Most have heard of the passing of Anita Pallenberg. “Rockstar Keith Richards Ex-Girlfriend Dead at 75” or “Rolling Stones Muse Passes” are flashing across every media outlet. Being sucked into the vortex of The Rolling Stones forced an identity onto Pallenberg, whether she wanted it or not. But Anita Pallenberg was a rockstar in her own right. She was intelligent and compelling. She wasn’t a nameless shadow following around success. She wasn’t riding on anyone’s coattails. If anything, the Stones were riding around on her coattails, or in hers, rather. And no, not that way. Well, maybe a little bit that way. Her opinion carried weight. Her style influenced the Stones’ style. Keith Richards even speaks of wearing Anita’s clothing. “We were exactly the same size, so it didn’t matter,” he says in his memoir Life. She was a powerful influence on rock fashion. She helped break away from that traditional male “Beatles” look for a more androgynous boho flair that has impacted fashion all the way into the present day. She leaves behind a legacy much bigger than her role as an unofficial sixth Stones member.
Media likes to portray the damsel in distress. They say Keith Richards saved her from an abusive relationship with former band member Brian Jones, but according to this interview, that relationship needed to end for the sake of everyone. Anita Pallenberg could hold her own. She was tough and vicious. Richards comments about “stealing” Anita from Brian (because, you know, women are property to be stolen, right?), “I had no intention of stealing his woman. I was trying to heal certain things that had been going on, on the road with Brian. To me, somebody in the band needed to deck him. But, um, that whole area gets into… I’m hanging with Brian and Anita and having a good time, and then I thought, eventually, I’ve got to get her out of here before she kills him. I’m trying to save my band here, and she’s so much tougher than him. And he’s asking for trouble. Look, every time they had a fight, I called up for bandages, and it turns out I’d have to send them round to Brian.” I’m not saying violence is a healthy way to solve problems, but Anita wasn’t going to lie down for anyone.
Rock ‘n’ roll is about the music, the energy, the vibes, the show, the following. Anita had all of those things. She was revered. She partied. She did drugs. She changed the way women were viewed, especially at the time, and especially in regards to women and male bands. She was an influencer. She didn’t care what other people thought of her. She was a rockstar. She was her own person, and was respected for it. Her performance might not have involved standing on a physical stage, strumming a guitar, but she had her own admirers and critics. Anita was out there on a global stage. She was an actress, a model, and a face connected with a cultural icon that is the Rolling Stones. She reportedly told Courtney Love, when asked if she would get plastic surgery, “Darling, I was the most beautiful woman in seventeen countries. I like being ugly!” Talk about a rockstar mentality.
Anita Pallenberg had her flaws, of course. She numbed her loneliness and boredom with drugs. She ran away from the behemothic responsibility of raising a child, retreating into those drugs and that drink. But she lived in a way that exemplified choice. She chose her paths, every one of them. She was not defined by the norms of her time, or any time, really. She was a self-declared vagabond and adventurer. Choice is at the root of feminism, and she never shied away from choices that might cause controversy. She dressed how she pleased, lived how she wanted, and, even as she aged, did her own thing without worrying what others thought of her experiences. In an interview with The Guardian in 2008, Anita was asked what her classmates thought of her botanical drawings in a course held at the Physic Garden, she replied, “ I don’t care! I can’t start thinking about that kind of thing. And they’re all better at drawing than me.”
Marianne Faithfull, a longtime friend, wrote in her memoir Faithful, describing Anita in a colorful and accurate portrayal of her essence — “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. Other women evaporated next to her. She spoke in a baffling dada hipsterese. An outlandish Italo-Germanic-Cockney slang that mangled her syntax into surreal fragments… It was all part of her sinister appeal.” All of these features are often frowned upon with women. Being outspoken, intelligent, and powerful. But she shattered that archetype and just did Anita, and became an icon because of it.
She may not have been the embodiment of women’s rights and upstanding morals, but she dug a hell of a chunk out of the constructs of a society that viewed women as less than or as arm candy for the successful men. She was an inspiration in the way that she lived fearlessly, influenced those around her, and shaped a generation with her zest for life, her fashion choices, and her intellect and perseverance.
Sam is a writer and photographer. She is an advocate for intersectional feminism, the gender spectrum, and laughing as often as possible. You can find her over on Twitter (@deepthinkmom), buried in a book, or out wandering the Pacific Northwest.