After an astonishingly loyal 29 years of marriage, Paul loses his lovely Linda
OVER THE YEARS, "SANTA BARbara" became code words. Yes, the McCartneys visited California off and on, but for two decades their real retreat from the world was 600 miles away, near Tucson, Ariz. Paul and Linda had a 150-acre spread, crisscrossed with horse trails, carpeted with brilliant yellow brittle-brush flowers and dotted with prickly pear and Saguaro cactuses. The ranch didn't offer much security, but then Tucson was one place they didn't need it. The locals left Sir Paul and Lady Linda alone. And the fans and the press? It seems whenever the McCartneys left England, they told the world they were going to Santa Barbara. "They had to do that," says a friend. "There had been a kidnapping attempt at their place in Sussex-they came after Linda, I think- and there was a lingering paranoia after John Lennon's death. So they kept their travel plans secret and talked in code. Whenever the secretaries said Paul and Linda were off to Santa Barbara, you knew Paul and Linda were off to Tucson."
Last week the code could not save them. On April 17, Linda, 56, died in Tucson after the breast cancer she'd been fighting for two years spread to her liver. She had been a rock photographer; an entrepreneur; an evangelical veggie; a musician, though many begged to differ, and the subject of every love song Paul's written since 1969. She and her husband were married 29 years-the only nights they ever spent apart came during the 10 days the singer sat in a Tokyo jail after a marijuana bust-and raised four kids that even their on-again-off-again nemesis Yoko Ono once described in these pages as "beautiful children."
Paul has lost people before, and not always known quite how to respond. When he was 14, his father told him his mother had died of breast cancer, and he said something flip about his mom's salary as a midwife that he'd long regret: "What are we going to do without her money?" When he was 38 and a camera crew demanded a reaction to Lennon's murder, he called it "a drag," a remark that was misinterpreted and flung back at him for years. But when Linda died, the floodgates opened. Paul kept her death a secret from the press for two days, so he and his children could have Linda's body cremated and fly back to England in peace. But then he released along, emotional statement, saying, "This is a total heartbreak for my family and I. Linda was, and still is, the love of my life and the past two years we spent battling her disease have been a nightmare." The members of the McCartney camp, however, also spoke in code for one last time. Hoping to live and grieve in private, they claimed Linda had died in Santa Barbara.
Last Wednesday spokesmen for the Santa Barbara coroner's office announced that the McCartneys hadn't filed a death certificate with the county, which meant that any cremation would have been illegal. The spokesmen said that they were launching an investigation and that charges could conceivably be brought. Then, for 24 hours, the press wondered aloud if Paul and Linda had conspired in an assisted suicide, a theory discredited by reports that a death certificate had been issued in--surprise, surprise--Arizona. "Knowing them, an assisted suicide is just inconceivable," says another friend. "Their daughter Mary was getting married next month. They deliberately moved the wedding up to May when they got the diagnosis that Linda's illness was terminal. Linda was working on her daughter's wedding! If she could have, she would have lived to see it."
When Paul and Linda's own wedding was announced back in 1969, disconsolate fans stood outside his home, causing the last bachelor Beatle to come to the gates at one point and say, "Look, girls, be fair. I had to get married some time." To put it mildly, Linda, like Yoko, was not what fans were looking for in a Beatle bride. She was an American, for starters. She'd grown up in Scarsdale, N. …