The story of Brian Epstein has been told often in any discussion of the Beatles. He “discovered” them, dressed them, marketed them, negotiated (not particularly well) record contracts for them, and made a fortune through them. Clearly he loved them and was extremely protective of them, as he was with his other acts, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Cilla Black, etc… One always wonders what his lot would have been had he not dies so young.
Brian Epstein, certainly led an interesting life. Born during the depression in the 1930’s, he was at an advantage being that his parents owned a furniture store. At the age of sixteen Brian started working with them and soon realized he was born to sell. His father promoted him to managing the record department, as the family business, named “NEMS” expanded.
In July of 1961 Brian was selling a music publication called “Mersey Beat”, and this is when he realized his interest in music.He decided he was confident enough to ask Bill Harry if he could write a record column in Mersey Beat. On August 3rd 1961 his column appeared in the third issue. The Whitechapel NEMS store, where Brian worked had a policy that they could obtain any record that had been released. It was October of 1961, when one of the stores regular customers came in looking for “My Bonnie” by the Beatles. This was the beginning of Brian’s interest in the “Beatles.” As more and more kids came in inquiring about the band , Brian’s interest piqued and he discovered that they were performing at a local spot called the “Cavern Club” which was located down the street from the NEMS store. The Cavern was a seedy, dark and dingy club where the new bands would book gigs to perform. Wanting to persue his curiousity, he decided to pay the club a visit and was completly charged from the energy and excitement going on around him. The Beatles performance was raw and full of energy, and Brian took advantage of the opportunity and approached them with a request offering to manage them.
In December of 1961, Epstein assumed his role as Manager of the Beatles, after seeing them in their leathers, smoking cigarettes and swearing on stage he immediately decided to change their image. Changing their look and stage presence, he purchased Mohair suits and made a determined effort securing them gigs in other venues. He campaigned the various record lables, again determined to get them signed to a recording contract and after being rejected by Decca, among other labels he managed to get them signed with EMI. Initially The Beatles weren’t completely confident and trustful of “Eppie”, but by prooving to them with his hard work and devotion he earned their respect and admiration.
When The Beatles released their first single “Love Me Do”, Brian creativly co-ordinated his family and friends to frequent the music stores having them ask for The Beatles new single, this in turn caused a buzz on the streets which is what Brian wanted. His desire to have the Beatles succeed was the key to his own success, he began expanding his operations, and was soon managing other bands such as Gerry and The Pacemakers. Brian Epstein became a major player in the Liverpool music scene.
It was no secret that Brian Epstein was gay. In school he recalls being “ragged, nagged and bullied” and dropped out at the age of 16. He was drafted into the Army but after 10 months was discharged for being “mentally unfit” after apparently, once again harrassed and bullied. After moving away from home, he began pursuing his sexual interest in men. In 1956 he was arrested for propositioning several men (for immoral purposes) in a subway lavatory, sadly he was a victim of an undercover sting, pleading guilty Brian was fined and released.
The Beatles knew all along that Brian was gay, although he was professional and a distinguished business man his double life wasn’t always as private as he wanted it to be. There were relentless rumours that Epstein was in love with John Lennon. Although well aware of John’s talent, his wittiness and good looks were intensely attractive to Brian, so much so that he wouldn’t look John in the eye when speaking with him for fear he would reveal his secret. John was completely aware of Brian’s feelings toward him and was sometimes teased by his mates about “Eppie’s” subtle advances, and so the gossip begins…
“The Beatles were number one in Brian’s life always,” Sir George Martin has said, “as they were mine.” However, Brians homosexuality made the devotion he had for the group a little more complex than Sir George’s – “He couldnt help wanting them too.” When Brian bought his flat, it was said he was planning on seducing John there, but anytime John would show up, he would always have a Beatle mate with him.
The most popular rumour, that has found its own place in history, is the story of John and Eppie’s affair in Barcelona, April 1963. Apparently John agreed to go with Brian to Barcelona for 10 days. The decision was made after Cynthia had given birth to their son Julian, but Cynthia wasn’t aware of Brian’s motives at the time. Realizing that John needed a vacation and a break away, she urged him to go and was left at home with their new born son, feeling lonely and left out.
The vacation to Barcelona was an experience for John, they went to clubs, bull fights, shopped, they would frequent sidewalk cafe’s and talk about homosexuality. John asked alot of questions, wanting to know what Brian found attractive in men as they passed by, he enjoyed these talks with Brian. John was a writer, always thinking and always experiencing life to the fullest. John admitted that their relationship was almost an affair that was never consumated. Although some say it was likely they did have a physical relationship. The light hearted teasing continued until it went too far, John was under the influence of too much alcohol and proceeded to beat up a disc jockey at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday party. Brian came to the rescue and wrote a check to avoid a law suit. It has been noted that confidantes of both John Lennon and Brian Epstein say these snippets of gossip are Just myths. Perhaps a double fantasy?
Brian continued to promote the Beatles, and when “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” were topping the charts in November of 1963 he negotiated a booking on the “Ed Sullivan Show” for the following February. The Beatles career skyrocketed after the historical appearance, and an American tour was scheduled including a sold out concert at Shea Stadium in New York. It was dubbed the first stadium concert in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. The Beatles were on their way to stardom thanks to their devoted and faithful manager “Eppie.”
Epstein was prone to depression, and in 1965, while being blackmailed over his homosexuality (a crime in Britain at the time), he attempted suicide. He bounced back and got The Beatles a new contract with Capitol Records, but as The Beatles traveled the world and enjoyed unprecedented fame, Epstein stayed in London and Sussex and felt slighted. At the same time, he was handing over the band’s management without telling them (likewise, they had incorporated, without including him)
As The Beatles’ career was soaring, Brian found himself less involved in the routine operations. The Beatles empire was growing and Brian was no longer holding the master key. Epstein was feeling insecure about his future with the boys, his contract was due to expire as manager and he feared it wouldn’t be renewed. He began his downward spiral, becoming depressed leading his double life, and driven by his blatant drug addiction he spent his time drinking and gambling to extreme, tripping on LSD, and popping pills. Brian Epstein’s lifestyle became more than he could handle.
While the “Fab Four” were on a spiritual retreat reeping the benefits of stardom, Brian Epstein died on August 27, 1967 disallusioned and alone. The official cause was said to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. The Beatles were devasted with the news of Brian’s death, John’s response to a reporter was ” he was just a beautiful fella.” Brian Epstein was the underlying success of the Beatles and although not nearly as famous as the “Fab Four” its been said that Paul dubbed him the “Fifth Beatle.”
“He was in love with me,” John said of Brian in 1980. “Its interesting and will make a nice Hollywood Babylon someday about Brian Epsteins sex life, but its irrelevant, absolutely irrelevant.” Double Life…Double Fantasy, the secret was buried with Brian Epstein on August 29th 1967.