Anita Pallenberg was the actress and model who became a muse to the Rolling Stones during the Sixties and long-term partner to the band’s guitarist, Keith Richards, with whom she lived for twelve years.
Pallenberg was born in 1944 in German-occupied Rome to a German mother and Italian father. She was expelled from boarding school, aged sixteen, and went work as a model, travelling across Europe and the US, before arriving at Andy Warhol’s Factory. She met the Rolling Stones at a concert in Munich in 1965, as she recalled in a later interview “I was doing some modelling in Germany and the photographer said ‘Do you want to come to a gig?’... So we went to this kind of pub and there they were...”. After the concert she offered Brian Jones some hashish and they returned to his hotel room, beginning a two-year-long relationship.
However, during a holiday in Morocco, when Keith Richards saw Jones acting violently towards Pallenberg, he intervened and travelled with her back to London. She and Richards were a couple from 1967 for twelve years and had three children together. Jones died in 1969.
Her early film roles included The Great Tyrant in Barbarella (1968) and as Pherber in the cult drama Performance (1970), around the time her addiction to heroin first took hold. When she and Richards were arrested for drug possession by customs officers in Canada in 1977 and Richards faced a possible life sentence, the future of the band hung in the balance. But by opting to go into rehab, Pallenberg and Richards sought to demonstrate that they had “cleaned up” and succeeded in avoiding jail.
Pallenberg’s impact on the Stones went far beyond that of a mere “groupie”. She took an active role in shaping their look and sound, as the music critic Nick Kent pointed out, “Anita's influence on Keith was instant. He started wearing her scarves, blouses, jackets and jewellery... Anita encouraged Keith to apply black kohl underneath his eyes and wear lipstick and fingernail polish.” She acknowledged her role, once saying “I feel as though I'm rather like the sixth Rolling Stone”, and adding, “Mick and Keith and Brian need me to guide them, to criticise them and to give them ideas.”
Pallenberg provided backing vocals, together with Marianne Faithfull, for the classic Stones’ track “Sympathy for the Devil”, which featured on their 1968 album, Beggars Banquet. She also appeared in Jean-Luc Godard’s documentary about the group, titled after the song and released the same year.
In later life she returned to education as a mature student, completing in 1994 a four-year fashion course at Central Saint Martins in London, her adopted home.
Her friend Stella Schnabel said in tribute “I have never met a woman quite like you Anita. I don’t think there is anybody in this universe 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.”
Anita Pallenberg: born 25 January 1944; died 13 June 2017.