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The wild life of Rolling Stones’ muse Anita Pallenberg

Anita Pallenberg, model and ex-partner of The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Brian Jones, died Tuesday at the age of 73 in Chichester, England.

The actress and model has always been known as the prime muse of the iconic English rock band, but the people who knew her best acknowledge that she was more than a rockstar girlfriend— she was integral to the band’s identity. In 2008, Jo Bergman, the band’s personal assistant, insisted that “she, Mick, Keith and Brian were the Rolling Stones. Her influence has been profound.”

Pallenberg was born in Nazi-occupied Italy on January 25, 1944, to an Italian father and a German mother. She attended a Swiss boarding school until being expelled at the age of 16. She then moved to New York to work as a model and quickly became involved in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, making a name for herself in the art and fashion world with icons like Andy Warhol among her inner circle.

Pallenberg first became involved with the Stones in 1965 at age 21 when she met guitarist Brian Jones backstage after a show. They quickly entered a romantic and infamously abusive relationship, but the abuse was nowhere near one-sided; as Keith wrote in his memoir, “Every time they had a fight, Brian would come out bandaged and bruised.”

In 1967, she left Jones for bandmate Keith Richards, and the two shared a long, tumultuous relationship. The pair was famously involved in the drug craze of the 60s and almost served substantial jail time on multiple counts of drug possession. Around this time, she furthered her film career by starring alongside Mick Jagger in the 1970 film Performance.

Anita was a resilient and self-aware woman, whom Keith spoke about fondly in his 2010 memoir, Life. “My first impression was of a woman who was very strong … Also an extremely bright woman, that’s one of the reasons she sparked me.” Speaking about her abusive relationship with Jones, Richards insists that “the one woman in the world you did not want to try and beat up on was Anita Pallenberg.”

Amid their rockstar lifestyle, the longtime couple had three children together: Marlon, born in 1969; Dandelion Angela, in 1972; and Tara, in 1976. Tara died of pneumonia at just ten weeks old, driving a wedge in Pallenberg and Richards’ relationship. Pallenberg later spoke about her youngest child’s death candidly: “I’m sure that the drugs had something to do with it, and I always felt very, very bad about the whole thing.” Their thirteen-year relationship eventually ended in 1980 after the tragic suicide of Anita’s 17-year-old lover in Richards’ Massachusetts home. Although the court found no foul play on Pallenberg’s or Richards’ part in the incident, the couple split up for good not long after.

After her decades-long stint with the Rolling Stones ended, she continued to build her own identity in the art world. She earned a degree in fashion design from Central Saint Martins in London, and continued to be a fashion icon whose aesthetic consistently defined era after era.

Pallenberg got sober in the nineties, and has since lived a peaceful life through gardening, art, and design. She told the Guardian in 2008, at the age of 64, “I’m not capable of doing nothing. I grow vegetables— I’m a vegetarian…and I do drawing and watercolor classes and now I’m doing a botanical drawing course.”

A self-described “vagabond,” Anita Pallenberg lived by her own rules right up to the end of her life, and she has certainly left an epic legacy. She is survived by her two eldest children and five grandchildren.

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