Anita Pallenberg: Dangerous Muse

Anita Pallenberg, along with Marianne Faithfull, were the well-known muses of The Rolling Stones. In the early days, Faithfull had a softer side in both her sweet, London “Dolly Bird” appearance and gentle hit song “As Tears Go By.”

Pallenberg, on the other hand, was like a pirate queen. Edgy, intelligent, an outspoken woman who never waited for what she wanted. She’s the subject of a new documentary, Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, which captures her utterly fascinating life. But let me begin with my own Anita story.

When the Stones were touring America for Tattoo You, I was a waitress at a popular Long Island restaurant. Keith and Anita had rented a nearby mansion as an East Coast base for their young son Marlon Richards (the first of their 3 kids). Soon, Pallenberg and her assistant, Roy, discovered our little watering hole and became frequent guests (usually at the bar).

The two put away masses of alcohol; I’d hear wild stories from the bartenders about “the night before.” But one evening, the evidence wasn’t in story form: it was in the shards of broken (expensive) stained glass from the partition separating the bar from the restaurant. Anita, in a drunken outburst, had taken a heavy beer mug to a panel or two.  Although we’d initially been excited about our brush with rock star fame, the owner politely banned her from the place from then on (although not before I was gifted an official “Tattoo You” pin with tongue logo, which I still have).


This dangerous unpredictability was very much part of the Pallenberg mystique. She’d grown up in war-torn Germany, with a pedigree descended from important artists and writers including the Brothers Grimm. She was educated in Rome, had a career in modelling and acting. Her sophistication and creative streak were a perfect fit for the burgeoning rock scene of the time. In an interview with The Guardian, Marlon (executive producer of the documentary) described his mother as “more anarchic than hippie…there was very little outlet for women with beauty and intelligence. She enjoyed the power she had over men but also the power she had intellectually.”

Having met the Stones in 1965, Pallenberg’s acid-soaked romance with Brian Jones ended abruptly when Keith discovered he’d beaten her. From then on, she and Richards were an item. She influenced his fashion, often sharing her clothes with him. And it was Pallenberg who turned him onto his iconic eyeliner. The two also famously shared a drug habit during the 70s, sleeping in a heavy medieval bed with hidden drawers that protected their stash from police searches.

Her contributions to the Stones’ catalog were undeniable. When she heard an owl hooting at night near their country home, that “woot-woot” sound found its way into “Sympathy for The Devil.”

A reported hook-up with bandmate Mick Jagger on the set of the movie Performance stunned Richards but resulted in “Gimme Shelter.” Her pregnancy with Marlon inspired Jagger to pen “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Although she’s forever associated as a rock muse, Pallenberg was restlessly curious. She appeared in over a dozen movies, did theater with Andy Warhol, studied fashion, medicine, and graphic design (though she never completed any degree).

While Pallenberg didn’t want her story told in her lifetime, Catching Fire is based on her unpublished memoir, which she’d been working on before her death in 2017. It features unseen clips from family films, along with recollections from those who knew her best. “I couldn’t keep up with Anita,” Richards admits.

And frankly, who could?

Catching Fire is in theaters and out on digital May 3.

-Cindy Grogan

Fair use image from Catching Fire: The Anita Pallenberg Story


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