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Paul McCartney's Wife Linda Dies

Music: Photographer who wed a Beatle and became a member of his later band succumbs to cancer at 56. They had married in 1969.

April 20, 1998|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Linda McCartney, the American photographer who broke a generation of teenage girls' hearts when she married Beatle Paul McCartney, has died of cancer, her publicist said Sunday. She was 56.

She died Friday while on vacation in Santa Barbara, publicist Geoff Baker said. Her husband and children were with her.

"The blessing was that the end came quickly and she didn't suffer," a statement from Paul McCartney's office said.

Two days before her death, Linda and Paul had been horseback riding, one of her passions, the statement said.

"Paul and Linda McCartney comprised one of the great, and improbable, love stories in rock 'n' roll--a marriage that lasted nearly 30 years despite early ridicule that cast Linda as a star-struck photographer intent on 'nabbing' a rock star," Los Angeles Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn said.

The couple announced in December 1995, that Linda McCartney, a strident vegetarian who marketed her own meat-free dishes, was being treated for breast cancer.

At first, the treatment appeared to be working well, but in March the cancer was found to have spread to her liver.

Paul McCartney, 55, asked that people wanting to send flowers in his wife's memory should instead give a donation to charities involved in cancer research, animal welfare "or--best of all--the tribute that Linda herself would like best: Go veggie."

Linda Eastman was already acclaimed for her moody, gritty photographs when she married Paul McCartney in 1969. They had three children, Mary, Stella and James.

She had another daughter, Heather, from her first marriage to geophysicist John Melvyn See.

The McCartneys largely avoided a celebrity lifestyle and lived quietly in remote homes in southern England and Scotland, saying they wanted to provide a normal upbringing for their children.

Born into a wealthy family, Linda Eastman grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y. Her father, Lee Eastman, was a lawyer; her mother died in a plane crash when she was a teenager.

After majoring in art history at the University of Arizona, she moved to New York City at 21, becoming a receptionist at Town and Country magazine.

A lucky break enabled her to photograph the Rolling Stones, and she was asked to capture other rock groups on camera. Soon she was dating celebrities, including actor Warren Beatty and a manager of The Who, Chris Stamp.

During a trip to London in May 1967 she met Paul McCartney at the launch of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album. They married in London two years later, about a month after Linda informed him that she was pregnant with the first of their three children, Mary.

She played a supporting role in the breakup of the Beatles. One of the disagreements within the quartet was over the handling of the Beatles' finances; Paul wanted his father-in-law to sort out the mess while the other three wanted noted attorney and record mogul Allen Klein. Paul lost, and on Dec. 31, 1970, sued his bandmates to dissolve their partnership.

Paul McCartney launched a solo career to much critical derision but then hit commercial pay dirt by forming a group called Wings. Though Linda had little musical experience, he insisted that she join the group on keyboards and backing vocals.

The critics turned their attention from Paul to Linda. In a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Paul acknowledged that he brought in outside singers to bolster Linda's harmonies on his "Flowers in the Dirt" album.

Hilburn recalled a moment backstage during a Wings tour in the mid-1970s.

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Linda came into the room with some tea for Paul because his throat was sore, Hilburn said. Paul got up and pulled over a chair for her, but she said she didn't want to intrude and left.

" 'What people don't understand,' Paul McCartney told me later, 'is that I'm the one who wants Linda on stage. With the Beatles, I always had my friends on stage with me,' " Hilburn recalled. " 'I could turn one way and see John [Lennon] or another way and see Ringo [Starr] . . . so, I wanted me mate onstage with me again.' "

In 1972, the McCartneys were fined for possessing marijuana and in another incident, in 1984, they both admitted carrying the drug.

A vegetarian long before it became fashionable, Linda McCartney lent her name to a range of frozen dishes and in 1991 published a cookbook.

"Linda was always upbeat about our work against cruelty and we'll fight harder in her name," Dan Mathews, a campaign director for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said Sunday. "Linda understood the power of the fork."

During an interview on his last U.S. tour with Wings, in 1993, Paul McCartney said, "The strange thing about activism is it's not that easy . . . it's so much easier for me to go off and hibernate with my money, but I'm now an older guy, one of the planet's elders almost.

"I think it's better to support some causes, and Linda makes sure I don't sort of take the easy way out. She's the one that pushes me."

Last year, she became Lady Linda when her husband was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

In one interview, speaking about his wife's fight against cancer, Paul McCartney called her "the most positive person on Earth."

Asked how they remained so close, he replied, "I guess it's because we just adore each other."

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

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