From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
"Anybody who knows what he's worth isn't worth very much."
John D. MacArthur

If MacArthur, the late billionaire, was right, Paul McCartney definitely doesn't know what he's worth. Nor, it would seem, does anyone else—though everyone has an opinion.

One recent rumor had the former Beatle making more than British Airways did last year, a cool $129 million. If correct, that would have put Paul's worth at more than $1 billion—probably true some day, but not yet. Another source had it that the income from all his investments was $330,000, a pitiful—and laughably pessimistic—sum. Other estimates were less forthcoming, but probably more sincere. Teased one British business analyst, "You'll never find out. It's all salted away in places you'll never know about." Well, if you say so. But after chasing down endless leads—true and false—coping with numerous exaggerations and banging into not a few brick walls, we developed the following financial picture: Paul McCartney, at 41, is history's most commercially successful musician—by far the wealthiest of the ex-Beatles—and one of the world's richest men.

Beatles' biographers Peter Brown and Steven Gaines (The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of the Beatles) claim that McCartney's personal value is "close to $500 million and climbing." Another chronicler of the Fab Four, John Blake, offers an estimate "approaching $600 million," making McCartney "one of the richest men in Britain." Speculation in the British press on Paul's personal worth runs from $400 million to $550 million. In America books and articles have made estimates in the same range.

To put his wealth into better perspective, consider this: If Paul's fortune is in the neighborhood of $450 million to $550 million, he is wealthier than at least eight principal heirs to the Rockefeller fortune; almost half again as wealthy as Leon Hess, the oil baron and owner of the New York Jets football team; and possessor of an estate larger than that of the family that founded Sears, Roebuck.

Just as impressive as the amount is the speed with which Paul has accumulated it. In less than 25 years he has built a nest egg about twice as large as the estimated $200 million that Bob Hope has earned in 60 years of movie, radio, TV and personal appearances. In an age of high income taxes and inflation, McCartney's riches are comparable in scope to those piled up in earlier and less regulated times by Rockefeller and Carnegie in the beginning stages of their careers.

Paul's annual income is also the subject of much speculation. William Davis, author of The Rich: A Study of the Species, says that McCartney makes $40 million a year. Other estimates from both England and America place the annual figure at $48 million to $60 million. If a conservative figure of $45 million is used, McCartney makes $5,000 every single hour of the year and is richer by at least a couple of hundred dollars since you started this article.

How has he done it? First and most obviously, he is the most successful mover of records ever—more than 60 gold singles(one million or more units sold) in harmony with the Beatles, his current group Wings, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and even his wife, Linda. His album with Wings, Band on the Run, sold six million copies, the most for any ex-Beatle's recording and equal to the sales of the Fab Four's biggest hit album, Let It Be. In all, McCartney has sold more than 100 million albums and more than 100 million singles, enough to earn him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Second, Paul is excruciatingly frugal. Most of his earnings are plowed back into investments. As Peter Brown, a longtime acquaintance, puts it, "Paul truly believes that lavish is vulgar, and ostentation crude."

Third, he is a brilliant businessman, with all the instinctive acquisitiveness of that breed. According to Larry Shames, who wrote an article in Esquire on the investments of John Lennon (also no slouch in gathering wealth): "The mistake most people make is to still regard the Beatles as the young, boyish stars of fond memory. In fact, they are middle-aged men who have had lots of money for a long time and have become conservative about it."

In addition, like all good businessmen, McCartney understands the value of good help. He has the benefit of experienced financial advisers, among whom his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, is the most important. Eastman has been a prominent and successful show-business attorney for many years, and he helped create MPL Communications Inc., which oversees Paul's investments, publishing deals and music contracts. Unlike John Lennon, who invested much of his money in real estate, not always successfully, McCartney has stuck to pop music for the bulk of his financial activity. His latest contract with Columbia Records is one of the largest ever drawn up—reportedly guaranteeing eight figures plus a phenomenal 20 percent royalty on each record sold, or about $1.80 a record, regardless of any discount. (According to industry rumors, McCartney's deal almost ruined Columbia, until the recent successes of such groups as Men at Work got the company back on its financial feet.)

As co-author with Lennon, which was usually the case, McCartney gets about 25 percent of the "writer's share" of all fees and payments received every time a Beatles' song is played anywhere in public for commercial purposes. The Beatles' songs are very "coverable," which means that other artists play them in endless arrangements and renditions. So every time you hear Yesterday or Let It Be in any format at all—as Muzak in a doctor's waiting room or on an airplane, on radio, over a public-address system, at a high school prom—you know that Paul McCartney is getting a little closer to becoming a billionaire.

Ironically, over the years McCartney has been unable to regain the copyrights to the Beatles' songs, which were lost to the group when their publishing company, Northern Songs, was bought by Lord Lew Grade. Grade rejected an offer by McCartney for Northern Songs, then sold it to Australian magnate Robert Holmes a'Court. This has been a source of great psychological stress as well as financial loss to Paul, who has repeatedly attempted to buy back the Beatles' songs. As Peter Brown puts it, "He wants to own his children."

However, through MPL, Paul has obtained the copyrights to many other musical properties. These include Grease, A Chorus Line, Annie, La Cage aux Folles and the songs of Buddy Holly. In a multimillion-dollar deal, MPL also purchased from Edwin H. Morris & Co. the copyrights to 10,000 songs, including old favorites like One for My Baby, Stormy Weather, Sentimental Journey and college football songs like Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech. Each time these songs are played anywhere in the world, Paul gets richer.

Other major sources of income for Paul have been the musical Beatle-mania and reruns of Beatles' movies, television appearances and, of course, current record sales, including his just released album, Pipes of Peace, which includes the new hit single with Michael Jackson, Say Say Say.

To paraphrase one of the Beatles' earliest hits, albeit written by Chuck Berry: "Roll over Rockefeller, and tell J. Paul Getty the news."