Linda McCartney Dies at 56

Photographer, activist and Beatle wife, succumbs to cancer

Less than three years after it was announced that she was being treated for breast cancer, Linda McCartney, noted photographer, animal rights activist and wife of Beatle Paul for twenty-nine years, passed away Friday. Although her chemotherapy treatments had seemed to have her cancer in check, she took a turn for the worse in March when the disease spread to her liver. She was fifty-six.

Throughout their twenty-nine year relationship, Linda and husband Paul were inseparable; the pair reportedly only spent ten nights apart, a separation due to Paul's stint in a Tokyo jail for marijuana possession. When Paul formed Wings after the dissolution of the Beatles, the couple's partnership extended to the musical realm. Although Linda's keyboard playing and backup vocals raised a few critical eyebrows, she did share an Oscar nomination with her husband for their composition "Live and Let Die."

But it was through a camera lens that she made her biggest impression in rock music. While working as a receptionist at Town and Country magazine in the mid-Sixties, she snagged a press pass to a Rolling Stones promotional yacht party, finagling her way on board through sheer persistence while every other photographer was left standing on the dock. Her exclusive photos of the band were snatched up by dozens of papers and magazines, and she quickly made a name for herself shooting publicity photos for a number of bands and capturing them on tour by assignment. On May 11, 1968, she became the first woman photographer to shoot a Rolling Stone cover (Eric Clapton). She appeared on the front of the magazine herself with Paul on January 31, 1974, making her the only person to have shot -- and been shot -- for the publication's cover.

Eschewing flash for natural light, she captured her subjects in intimate backstage moments that often revealed a private side of performers rarely seen. Her work has been reprinted in several books and exhibited at more than fifty galleries around the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Linda's reputation quickly established her as insider in celebrity circles, and at one point she dated actor Warren Beatty. She first met Paul, the "cute one" and object of affection for thousands of girls worldwide, at a launch party for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. He invited her back to London during the recording of the White Album. A romance ensued, and the couple wed on March 12, 1969. They spent much of their time out of the public eye on their farm in West Sussex, England. She became the inspiration for all of Paul's post-1968 love songs, including "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Born Linda Louise Eastman on September 24, 1941, McCartney was the daughter of show business lawyer Lee Eastman and mother Louise (whose family owned the Linder department stores). Her father, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, had changed his name from Epstein, and was not part of the Eastman-Kodak photography legacy as was frequently reported at the time of Linda's marriage to Paul. Although not an heiress, she did become Lady Linda when her husband was knighted in 1997.

Outside of her photography and famous marriage, McCartney was also widely recognized as a staunch supporter of animal rights and die-hard vegetarian. The latter passion spawned two cookbooks and a successful line of frozen vegetable dinners. The couple were even featured on The Simpsons supporting little Lisa in her decision to give up meat. In lieu of flowers, Paul has asked that people wishing to honor his wife's memory contribute to cancer research, animal welfare, "or -- best of all -- the tribute that Linda herself would like best: Go veggie."

At the time of her death, Linda, Paul and their children had been vacationing in Santa Barbara, Ca., with the couple reportedly horseback riding earlier in the week. In addition to her husband, she is survived by their children Mary, Stella, and James; her daughter Heather from a previous marriage; her sisters Laura and Louise and brother John, McCartney's business manager and lawyer.