When Paul McCartney was a teenager, his mother, Mary, died. He has often spoken about her death and the way it impacted his family and, later on, his music. McCartney said he also felt guilty for years after she died. He shared the behavior that wracked him with guilt whenever he thought about it.
When McCartney was 14, his mother died of cancer following complications during surgery. It came as a shock to McCartney and his brother, Michael.
“My mum dying when I was fourteen was the big shock in my teenage years,” McCartney said in The Beatles Anthology. “She died of cancer, I learnt later. I didn’t know then why she had died.”
McCartney felt lost after her death. He also felt immense guilt for a relatively minor offense. He explained that he often poked fun at the way she spoke.
“My mum wanted us to speak properly and aspired to speak the Queen’s English,” he said. “One of my most guilty feelings is about picking her up once on how she spoke. She pronounced ‘ask’ with a long ‘a’ sound. And I said, ‘Oh — ‘aarsk’! That’s ‘ask’, mum,’ and I really took the piss out of her.”
He revealed that he thought about this for a long time after her death.
“When she died, I remember thinking, ‘You a**hole, why did you do that? Why did you have to put your mum down?’” he said. “I think I’ve just about got over it now, doctor.”
Paul McCartney said he felt guilty about something else after his mother’s death
McCartney also felt guilty about a comment he made immediately after learning his mother died. Mary McCartney’s work as a midwife made her the primary breadwinner for the family.
“The first thing I said was, ‘What are we going to do without her money?’” McCartney said, per the book The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies.
His brother Michael said this comment was the only thing he could remember about the day. He couldn’t even remember what his brother said, just that it made them both feel terrible.
“I can’t remember the details of the day we were told,” he said. “All I can remember is one of us, I don’t remember who, making a silly joke. For months we both regretted it.”
Is ‘Yesterday’ about Paul McCartney’s mom?
Over the years, McCartney wrote multiple songs about his mother. The most well-known is likely “Let It Be,” in which he references “Mother Mary” coming to him in times of need. He explained that he could have also written “Yesterday” with her in mind.
“Every time I come to the line ‘I’m not half the man I used to be,’ I remember I’d lost my mother about eight years before that,” he said, per People. “It’s been suggested to me that this is a ‘losing my mother’ song, to which I’ve always said, ‘No, I don’t believe so.’ But, you know, the more I think about it — I can see that might have been part of the background, the unconsciousness behind this song after all. It was so strange that the loss of our mother to cancer was simply not discussed. We barely knew what cancer was, but I’m now not surprised that the whole experience surfaced in this song where sweetness competes with a pain you can’t quite describe.”