'98's Best: Linda McCartney Dead At 56

Wife of ex-Beatle succumbs to cancer.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Monday, Apr. 20.]

Linda Eastman McCartney, a successful rock photographer and musician who

was best-known as ex-Beatle Paul McCartney's wife, died in Santa Barbara,

Calif., on Friday, according to a statement issued by her husband's press

office on Sunday. She was 56.

Linda McCartney died of cancer. "Since she was diagnosed in late 1995 with

breast cancer she had been having treatment which appeared to have worked

well," family spokesman Geoff Baker said in the statement. "But

unfortunately in March it was found that it had gone to her liver."

In addition to touring and recording as a keyboardist and backup singer in

Paul McCartney's band Wings and touring as member of her husband's unnamed

band in 1989 and 1993, Linda McCartney fought for animal rights and

published a number of books, including a collection of her photos entitled

"Linda McCartney's Sixties: Portrait of an Era" and two cookbooks, "Linda

McCartney's Home Cooking" and "Linda's Kitchen."

The McCartney family was vacationing in Santa Barbara last week, and Linda

McCartney had gone horseback riding just two days prior to her death. Both

Paul McCartney, 55, and the three children they had together -- Mary, 27,

Stella, 25, and James, 19 -- were by her side when she died at 5:04 a.m.

(PDT) Friday. Linda is also survived by a third daughter, Heather, who

she had during a previous marriage. "Anyone who knows the family knows how

close and loving they are, so this is a devastating blow to all of them and

they have asked to be left in peace to grieve in private," Baker said in

the statement.

Yoko Ono, widow of ex-Beatle John Lennon, was "in a state of shock," her

publicist Elliott Mintz told the Associated Press. "She spoke to Linda

within the past year and Linda sounded her usual, powerful self to Yoko."

Baker said there would be a memorial service "at some point."

In recent years, Linda McCartney was almost as well-known for her activism

on behalf of animals as she was for her work in music. "She doubtless left

legions of vegetarians in her wake through her outspokenness," said Dan

Mathews, director of campaigns with People for the Ethical Treatment of

Animals, for whom both McCartneys served as spokespeople.

"Nothing was ever undoable, and that rubbed off on a lot of people around

her," Mathews said. "She's an icon in our movement."

Linda and Paul McCartney were also icons within the music industry for

maintaining an unusually strong relationship over three decades. "The

coming days are going to be very difficult for Paul," Baker said. "People

may not realize that with the exception of one occasion, Paul and Linda

never spent a night apart in the 30 years that they have loved each other."

After receiving news of McCartney's death, British Prime Minister Tony

Blair issued a statement extolling her "extraordinary courage." "She made

a tremendous contribution across a whole range of British life," Blair said

of the woman known as Lady Linda after her husband Paul was knighted in 1997.

Linda Louise Eastman was born into a wealthy family on September 24, 1941,

the daughter of the prominent show business attorney Lee Eastman. Her

mother died in a plane crash when she was 19. Linda Eastman grew up in

Scarsdale, N.Y., and attended Sarah Lawrence College before enrolling in the

University of Arizona. While studying in Arizona, she married John Melvyn

See and had a daughter, Heather; the marriage ended in 1963.

By 1965, she had returned to New York and begun a career as a rock

photographer. She had conducted shoots of the Rolling Stones, the Dave

Clark Five, Jim Hendrix and many others by the time she met Paul McCartney

in London in 1967 at a press party heralding the release of the Beatles'

album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. They were married two

years later, in London. Paul McCartney has said that all the love songs he

wrote after meeting Linda were about her, including his classic

post-Beatles ballad, "Maybe I'm Amazed," which appeared on his first solo

album, McCartney (1970).

Following the breakup of the Beatles and the release of McCartney,

Paul McCartney formed Wings in 1971, with his wife a featured member. Wings

scored big with Band On The Run (1973), and the 1977 hit single,

"Mull of Kintyre."

Although Linda McCartney was often criticized by the rock press for her

lack of musical skills, in 1973 she was nominated with Paul for an Academy

Award for co-writing the song James Bond theme "Live And Let Die." She

performed most recently on her husband's latest album, Flaming Pie

(1997), the artwork for which also includes some of her photographs.

Denny Seiwell, drummer for Wings during the band's early years, recalled

for Reuters that Linda McCartney helped Paul through the dissolution

of the Beatles. "He had an ill feeling from that whole period," he said.

"Linda was a security blanket for him. They had great love for each other."

Speaking about his wife's struggle with cancer, Paul McCartney -- whose

mother died from breast cancer in 1956 -- said during an interview prior to

her death that she was "the most positive person on earth."

Rather than send flowers, mourners have been asked to contribute to

charities working in cancer research or animal welfare. "Or, best of all,"

Baker's statement read, "the tribute that Linda herself would like best: Go

veggie."