They were the totemic trailblazers of the age of long hair and psychedelia. With characteristic swagger, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, together with Keith Richards and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, strode through Heathrow to fly to South America on holiday.
‘We are hoping to see this magician who practises both white and black magic,’ Richards told a jostling group of press photographers that day in December 1968. ‘He has a very long and difficult name which we cannot pronounce – we just call him Banana for short.’
Exploring rituals and magical rites had become a craze for people such as The Rolling Stones, who loved to surf life’s wild side.
And, according to a new book, Pallenberg’s fascination with all things occult was particularly deep-seated.
During her previous relationship with Richards’s bandmate, Brian Jones, the Italian-German model and Stones muse had held seances in their flat and used a ouija board (in the belief it helped receive messages from the dead). Other times, according to a friend, ‘they would pile in the car and drive off to look for UFOs in the dead of night’.
Pregnant with her first child, and beginning a slide into an abyss of heroin use, Pallenberg, then 26, had a preoccupation with black magic that led her to increasingly fantastical realms.
‘I had an interest in witchcraft,’ she recalled later, ‘in Buddhism, in the black magicians that my friend, Kenneth Anger, introduced me to. The world of the occult fascinated me.’
Anger, an American-born film-maker, was notorious for his books about the sordid scandals of Hollywood – and for his experimental films’ references to paganism and Nazism.
With the Sixties culture of ‘peace, love and understanding’, to many, he’d assumed priestly status.
Significantly, he was intrigued with the British occultist Aleister Crowley, the self-styled ‘Great Beast 666’.
Crowley, who died in 1947, revelled in his infamy as ‘the wickedest man in the world’. His worship involved sadomasochistic sex rituals with men and women, spells which he claimed could raise evil gods, and the use of drugs including opium, cocaine and heroin.
At one stage he moved to Sicily and set up an ‘abbey’ where he plumbed new depths with a sickening ceremony involving his latest mistress in ritual sex with a goat.
Pilloried by most people as mad, Crowley still attracted hippy disciples, with canonisation from the likes of The Beatles, who featured him on their Sgt Pepper album cover.
Openly homosexual, Anger, who had ‘Lucifer’ tattooed on his chest (and is still alive aged 93), was enchanted by the camp androgyny the Stones exuded and invited them to his London flat in Mayfair.
Keith Richards’s gofer, Tony Sanchez, recalled Pallenberg’s first meeting with Anger as she, with Jagger, Richards and Faithfull, ‘listened spellbound as Anger turned them on to Crowley’s powers and ideas’.
While Jagger simply fed off Anger’s musings, the film-maker struck a deeper accord with Pallenberg. ‘I believe that Anita is, for want of a better word, a ‘witch’,’ Anger commented years later. The occult unit within the Stones was Keith and Anita and Brian.’
One weekend, Anger was a house guest at Redlands, Richards’s country estate in West Wittering, West Sussex, and the scene of the notorious drugs raid in 1967 that saw Marianne Faithfull, wearing nothing but a fur rug, being escorted out by police, and Richards and Jagger being charged with drugs offences (they were acquitted on appeal).
Early one morning during his stay, Anger raised eyebrows when he was spotted on the huge lawn, pacing around a magical circle that he’d constructed. Utterly bewitched, Pallenberg claimed that Anger had ‘materialised’ himself through the property’s stone walls and heavy oak doors.
Until 1968, her dabbling with the experimental had been largely restricted to superstitious tokenism. However, Anger processed her instinctive thoughts and paranoias into a greater reality.
‘She was obsessed with black magic,’ explained Tony Sanchez. ‘She began to carry a string of garlic with her everywhere – even to bed – to ward off vampires. She also had strange mysterious old shakers for holy water, which she used for some of her rituals.
‘Her ceremonies became increasingly secret, and she warned me never to interrupt her when she was working on a spell… [She was] like a life force – a woman so powerful, so full of strength and determination that men came to lean on her.’
With a baby on the way, Pallenberg and Richards had moved into a house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, in the summer of 1969. The five-floor, red-brick Queen Anne building’s former tenant was Sir Anthony Nutting, an Old Etonian and former Conservative Foreign Office Minister.
Not long after the couple moved in, Sir Anthony dropped by to check if any of his mail had still been delivered. Having been given entry by the porter, such was Sir Anthony’s shock at the startling transformation that Pallenberg had applied to his former home that he was forced to sit down.
The first-floor reception room – where Winston Churchill had once dined – was draped in black, with giant black candlesticks glowing above the ornate fireplace.
Hieroglyphic art littered the stairwells. On the second floor, an oak-panelled drawing room where government Ministers had debated the Suez Crisis in 1956 was dominated by a psychedelically painted piano and a large hookah pipe.
Hanging above, a glittering mirror ball shot shreds of light across the room, the effect constructed by Pallenberg to aid her LSD tripping.
The master bedroom had, as its centrepiece, the large bed that had hosted the raunchiest action in Performance, the film notorious for almost breaking up the Stones the previous year after the outrageous onset behaviour of the movie’s stars Pallenberg and Jagger.
The pair were believed to have embarked on an affair during filming which, according to society photographer Cecil Beaton, who took pictures on set, included a sex scene when they ‘began to make love in earnest’.
Having long since made up, Pallenberg and Richards often discussed having a celebration of their union. A traditional marriage was deemed unpalatable and the idea of a pagan bonding ceremony appeared wholly enticing. Naturally, Kenneth Anger was called upon to help with occultist preparations for such a union. As he told the couple one evening: ‘The door of the house where the marriage ceremony is to be held must be painted with gold with a magical paint containing special herbs, which represents the sun.’
The following morning, Pallenberg and Richards woke to find the interior side of their oak-framed bedroom door covered in bold splashes of gold leaf.
At a loss to understand how anyone could have breached the house’s heavily fortified front door, Pallenberg was convinced this was proof of Anger’s magical abilities.
‘It must be another of Kenneth’s powers!’ she exclaimed to Richards. ‘It means that he can fly into the house any time he wants to.’
The reality, however, was less spectacular: the couple had left the door unlocked. Anger said: ‘There was nothing mysterious about me breaking in. I just got on with the painting. It was because, frankly, they took so many drugs they tended to forget things.’
Indeed, much like her searching for UFOs, Pallenberg’s interest in magic and other experimental practices gave way to the more sensory electricity of narcotics – and her heroin use assumed a greater frequency.
Following the death, at the age of 27, of her former lover Brian Jones in July 1969 – drowned at the bottom of a swimming pool – she believed his spirit would be reincarnated in her soon-to- be-born baby.
On August 10, 1969, Anita was checked into King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, South London, where she gave birth to a boy, Marlon, weighing 7 lb 4oz.
Meanwhile, back in Cheyne Walk, occultist Kenneth Anger laid on an idiosyncratic welcoming ceremony for the newborn with a musical tribe of mystics from Bangladesh, The Bauls of Bengal, chanting as the baby was brought into the house, and rice and petals dropping down through the stairwell.
In the early 1970s the British government had imposed a supertax on high earners, leaving the Stones to believe they had no other option than to leave the country. The band’s management chose the French Riviera. So, in May 1971, Pallenberg and Richards rented the villa Nellcote in Villefranche-sur-Mer, where the band recorded their album Exile On Main Street.
By the autumn, the atmosphere at the villa had soured amid heavy drug use and freeloaders stealing several of Richards’s prized guitars, leading Pallenberg to sack many locals employed to work there.
Wild stories started to circulate.One suggested that a house guest had drugged a young girl before having sex with her. Another damning accusation was that Pallenberg had personally administered a syringe of heroin to a staff member’s daughter.
Pallenberg and Richards were told to escape as quickly as possible. Just two weeks after their departure for America, the Nice-Matin newspaper reported on the rumoured decadence at the villa.
The normally languid forces of law and order in Villefranche-sur-Mer were spurred into action.
Raiding the property on December 14, 1971, they hauled off those still present in the guest quarters. With threats of criminal charges ranging from heroin-dealing and supplying to minors facing them, these characters fought back with ferocious accusations against all the members of the Stones.
The pregnant-again Pallenberg and Richards faced being found responsible for all nefarious activities at the villa and, if convicted, could have received maximum jail sentences of 14 years.
It was decided it would help if they went to Geneva for treatment for their heroin addictions.
While Keith responded well to the detoxification regime, Pallenberg’s treatment was more complex due to her advanced pregnancy and she was warned that her expected child may be born addicted to heroin.
Nonetheless, on April 17, Dandelion Angela Bellstar Richards had an uncomplicated birth.
Eight months later, a court in Nice cleared Mick Jagger and others of any misdemeanours but, in their absence, Pallenberg and Richards were found guilty of using and supplying marijuana and heroin. They were given suspended jail terms and hefty fines and banned from France for several years.
This enduring association with heroin closed the door on Pallenberg’s once-thriving artistic endeavours. Despite a modelling career that saw her feted by the world’s top photographers, by 1973 commissions were non-existent. Her film work, too, was in abeyance, despite former starring roles in movies such as Barbarella.
As the Stones’ touring caravan rolled on unabated from continent to continent, it appeared the couple were living separate lives. But despite these enforced separations, Pallenberg discovered she was pregnant with their third child.
In March 1976, she gave birth to their second son, Tara Jo Jo Gunne. A month later, Richards set out on a European tour with the Stones – a decision he would later come to regret deeply.
Awaking on Sunday, June 6, Pallenberg was faced with a horror no mother should ever endure. Finding Tara motionless in his crib, she was confronted with the ghastly reality that her child had died overnight.
On inspection, the baby, just two-and-a-half months old, had developed respiratory problems in the night and succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome. With her lover still on tour, Pallenberg made a pitiful call to him in Paris.
‘Keith was very calm and very protective and very normal and loving,’ she recalled later. However, she added: ‘I am sure that the drugs had something to do with it. And I always felt very, very bad about the whole thing.’
In June 1977, keen to start anew, the couple moved to Frog Hollow, an 18th Century mansion in Salem, New York state. But Richards was often away with other women and, turning to drink, Pallenberg ballooned in size.
One tumbleweed figure who found some semblance of sanctuary chez Richards was a 17-year-old local boy, Scott Cantrell. The youngest of four children, he was from a broken home and Pallenberg engaged him to do chores around the house and gardens.
With Richards spending time with Swedish model Lil Wenglass Green, it’s evident that Cantrell’s visits were welcomed. Over a period of about nine months, he developed an obsession with Pallenberg.
While there’s no solid evidence they were lovers, there was a close bond between them. Nonetheless, Cantrell’s decision to move into Frog Hollow created a major scandal in his own family.
But his destiny, along with that of Pallenberg, would be altered beyond comprehension on the evening of Friday, July 20, 1979.
The exact details of what happened would be known only by those present. Pallenberg maintained that while she’d earlier been in bed watching television with Cantrell – both fully clothed – she had got up to attend to some tidying before hearing a click, then the sound of gunfire.
‘He was lying on his back,’ she later told police. ‘I turned him over… I heard a gurgling sound. He was choking on his blood.’
Pallenberg’s aides and her ten-year-old son Marlon ran up the stairs to witness the aftermath of the tragedy.
On a nearby chest of drawers, police found a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver that Keith Richards had bought for protection from Stones fanatics. A second gun was discovered. For reasons never properly explained, no visible fingerprints were found on either weapon.
Her clothes stained with Cantrell’s blood, Pallenberg was taken into police custody. She rang Richards in Paris, where – allegedly – he was incandescent because the handgun that had shot Cantrell would be traced back to him.
By now, Scott Cantrell, who had been taken to hospital, had died.
With nothing other than a hint of alcohol in his blood, no motive was put forward to explain this horrendous tragedy.
After more than seven hours of questioning, Pallenberg was charged with possessing handguns without a permit and of being in possession of a stolen weapon.
Exiting the police station, her perilously fragile state was noticeable to everyone.
Inevitably, the media claimed drug-based orgies and satanic rituals had been conducted in the house. One report said Pallenberg was linked to a witches’ coven and that ‘fear-struck’ nuns from a nearby convent were helping police.
In court, she admitted the unlicensed weaponry issue and was fined $1,000. On the far more serious issue of Cantrell’s death, police had already made up their minds. ‘It was definitely a suicide,’ remarked Detective Douglas Lamanna. Others, however, begged to differ.
Scott’s brother Jim declared: ‘People fail to understand that this was a 37-year-old woman and a 17-year-old child. Even if Scottie pulled the trigger, I hold her responsible for my brother’s death.’
The last few emotional strands of Pallenberg’s relationship with Keith Richards were severed.
‘That boy of 17 who shot himself in my house really ended it for us,’ she later said.
The immediate fallout from the tragedy drew a sharp line under her relationship with the Rolling Stones community.
‘Anita Pallenberg was the image of every man and every woman’s worst fear of what they would become,’ wrote Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone magazine. ‘Fat, bloated and ruined – not simply to excess but beyond recognition, not simply beyond sex but beyond gender. She seems likely to be remembered, if she’s remembered at all, as just one more cast-off.’
PS Despite those who wrote her off, Pallenberg got clean from drugs and completed a fashion course at the University of the Arts London in 1994. Feted by a new generation or her stylistic influence on the Stones, she became friends with the likes of model Kate Moss.
Resuming her acting work, she appeared as a devil in an episode of TV’s Absolutely Fabulous. She died in St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, on June 13, 2017, aged 75.
Keith Richards paid tribute, saying: ‘A most remarkable woman. Always in my heart.’