Anita Pallenberg, a model and actress best known for being the muse and long-time girlfriend of two members of the Rolling Stones, has died. Pallenberg, whose 12-year relationship with Keith Richards helped to define the direction of the Stones through the ’60s and ’70s, was 73.
Born in Rome during World War II, Pallenberg first met the band’s members in 1965, encountering its founder, Brian Jones, after a modeling assignment in Germany. The two began a relationship that ended in 1967, after Jones became increasingly unstable; she would later take up with Richards instead, with the two having three children together over the next several years. (Richards later alleged that Pallenberg and Mick Jagger also had a brief relationship during the filming of the heavily Stones-involved film Performance, although the actress stated that the affair never happened.)
A countercultural icon, Pallenberg refused to be boxed into simple roles like “girlfriend” or “groupie” in her relationship with the group. Fellow Stones-adjacent singer Marianne Faithfull credited Pallenberg with transforming the band from well-liked rockers into cultural heroes, writing in her 1994 biography, “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.” Faithful also offers up the following description of her long-time friend: “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 was a dominating force in the band’s life: her criticisms caused songs to be remixed, and her forceful personality and penchant for mysticism caused Richards to describe her as “a valkyrie” in his 2010 autobiography, Life. The two broke up in 1980, after drugs, paranoia, and the death of their third child, Tara, had eaten away at the foundations of their relationship, but Pallenberg endured in the cultural imagination as an icon of the “rock and roll girl” archetype.
Outside her partnership with Richards, Pallenberg was also an actress, appearing in more than a dozen films. Notably, she starred as the body and face of “The Great Tyrant,” the villain in Roger Vadim’s cult classic sci-fi sex comedy Barbarella, threatening Jane Fonda’s good-hearted sexual freedom fighter. (Richards reportedly offered to pay her not to take the role.) Her other performances include Ginette in Marco Ferreri’s Italian drama Dillinger Is Dead, and a cameo role as the Devil in the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, standing in as the sinful apotheosis of the libertine, rock-and-roll lifestyle its stars so frequently tried to achieve.
In her later years, Pallenberg got clean and largely dropped out of the public eye, studying fashion and tending to her garden and her grandchildren. (When Courtney Love once asked her whether she’d ever considered plastic surgery to re-attain her former beauty, Pallenberg reportedly replied, “Darling, I was the most beautiful woman in seventeen countries. I like being ugly!”) Her death was announced by her friend, Stella Schnabel, via Instagram this week.