Anita Pallenberg has been given many labels throughout her life. She was dubbed the “queen of the underground,” the Rolling Stones’ muse, Keith Richards’ lover, a style icon, and a rock ‘n’ roll legend. Sometimes, glamorous labels such as these are a little empty, but in Pallenberg’s case, they hit the nail on the head. The woman really was what legends are made of.
The late Anita Pallenberg (who died in 2017 at the age of 75) lived the kind of “groupie” life that men and women alike might find themselves envious of. She found herself a spot in the Stones’ entourage, first as Richards’ lover, then as a muse who would essentially influence the group in ways that proved legendary.
Pallenberg had such a magnetic presence that her friend Marianne Faithfull (who was Mick Jagger’s former lover) referred to it as an “evil glamour.” She was the baddest of bad girls. Just look at that grin – only those who sin can master a look like that. Evil or not, she is nonetheless credited with helping mold the group’s lasting image.
It was Pallenberg who taught Richards her sinister glare, taught Jagger how to wiggle, and taught early Stones’ member Brian Jones how to wear floppy hats. It was Pallenberg who morphed Richards (and the band) from squares to sinners. As soon as the guitarist connected with her, he lost his awkward shyness and started to exude some swagger, wearing her scarves, shirts, and bangles.
Pallenberg had a way of making things burst into flames (Faithfull would call her “Glenda Hindenburg”). “Loads of people were scared of me,” Pallenberg said. Richards recalled: “She knew everything, and she could say it in five languages. She scared the pants off me!”
Pallenberg was born in 1942 in Rome, to German-Italian parents. WWII separated the family, and she didn’t get to see her father until she was three years old. She went to a boarding school in Germany, and at an early age, she was already fluent in four languages. The girl was clearly bright, but her intelligence happened to get her into trouble. At 16, she was expelled from school.
After that, there was no going back. The wild child was on the loose. After spending some time in Rome with the Dolce Vita crowd (the famous 1960 Italian film), she headed to New York City to hang out in Andy Warhol’s Factory. Eventually, she became a model in Paris.
Still, she put studies on her priority list. Pallenberg studied medicine, picture restoration, and graphic design, yet never finished her degree. She eventually settled in London, but before that, she was acting in films, including Barbarella and Candy. Some say her best moment was in 1970’s Performance as Pherber, the dangerous other half of Jagger’s imagination.
You could say that Pallenberg was a serviceable actress, but what directors wanted from her more than anything was her magnificent features and her legs, which went on for days. In 1968’s Barbarella, she played the Black Queen alongside Jane Fonda.
In the same year, she played Nurse Bollock in Candy with Marlon Brando. According to Richards, Brando “kidnapped” her one night and read poetry to her (aka tried to seduce her). When that failed, he tried to seduce both her and Richards “together.” In the end, Richards and Pallenberg named their first son after the actor, so…
Pallenberg told The Guardian that Richards offered her £20,000 NOT to do Barbarella. In the book, Rock Wives, she also noted his discouragement of her career. She stated: “Keith had the same problem as Brian with [my] doing the movies.”
Reportedly, Richards made the same moves with his current wife Patti Hansen – offering to pay her twice as much for her not to take on the roles she was being given. Of course, Pallenberg did what she wanted to do, but there were times when she and Faithfull paced around the house, “bored to tears and feeling rather useless and ornamental.”
Before Anita Pallenberg showed up, the Stones thought of themselves as worldly young men, even bad boys, but they never met or dealt with anyone like her. With her around, not only their style changed but also their music. Their songs became more outrageous and flamboyant. In many ways, she taught them to let it bleed.
She entered the Stones’ radar in 1966 when she moved in with Brian Jones. The way she put it: “I decided to kidnap Brian.” She was more than just his lover, though; she also served as his unofficial stylist. Soon enough, the couple was dressing alike – she cut his hair and dyed it blonder –to the point where they even looked like twins.
Apparently, when he dropped acid for the first time, he told her: “Dress me up like Françoise Hardy.” And she did. By November 1966, the London press had published scandalous photos of Jones in a German war uniform with Pallenberg kneeling at his feet. In The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, it was written that “Brian and Anita were into blowing people’s minds.”
Their relationship took a violent turn, though. Richards actually moved in with the couple and the three went on a trip to Spain and Morocco together in 1967. Richards couldn’t help but notice that his fellow band member was beating Pallenberg. So, he decided to take Pallenberg back to England, leaving Jones alone and stranded in North Africa.
He also recalled that the first time he saw Pallenberg, his “obvious” reaction was “What the f*** is a chick like that doing with Brian?” Jones grew more abusive and jealous – to the point where he reportedly broke his hand on her face. Of course, it was only a matter of time until she left him for the better Stones member.
“It’s said that I stole her,” Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography, Life. “But my take on it is that I rescued her.” By the time Jones drowned (accidentally or not – it’s still up for debate) in his swimming pool in 1969 at the age of 27, Pallenberg was pregnant with the first of her three children with Richards.
They named their first son Marlon (after Brando). Her role in Performance? That didn’t sit so well with Richards. The film – an essential part of the band’s mythos – features Jagger as a washed-up rock star living in his mansion.
Pallenberg, as Pherber, seduces him, providing some very steamy, intimate scenes (shot in a bathtub). The day Pallenberg and Jagger were shooting their racy scenes, Richards was on the other side of town, in a bad mood, strumming his guitar. The song he wrote that day? Gimme Shelter.
“Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.”
It turns out that in those steamy scenes, Pallenberg and Jagger weren’t just “faking it for the camera.”
Richards wrote that on the day he realized his wife and fellow band member were having an affair, he wrote the opening lyrics to one of their greatest songs, Gimme Shelter. Obviously, it was a big blow to Richards’ ego. He thought they were the perfect couple. The couple apparently had a strong connection that began the moment they met.
In fact, their relationship was strong up until her death, well after their split in 1980. This unique couple never officially married, and they managed to be good friends as co-parents to their two kids, Marlon and Dandelion (their third tragically died in his crib 10 weeks after birth).
Pallenberg and Richards, as a couple, seemed to become one person. He took her mannerisms and style onto the stage. We have Pallenberg to thank (at least in part) for creating the persona of one of rock’s bad boys.
Fun fact: You can hear Pallenberg in the classic song Sympathy for the Devil as one of the voices chanting “hoo hoo!”
Many of Richards’ most iconic looks throughout the ‘70s came straight from Pallenberg’s closet. He wrote in his memoir that he would wake up, put on what was lying around – sometimes it was his and “sometimes it was the old lady’s, but we were exactly the same size, so it didn’t matter.”
He even wrote that if he sleeps with someone, he “at least” has the “right to wear her clothes.” British designer Pamela Hogg once told NPR: “As a kid, I wanted to dress like Keith Richards. But it was a long time before I realized Anita was behind all these great looks.”
Marianne Faithfull predated Pallenberg in the Stones’ inner circle despite being four years younger than her, but the two became best friends. Faithfull wrote in her memoir that she doesn’t think they would have ever become friends if it weren’t for Jagger and Richards.
“We weren’t naturally meant for each other, really, but because the boys were so close at the time, and spent so much time in the studio, it threw me and Anita together,” Faithfull wrote, adding, “We also took a lot of drugs.” That’s always a surefire way to bond with someone…
Faithfull also wrote that her dear late friend “truly didn’t give a f*** what anybody thought of her.” They had very different personalities: Pallenberg was sophisticated and elegant, whereas Faithfull – in her own words – said she was “a bit hopeless.”
Faithfull was the one who said Pallenberg brought an “evil glamour” to not just the Rolling Stones but to Swinging London. “She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorée” (the young, fashionable and rich). In Faithfull’s eyes, she was “dazzling, beautiful, hypnotic and unsettling… Other women evaporated next to her.”
When Richards and Pallenberg were together, they had to deal with much heavier things than merely what to wear on any given day. They both became dependent on drugs and drinking. In early 1977, the craving couple joined the rest of the Stones, who were on tour in Canada.
In Toronto, drugs were found in Pallenberg’s bag, leading to an arrest for both her and Richards. It was all pretty much avoidable, had she not brought along with her 28 pieces of luggage for the journey, which clearly raised a red flag at the border.
By the end of the ‘70s, Richards was living in Paris and recording music while also trying to get clean. Meanwhile, Pallenberg was living at Richards’ farm in South Salem, New York. While on the farm, something very tragic occurred.
She was reportedly watching TV with a male neighbor named Scott Cantrell. He was only 17 at the time (she was 37), when he shot himself with one of Richards’ guns… in the couple’s bed, no less. Their son Marlon was home at the time and called the police.
Cantrell was employed as a part-time grounds man at the farm and was reportedly involved in a sexual relationship with Pallenberg. Initially, she was arrested but eventually cleared of any involvement in the teenager’s death.
It was ruled a suicide in 1980, despite rumors that she and her young lover were playing a game of Russian roulette. According to the official police investigation, Pallenberg wasn’t on the same floor of the house when the fatal shot was fired. The incident ultimately served as the final nail in the coffin of her relationship with Richards.
Richards loved her for her mind and not just her good looks, claiming her intelligence was one of the things that “sparked” him. And while she was a “fantastic person,” and he loved her, he just couldn’t live with her. He realized that she was not suitable for raising children.
Pallenberg insisted that it was she who raised their kids since he was sleeping all day after working and partying all night. According to Richards, though, he was the one who eventually got clean, not her. Before they split for good, they had one final fling in New York City.
In 1981, a year after their split, Richards met model Patti Hansen at Studio 54. While he was basically rebounding from Pallenberg, it proved to be a very real and solid connection. He and Hansen have been married since 1983.
As for our dear Anita, she married her one and only husband, a man named Gabriel Roux (not much is known about him). Still, she and Richards remained close, even when they became grandparents (they have five grandchildren). During the winters, she would tend to his gardens at his home in Jamaica.
Her years with Richards included heroin addiction, alcohol abuse, paranoia, arrests, crib death, and Richards’ eventual conclusion that their daughter, Angela, would be better off living with his mother (despite the claim that she wasn’t fit as a mother).
“I tried to clean up loads of times,” he wrote, “but not Anita. She would go the other way.” In his memoir, he concluded his chapters on his years with her by saying, “Thanks for the memories, girl.” For a while, Pallenberg lived in the Alray Hotel in New York before she moved back to London.
In 2014, Pallenberg proudly asserted that she had been sober for 14 years. Getting clean was, as you can imagine (or know), was a long and daunting process. By the time she came out on the other side, she had lost her signature looks but found herself.
After getting sober, Pallenberg did everything she wanted to do. She completed her fashion degree, started painting again, and got deep into gardening (hence the tending to Richards’ flowers). In her later years, she went back to acting. She took on a part in 2001 in the cult-classic British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. But at the end of the day, she liked nothing better than doing her kids’ gardens.
She took on the fashion world again, after completing her degree. But it was nothing like how it was back in the ‘60s when she was a style icon in London. In a profile in The Guardian in 2008, she stated: “I don’t like the fashion world. It’s too nasty, too rip-off, too hard.”
Luckily for her, Richards left her in a financially comfortable situation, so she wasn’t hungry for it. She also gave up on writing a memoir – something former groupies and muses tend to do in their later years. Her reason? “The publishers want to hear only about the Stones and more dirt on Mick Jagger and I’m just not interested…. They all wanted salacious.”
According to Faithfull, Pallenberg’s illness was “terrible bad luck.” When she was diagnosed with diabetes, “her nose was in the air about it,” Faithfull said. Apparently, she tried to cure herself solely through her diet.
Eventually, she gave in to the traditional method of treating diabetes but found it hard to inject insulin. She was clean at this point, so going back to needles was a tough move. Diabetes was only one condition she had to deal with. Pallenberg also suffered from Hepatitis C, had two hip surgeries including a hip replacement, and walked with a limp as a result.
In the early ‘80s, she detoxed and abstained from drug use only to relapse later. She stopped drinking in 1987, but relapse with alcohol in 2004 after her second hip surgery. Still, she was determined and went to AA meetings religiously.
In 2016, when asked about growing old she said: “I am ready to die. I have done so much here. My Mum died at 94. I don’t want to lose my independence. Now I am over 70 and to be honest I did not think I would live over 40.” That was a year before her death, which was due to complications from Hepatitis C.
In 2010, The Daily Mail published a truly unflattering photo of Pallenberg, with her hair thinning and her face nothing but wrinkles, a cigarette in her mouth and a shopping cart in front of her. It was ultimately the utter opposite of what she was known for in her youth. It only begged the question: What went wrong?
Faithfull, who is by no means a stranger to indulgence, knew the timeline. She said it happened “right after Performance that Anita really went off her rocker. For years. Into the abyss.” The fact that Pallenberg aborted her pregnancy at the time in order to take on her role in the film might have something to do with it.
Not only was that 2010 photo shocking, but it was also seen as mean-spirited (but then again what tabloids aren’t?). Readers took to The Daily Mail to ask why they would publish such a cruel image of her. Courtney Love once asked Pallenberg whether she would consider getting plastic surgery.
Pallenberg reportedly answered, “Darling, I was the most beautiful woman in seventeen countries. I like being ugly!” Despite the unflattering photo, the muse will always be remembered for her beauty and boldness. The woman, who on more than one occasion has promoted the use of the swastika as a fashion statement, isn’t really remembered for her kindness, after all.
Marlon was born under hectic conditions. His mother announced that she was pregnant only 11 days after her ex-lover Brian Jones was found dead in a swimming pool. Unfortunately for Marlon, he grew up amidst the turmoil of his parents’ lifestyle.
There was a time when Richards took Marlon away from his addicted mother for a brief period, bringing him on tour with The Rolling Stones. Marlon reunited with his mom only to see her teenage lover shoot himself in their New York home. He was just nine at the time. Marlon went on to lead a quiet life with his wife Lucie and their daughter Ella Rose.
Their second child, Tara Jo Jo, lived for only 10 weeks before dying in his crib (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). In his memoir, Richards wrote about the trauma of losing a child. “Leaving a newborn infant son is something I can’t forgive myself for,” he wrote.
He was referring to the fact that he went on tour shortly after he was born in 1976. On a side note, the autobiography’s co-author, James Fox, gave his own take on it. “The first time we talked about that, Keith couldn’t get out more than five words. Then we realized we had to go back to it. He told me he thought about it every week.”
Like her older brother, Angela also grew up in a messy household. Apparently, Pallenberg was using three times a day at the time and even asked Richards to arrange for an abortion. Richards believed for a time that the baby wasn’t even his – that she was in fact the result of Pallenberg’s affair with Mick Jagger.
The rumors persisted for a long time, but in her 2008 profile with The Guardian, she claimed it was simply not true. Eventually, the tension over the alleged affair between Richards and Jagger dissipated, and Angela was born in Switzerland in 1972.
Angela’s nickname is “Dandelion,” and she actually spent most of her childhood under the care of her grandmother (her father’s mother), Doris. When she died in 2007, Angela moved to her dad’s large estate, where she currently lives with her husband Dominic Jennings and runs a horse-riding school.
When Richards brought the family on tour, it was usually Pallenberg who was in charge of the kids. “We were on the road a lot, traveling on tour, and I took my son everywhere. I did not send Marlon to school until he was 8 years old,” Pallenberg later recalled.
She taught him how to read and write while Doris looked after Angela. The difficulty with Richards, Pallenberg said in an interview, was that he slept all day while she was with the kids. She added: “I couldn’t have made the tours without the protection of drugs.”
According to Pallenberg, Richards’ lawyers were to blame for their breakup in 1979. They supposedly deemed her a bad influence on his career. In the end, she spoke highly of the father of her children: “He was the biologically right man to be the father of my children. It was more respect and friendships than mad love.”
Performance was co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg, and together they pushed the boundaries of the tolerant 1960s with graphic sex scenes, cross-dressing, violence, drug use, and terror.
The movie centered on Chas, an unstable gangster played by James Fox, who was hiding out at the home of an ex-rock star named Turner (Jagger) and these two mysterious women: Pherber, the groupie/muse figure played by Pallenberg, and the androgynous Lucy, played by Michele Breton. Jagger’s portrayal of Turner was something of a self-portrait, but he also emulated his bandmates, Jones and Richards.
We know now that Richards didn’t want Pallenberg to take on the part in the film, and his reaction to the nature of the film was one of intense discomfort. He hated Donald Cammell, later calling him a “twister and a manipulator” and “utterly predatory.”
Richards also wasn’t blind to the fact that his bandmate and lead in the film was a bona fide ladies’ man. Pallenberg refused to take the money Richards offered her not to do the film – she wasn’t one to bow down to a man.
At the time, Pallenberg and Richards were staying at a Chelsea apartment belonging to the wealthy art dealer Robert Fraser. Despite the fact that Fraser had just served six months in jail for drug possession after the notorious raid on Richards’ Redlands country home, he was still untamed.
Not only were Pallenberg and Richards joining in on Fraser’s heroin hobby, Pallenberg learned that she was pregnant. She decided that termination was her best choice. She also wanted to keep shooting the film. After all, they hadn’t finished shooting all the bedroom/bath scenes.
Legend has it that the bedroom scenes between Jagger, Pallenberg, and Breton took five days to film. While the scene was being filmed, a paranoid Richards instructed his chauffeur to drive his Bentley and eventually park it so he could “nervously smoke, drink and ponder what was occurring inside.”
That night, when Pallenberg came home to their apartment, he interrogated her about her day of shooting, enraged by her teasing and aloof answers. It was on the third day of shooting that Jagger and Pallenberg were reportedly caught in Jagger’s room doing you-know-what.
Pallenberg referred to the sex scenes as a “porno shoot… there was all kinds of sex going on. But I put it down to method acting.” Rumors of her affair with Jagger have circulated for decades, but she has always denied it.
In her words: “I was a one-man girl at the time and Keith was the man for me.” However, before his suicide in 1996, director Cammell stated that the rumors were indeed true. What comes as no surprise is that the planned collaboration between Jagger and Richards for the film’s soundtrack was ditched due to the tension between the two.
Performance ended up doing good for the Rolling Stones, pushing the envelope even further. Apparently, it was Jagger’s experience on the film that inspired their classic hit, Sympathy for the Devil.
As for the movie, though, the executives at Warner Brothers were totally disgusted by the corrupt and immoral film and shelved it indefinitely. In 1970, they re-edited it, and it was finally released. The movie has since been enjoyed on video and DVD, and eventually become a critically acclaimed cult classic. Who would have known? Richards definitely didn’t see any of that coming.