June 13, 2017 — Anita Pallenberg, model, actress, perennial style icon, perpetual fashion reference, and perhaps rock ’n’ roll’s most famous muse, passed away today, at age 73. The news was made public on Instagram this afternoon by Stella Schnabel. “I have never met a woman quite like you, Anita,” she wrote. “I don’t think there is anybody in this universe like you. No one has ever understood me so well. You showed [me] about life and myself and how to grow and become and exist with it all. I was a little girl thinking I was big, but I became a woman through knowing you. The secret, lyrical you. My best friend. The greatest woman I have ever known. Thank you for the most important lessons—because they are ever changing and definitive. Like you. We are all singing for you, how you liked it. Go in peace, my Roman mother, you will always be in my heart.”
Pallenberg, whom Marianne Faithfull once called “the most incredible woman I’d met in my life” as well as “dazzling, beautiful, hypnotic, and unsettling,” was famously charming—John Phillips once described her as possessing “an unmistakable electrical charge,” though she described herself as a “vagabond. An adventurer . . . not a person with one specific talent. I wish I was.” She spent the 1960s as an in-demand model and actress, appearing in such films as Barbarella, Performance, and Candy with Marlon Brando. German-Italian, Pallenberg had social ties that stretched from the La Dolce Vita set in Rome to Andy Warhol’s Factory, and rose to international fame as part of the impossibly glamorous ultra-bohemian traveling troupe of ur-rock royalty. She certainly left a lasting impression on Keith Richards, who recalled that “she knew everything and she could say it in five languages. She scared the pants off me!” They would later have three children together, one of whom would die in infancy.
Pallenberg first entered the Rolling Stones’s orbit as Brian Jones’s girlfriend, before later taking up with Richards (as well as Mick Jagger, this being the 1970s). “How Anita came to be with Brian is really the story of how the Stones became the Stones,” Faithfull wrote in her 1994 autobiography, Faithfull. “She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorée . . . the Stones came away with a patina of aristocratic decadence that served as a perfect counterfoil to the raw roots blues of their music. This . . . transformed the Stones from pop stars into cultural icons.” Pallenberg also had an unmistakable effect on the way that rock ’n’ roll looked: In his 2010 autobiography, Life, Richards recounts that his way of getting dressed during that era was to slip into Pallenberg’s pants. Her allure, however, far transcended her wardrobe. “Other women evaporated next to her. She spoke in a baffling Dada hipster-ese. An outlandish Italo-Germanic-Cockney slang that mangled her syntax into surreal fragments . . . . It was all part of her sinister appeal,” wrote Faithfull. All of this enticed Richards, who wrote in Life, “I like a high-spirited woman. And with Anita, you knew you were taking on a Valkyrie—she who decides who dies in battle.” Their tumultuous relationship (marked by their shared struggles with substance abuse) would eventually come to an end in the early 1980s.
In 1994, Pallenberg earned a fashion degree at Central Saint Martins and briefly worked with Vivienne Westwood, though she eventually left the industry behind, calling it “too nasty, too rip-off, too hard.” She scorned suggestions of a tell-all style biography, telling The Guardian in 2008 that “publishers want to hear only about the Stones and more dirt on Mick Jagger, and I’m just not interested . . . . I had several publishers and they were all the same. They all wanted salacious.” Ultimately, it seems, she was never interested in being anything but herself. “I am ready to die,” she told Alain Elkann in August 2016. “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.”
She is survived by her children, Marlon and Angela, and five grandchildren.