ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1998
Linda McCartney, 56, died of breast cancer on April 17 in Tucson, Arizona. The daughter of entertainment lawyer Lee Eastman, Linda had already become a noted rock-and-roll photographer, after a failed first marriage, when she met composer Paul McCartney of the Beatles at a London nightclub in 1967. They were married in March 1969. Linda and Yoko Ono, wife of the late John Lennon, were often blamed by fans and writers for the Beatles' subsequent break-up. Drafted into Paul's new band, Wings, as a keyboardist and backup singer, Linda endured further criticism for musical mediocrity. Learning to withstand public abuse served her well after they became ethical vegetarians in 1979, 12 years after Paul's lifelong friend and fellow Beatle George Harrison.
"The moment of revelation came during a Sunday roast meal, when one of their four children commented on the contented way in which some baby lambs were grazing in the fields outside," Jonathan Ashby of the New York Daily News reported. Said Paul, "We all suddenly felt quite dreadful when we realized that we were probably tucking into one of their relatives' legs."
They were joined in vegetarianism a few years later by Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon, who gave up meat at age 12.
By 1984 both Paul and Linda were prominently involved in animal rights activism. After Linda McCartney's Home Cooking, 1989, sold 400,000 copies, Linda introduced a line of frozen dinners, "Linda's Meatless Meals," in 1991, and issued a second cookbook, Linda's Kitchen, in 1996.
"If you go veggie," Linda explained in the preface, "it means no animal dies for your plate. I've met a lot of people who say, 'I'm almost veggie, but I still eat fish.' To me that's like being 'almost pregnant' -- either you are or you aren't. I know that for some people cutting out fish is the most difficult obstacle on the road to vegetarianism. But fish have feelings too, and anyone who has ever seen a fish hooked out of the water, jerking and gasping for breath, should realize that."
Said Paul in his first public statement after her death, "The courage she showed to fight for her causes of vegetarianism and animal welfare was unbelievable. How many women can you think of who would singlehandedly take on opponents like the Meat & Livestock Commission, risk being laughed at, and yet succeed? All animals to her were like Disney characters, worthy of love and respect. The tribute she would have liked best would be for people to "go vegetarian," as the public schools of Rome, Italy did in her honor on April 30, on request from school supervisor Fiorella Farinelli, 54, against outspoken opposition from both the meat industry and the locally powerful Communist Refounding Party.
Continued Paul, "Linda got into the food business for one reason only, to save animals from cruel treatment. When told a rival firm had copied one of her products, all she could say was, 'Great. Now I can retire.'
In the end, she went quickly with very little discomfort, surrounded by her loved ones. The kids and I were there when she crossed over. They each were able to tell her how much they loved her. Finally I said to her, 'You're up on your Appaloosa stallion. It's a fine spring day. We're riding through the woods. The bluebells are out, and the sky is clear blue.' I had barely gotten to the end of the sentence when she closed her eyes and gently slipped away."