August 19, 2002 01:00 PM

Don’t look for Paul McCartney at this year’s Kennedy Center honors during the weekend of Dec. 7, after all. The ex-Beatle, 60, has informed the powers that be that he will not be available to receive his tribute this year — along with fellow honorees Elizabeth Taylor, James Earl Jones, Chita Rivera and James Levine — and sent to the Kennedy Center a message of regret and apology, reports the Associated Press. (McCartney will reportedly receive his honor in 2003, instead, leaving the Kennedy Center to find a suitable replacement for this year, the AP notes.) James A. Johnson, chairman of the center, issued a statement on Friday saying that he understood and respected McCartney’s sense of priority. Priority to what, however, remains unclear. Monday’s Washington Post, itself baffled over what personal matters could have caused McCartney to withdraw, quotes some Internet messages speculating on the musician’s reasons. Among them: Dec. 9, during the Kennedy Center weekend, will mark the 22nd anniversary of the death of John Lennon, and McCartney could have withdrawn out of respect. Or, perhaps McCartney’s new wife, Heather Mills, is pregnant, as evidenced by some loose-fitting clothing she has apparently been wearing. Or, perhaps McCartney fears La Liz will show up at the tribute with her pal, Michael Jackson, who is not exactly a friend of McCartney’s since the Gloved One purchased the Beatles’s music catalog. None of these reasons has been confirmed.

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