By Dave Thompson
In France, she was renowned as one of Paris fashion’s most glamorous models. In underground New York, she was helped beautify the Living Theatre; in Hollywood, her fast ascending star was rewarded with roles in Barbarella and Candy (both 1968).
In her native Germany, she devoured the screen in the 1967 noir thriller Mord und Totschlag (A Degree of Murder); and sparkled alongside David Warner and Anna Karina in 1969’s Michael Kohlhaas – der Rebell (Man On Horseback). She was the devil in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous (2001) and played Sin in John Cassavettes’s Go Go Tales (2007). She inspired art and fashion, lifestyle and more, and was arguably one of the most pronounced outside influences rock culture has ever known.
Yet, when Anita Pallenberg passed away at age 73 on June 13, all the majority of Anglo-American headline writers could think of were her ex-boyfriends — Brian Jones, with whom she had a brief, stormy relationship in the mid-1960s; and Keith Richards, with whom she lived for some 13 years, and had three children, Marlon (born 1969), Dandelion (1972) and the late Tara Jo Jo Gunne (born and died 1976).
It is true, her impact on the Stones was immeasurable. But not in the way sundry crass sensationalists would like you to think. When Vogue described Pallenberg as “perhaps rock’n’roll’s most famous muse,” it was correct. In every respect, but particularly in terms of image and image-making, she did as much as anyone to turn the Stones into the Stones; by recreating them as a reflection of herself… “dazzling, beautiful, hypnotic, and unsettling,” as Marianne Faithful once put it. Or, even more succinctly, in the words of Keith Richards, “she scared the pants off me.”
And the only person who did not seem utterly fascinated – enraptured, even – by her aura was Pallenberg herself. She simply viewed herself as “a vagabond… an adventurer.” Which, maybe, is all she needed to be.
Throughout her years with Richards, Pallenberg lived, through necessity, within the insulated bubble that was the Stones’ own world. Thereafter, however, she simply lived, sometimes here, sometimes there, a genuinely genuine woman who could, and did, untangle the most tongue-tied admirer simply by being Anita. In fact, one of the most remarkable sights in the days after her death were the number of simple, and even mundane memories with which friends and fans alike chose to honor her. All of which revolved around her love of life, her sense of fun, and the sheer clarity with which she viewed even the most complex corners of her mystique.
That is why she never, although the offer was made many times, penned an autobiography. She knew (and the obituarists’ headlines proved) what the reading public wanted to hear, and that wasn’t the story she wanted to tell, because it wasn’t her story to tell. The myths and legends are her public’s property, projected upon a woman who – to quote one of her finest lines from her best-known movie role, in Nic Roeg’s Performance — never claimed any kind of long term agenda. She just let things happen. Because she knew they would.
And they did.
Pallenberg’s last years were scarred by health problems, including diabetes and two hip surgeries; she also fought against both drug and alcohol abuse, with sometimes mixed results. And, in an interview published 10 months before her death, she admitted, “I have done so much here. I am ready to die.”
She may have been. It’s the rest of us, whether we knew her well or just met her once, or never got closer than a photo or a movie screen, who were not prepared for it.