The Death of the Fifth Beatle

(Gibson) On this day in 1962, The Beatles' original bass player Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage in an ambulance on the way to hospital. Sutcliffe had left the group to stay in Hamburg, Germany with his girlfriend photographer Astrid Kirchherr and to pursue his art studies. Gibson takes a look back: Stuart Sutcliffe, the so-called "Fifth Beatle" or perhaps the "First Beetle," since it was he who named them The Beetles died at just 21 years of age, on this very day, in 1962.

The early Beatles' unofficial style guru, Sutcliffe was revered by John Lennon from the day they met in art school in 1958. Lennon wanted Sutcliffe in The Quarrymen and when Stu encouraged him to change the band's name, he did so without hesitation. Founding editor of the seminal Merseybeat paper Bill Harry remembers this momentous moment at beatlesagain.com

"I sat 'round with Stu and John while they were trying to come up with a name for John's group, which Stu had now joined," Harry said. "Stu suggested that they coin a name similar to that of Buddy Holly's backing group the Crickets. So, insects it was. They came up with Beetles, although it wasn't until August of that year that the name finally evolved as the Beatles.

"I must admit I was surprised when, decades later, people seemed to think that the name came from the film The Wild One, which was actually banned in Britain for 14 years and the group had never even seen the film!"

In Germany with the band, it was the artistic Sutcliffe who gravitated towards the Hamburg art scene and thanks to new love, former fashion student Astrid Kirchherr, was the first Beatle to wear a collarless jacket and to comb his hair forward in the style that would take hold all over the world, the mop-top.

In July 1961, Sutcliffe, the Beatles' original bass player left the band, choosing to devote his energy to his painting, and enrolled in the Hamburg College of Art. Still close with The Beatles, he went back to Liverpool for a visit but, according to Bill Harry, didn't look well.

"Stuart looked absolutely god-awful," Harry recalled in Merseybeat. "It was almost scary seeing what had become of him. He was pale and withered and complained about headaches, severe headaches that would almost cripple him."

Back again in Germany, Sutcliffe continued to suffer from blinding and debilitating headaches, which he described in several letters home to Lennon. But neither he nor Astrid took them seriously enough to think they could prove fatal. more

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Copyright Gibson.com - Excerpted here with permission.

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