Anita Pallenberg, rock and roll muse, actress, and bohemian fashion icon, has passed away. She was 73. The news was delivered via her friend, actress Stella Schnabel, on Instagram yesterday evening. While she was at one time known as the partner of Keith Richards (with whom she had three children), she was never just a rock and roll girlfriend. She was a bohemian wild child who walked an unpaved, uncharted path to the beat of her own drum. She was a presence – her own version of a femme fatale, dancing across the lyric pages of one of rock and roll’s greatest bands.
The Italian-born icon was a natural-born rebel. She was expelled from boarding school as a teen, but continued to informally study on her own. Her connections stretched from Andy Warhol’s Factory scene in New York to Rome’s Dolce Vita crowd. By her late teens, she had found success in the modeling world. In 1965, a concert in Munich would introduce her to the Rolling Stones…or perhaps, we should say, it would introduce the Stones to Anita, who had managed to sneak backstage to smoothly offer the band some hash.
She wasn’t a typical female fixture in the male- dominated rock and roll world. She wasn’t a groupie, a hanger-on. She was an influence. She was knowledgeable, and a little intimidating. As Keith Richards notes in his 2010 memoir, Life, “She knew everything, and she could say it in five languages. She scared the pants off me!” More than that, her opinion was held in certain regard by the band – enough so that tracks were revisited if Pallenberg was critical of them (see history of Beggars Banquet).
“She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorée,” Marianne Faithfull, singer-songwriter and former girlfriend of Mick Jagger, wrote of Pallenberg in her 1994 autobiography. Faithfull, who was also a good friend of Pallenberg’s recognized her charisma. “At the center, like a phoenix on her nest of flames – the wicked Anita. She was the most incredible woman I’d met in my life. Dazzling, beautiful, hypnotic, and unsettling. Her smile – those carnivorous teeth – obliterated everything.”
Pallenberg will always be one of those women whose influence transcends time. She had an inability to sit still (she earned a fashion and textile degree at age 50), and as she was ever-moving and changing, she created a legacy, and legacies live on. On film, in song, in fashion – she’s a permanent fixture in art. Pallenberg is survived by her children, Marlon, 47, and Angela, 45, and five grandchildren.