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On 27 August 1967, Brian Epstein, who had first rescued the Beatles from the Liverpool music scene and transformed them into the biggest group in the world, was found dead in his home from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. He was just thirty-two-years-old. His passing had come almost three months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably the band’s most famous album, but having been the guiding force behind their success the future of the Beatles seemed uncertain.
As author Jon Wiener had noted in his biography Come Together: John Lennon in His Time, ‘John feared the future after Brian Epstein’s death because he knew how important Epstein had been in taking those Liverpool tough guys and turning them into the Fab Four.’
While Epstein’s untimely death had not been the first tragedy that the Beatles had been forced to overcome, with former guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe having passed away in April 1962 at the age of just twenty-one, Epstein’s influence on the band was so significant that he was often referred to as the ‘fifth Beatle.’ Without Epstein to guide them and keep all four egos under control, the Beatles remained together for only two more years before Lennon announced his departure to his bandmates just six days before the release of Abbey Road.
Interest in Epstein has been renewed in recent months following the announcement of three projects that are to explore his life and impact on music. The first, a graphic novel entitled The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, which was written by Vivek Tiwary and adapted into comic form by artists Kyle Baker and Andrew C Robinson. Starting with Epstein’s discovery of the band at the Cavern in Liverpool while working at his father’s music store and how his obsession with their potential convinced him to invest his life in their success, with the story finally concluding his his passing. As one would expect from a graphic novel, much of the story has been exaggerated or created from fiction, but the overall theme of Epstein taking a risk on a local band and transforming them into superstars still remains.
In late September it was revealed that a new movie based on the Beatles was in the works that would focus on Epstein and his his role in the creation of the band, which would be the first biopic to include songs by the band on the soundtrack. Iain Softley’s 1994 film Backbeat, which starred Stephen Dorff as Sutcliffe and Ian Hart as Lennon, featured songs that the Beales had covered earlier in their career but performed by other artists.
Tiwary was chosen to adapt his own graphic novel into the screenplay The Fifth Beatle, which has been developed by Academy Award-nominated producer Bruce Cohen, fresh from his recent success with Silver Linings Playbook. Peyton Reed, whose prior credits include Bring It On and the Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man, was hired to direct the picture, having claimed that ‘From the moment I read Vivek’s graphic novel, I knew I wanted to be the person to bring Brian’s story to the big screen.’But even as The Fifth Beatle was under development, a second biopic about the life of Epstein was announced, with London-born Benedict Cumberbatch cast in the lead role. The thirty-seven-year-old has already portrayed Stephen Hawking and Vincent Van Gogh, before becoming a household name for his starring role in Sherlock, a contemporary adaptation of the classic series of crime stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Cumberbatch is rumoured to be collaborating on the project with director Paul McGuigan, who had followed minor hits Gangster No. 1 and Lucky Number Slevin with several episodes of BBC’s acclaimed drama Sherlock.
The project will be produced by Playtone, the company owned by Tom Hanks, and will allegedly focus more on Epstein’s personal life than his involvement with the Beatles. IMDb currently lists McGuigan’s biopic on Epstein under the title The Man Who, although whether this is official remains to be seen.