, confidante, fixer, personal assistant and, moreover, their mate.

In a rare interview, Neil once said "People used to say to me then 'What do you do?' I'd stopped being an accountant or pretending to be one by this time and I said 'I drive the band around' and they'd say 'Yeah - I know that, but what do you do for a living?' Two years later, the same people were saying 'You lucky git, Neil.'

In 1964 during the making of The Beatles movie 'A Hard Day's Night', Neil met his future wife Suzy. They were married in 1968. Neil was a very proud father and grandfather.

Following the death of The Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 1967, Neil was asked by the band to take over the management of their company Apple Corps when it was founded in 1968. Typically, he agreed on condition that he would manage the corporation "only until they found somebody else". He remained the chief of Apple Corps until last year.

Shrewd, innovative and totally-trusted, Neil was the unseen architect of the reinvention of the post-Sixties Beatles, first with The Beatles At The BBC cd in the mid-90s, followed by the record-breaking Beatles Anthology and Beatles 1 albums.

As the keeper of The Beatles flame and protector of their legend, it was Neil who quietly acquired for Apple the Beatles rights back to countless photographs and film footage that enabled the making of the Grammy-winning Beatles Anthology TV and video series and the band's celebrated autobiographry.

It was also Neil who masterminded the modern merchandising of The Beatles, notably with the relaunch of The Beatles Yellow Submarine film and CD, making it a bigger success in the 90s than it had originally been in the Sixties. From Let It Be Naked to The Beatles' recent Cirque du Soleil show hit Love, to every Beatles business success since the band broke up in 1970, Neil Aspinall steered the ship - and the submarine - always ensuring the Beatles' strong bond with Liverpool in every venture.

It has been reported that during the last 20 years of Neil's time at the helm of Apple Corps, The Beatles sold in excess of 70 million albums.

Although modest in any claim of his achievements, his quick and dry wit was amused by a comment made in The Observer newspaper during the hugely-successful 1995-96 Beatles Anthology project. The multi-media project, of which Neil was executive producer, once again cemented the Sixties band's dominance of the music scene around the world - "the only band to have become bigger than The Beatles is The Beatles", commented The Observer on the Anthology-led resurgence of Fab.

His friend, Apple aide and ABC TV producer David Saltz said today: "Neil was the most brilliant and inspirational guy that everybody just gravitated around; he had an amazing mind and he was a very groovy guy.

Neil Aspinall's wise, commonsense approach to what he dubbed "not the music business but the Beatles business" commanded great affection and respect in all who had the privilege of working with him but he was an intensely private and naturally modest man in both his professional and personal lives, never taking a bow himself. Neil avoided all personal publicity and always refused requests for interviews, pointing the credit to the band who made the records.

In The Beatles Anthology Neil said: "My happiest memories of being with the band were some of the laughs that we had backstage and in dressing rooms when nobody else was around and we were swapping jokes together. No big deal, really. It was those little personal things that are my favourite moments. We always had a laugh."

Besides running Apple Corps, Neil created Standby Films with Suzy - makers of the acclaimed 1999 Jimi Hendrix movie, Hendrix: Band Of Gypsys. Neil was also one of the co-founders of Paul McCartney's performing arts university LIPA, now housed in the building of their old school.

Few outside Neil's circle knew of his own talent as a wry artist with coloured inks - but now an exhibition of his previously-never-before-seen work is to be held on a date to be announced.

Neil Aspinall fell ill to lung cancer two months ago. He has been under care at the Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York.

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