He gave up life as a Beatle to pursue a career as an artist, and then died tragically six months later -- just as the group was on the cusp of rocketing to fame.
The entire story of Stuart Sutcliffe -- sometimes called "The Lost Beatle" -- is not widely known.
But now his sister Pauline, an East End resident, is auctioning off some of the artwork and letters he left behind and focusing attention on him to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.
"Absolutely he made the right decision" in leaving The Beatles back in 1961 to pursue his true love, Pauline Sutcliffe said. "I think he thought that [fame] was going to happen to him anyway, as an artist. He was just an exceptionally bright and able young man that appeared to have all the gifts and all the talent, and to be so strikingly attractive as well and to be so well liked."
Sutcliffe was John Lennon's roommate at the Liverpool College of Art in the late 1950s when Lennon convinced him to join a rock and roll band then called "The Quarry Men." They went out and bought Sutcliffe a bass guitar after Sutcliffe sold one of his paintings exhibited at a prestigious national museum.
Sutcliffe didn't know much about playing it, but Lennon and George Harrison taught him, Pauline Sutcliffe said.
The band played gigs in Liverpool, and then headed to Hamburg, Germany, in 1960 for a five-month stint in the city's red-light district. It was a critical formative period for the group, which played for 10 hours a night, honing their musical skills and their image.
Sutcliffe played a key role in shaping that image, according to rock-music historians. He helped give them a new look -- their hair, their clothes, their attitude -- and a new name, The Beatles.
"He's not a minor influence. He deeply, profoundly changed them," said Bobby Livingston of Amherst, N.H.-based RR Auction, which is handling the Sutcliffe auction.
During the trip, Sutcliffe fell in love with Astrid Kirchherr, an aspiring photographer who took some of the iconic photos of the early Beatles. At night after the band's gigs, Sutcliffe would escape to the attic of the house where he was living with Kirchherr and her mother and paint, Sutcliffe said.
The Beatles' gig ended when German authorities discovered George Harrison was only 17, a year shy of the legal working age and deported the entire band. But they returned in 1961 for another run.
During this trip, as the Beatles' fame was growing but had not yet reached the mass hysteria phase, Sutcliffe decided to leave them. He accepted a scholarship to study at Hamburg State Art College.
But his studies were disrupted by health problems. He began to have severe headaches. On April 10, 1962, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage, as Kirchherr -- his fiancee by then -- held him in her arms in an ambulance on the way to a hospital. He was 21.
The next day, Kirchherr met the Beatles at the airport as they flew in for a return engagement. When she told them the news, Lennon broke down, weeping uncontrollably.After their mother's death in 1983, Pauline Sutcliffe, a family psychotherapist, made it one of her missions to keep alive the memory of her brother and draw attention to his young artistic genius. She has a number of his works hanging in her home.
She is auctioning some items in part to better "scatter" them in the world. They include a heartbreaking letter Kirchherr wrote to Sutcliffe's mother two months after his death, as well as some of Sutcliffe's art work. The auction will be Jan. 19.
Pauline Sutcliffe said she attended some of the early Beatles' gigs in Liverpool as a teenager. Stuart Sutcliffe was four years older than her and made her sit in a place where he could keep an eye on her.
The first time she saw the band play, "they were not brilliant by any means" as musicians on records or the radio, she said. "But it was so exciting" because she had never seen a live band before, they could play a whole song without stopping, and they were creating a new kind of sound, she said.
Still, by the time Stuart Sutcliffe quit, his family was relieved, especially his parents. "They thought it was a distraction" from his true calling, art, Pauline Sutcliffe said.
Today, a half-century later, Stuart Sutcliffe is a cult figure for millions.
"For his fans, he's always this almost 22-year-old who still looks totally modern today," Pauline Sutcliffe said.