After 50 years, handful of survivors on 'Sgt. Pepper' cover

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New York (AFP)

The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album revolutionized not just music but cover art, enigmatically depicting 61 (mostly) famous people. Fifty years later, only five of them are still alive.

At a time when album covers were usually glossy photos of artists, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was a marvel for fans who were sent hunting for deeper meanings in an era before Google searches.

The 1967 album showed The Beatles dressed up as a military brass band surrounded by sketches, photos or wax figures of 57 people from writers to Indian gurus to Karl Marx.

Adding to the interactive aspect, the album came with cut-outs including paper mustaches that listeners could paste onto the cover.

Only five of the real-life people depicted remain alive 50 years later including the two surviving Beatles -- Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Rock legend Bob Dylan is the most famous among the other three. The others are Dion DiMucci, the New York blues singer whose fame declined after the British Invasion of artists led by The Beatles in the 1960s, and the sculptor Larry Bell.

Twenty-three others were alive at the time of the cover and have since died, including Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and actors Marlon Brando and Marlene Dietrich.

In an interview for the album's 50th anniversary posted on his website, McCartney said The Beatles would likely have picked different characters today.

"You know probably, yeah. But just because it wouldn't be the same time," he said.

Each of The Beatles suggested names, with Harrison instrumental in including Indian gurus, but the list underwent changes.

Harrison initially wanted to include Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi but the idea was scrapped for fear that it would cause restrictions on sales in the subcontinent.

John Lennon had jokingly wanted to include Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler but both ideas were vetoed as insensitive.

Label EMI, nervous about lawsuits, insisted on receiving permission from each of the living people.

All obliged with one exception. McCartney said that a member of The Bowery Boys, a New York comedy group popular in the 1940s and 1950s, wanted payment.

"And we thought, 'You know what, we've got enough people on here!" McCartney said.

While McCartney was the driving force behind "Sgt. Pepper," Lennon drew an early sketch of the cover that recenty sold at a New York auction for $87,500.