Having lunch with Marianne Faithfull – watching her devour three helpings of cake, lustily licking her full red lips between bites, swirling her tongue around her mouth – is like being an extra on Tom Jones during the famous scene in which Albert Finney and Diane Cilento feast lasciviously on a banquet – and on each other.
She may be hitting 60 in December, but Marianne, the great survivor in her trademark black velvet, with glittering blonde hair and smoky voice, is not a million miles from the angelically beautiful rock chick who beguiled Mick Jagger in the Sixties and who, to this day, retains her iconic status. She remains a legend no matter what, and despite the often debilitating consequences of her actions. Now she faces her toughest battle after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
When I first interviewed her two years ago at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, it was in connection with The Dark Rider, an obscure German play in which she played the Devil. The fact remains that I had even made it there meant I had passed the first hurdle, a backstage meeting in her dressing room the previous night, in which she decided whether or not she would deign to be interviewed by me. In the dressing room of the Geary Theatre, San Fran, waiting to pay homage to Marianne, were her manager and boyfriend Francois Ravard and a variety of local luminaries. When I nervously offered congratulations, Marianne extended a plump hand for me to shake, then rather grandly twirled away from me and, in her throaty, cigarette-riddled voice said to Francois, "It was good, wasn't it?"
He and the luminaries all nodded furiously. Marianne smiled, basking in the knowledge that her legend had not dimmed, that her impact was as fresh as in the days when she was a convent schoolgirl who rocketed to stardom singing As Tears Go By, the wistful song written for her by Mick Jagger. Still exuding cat-like satisfaction, Marianne allowed the luminaries to kiss her goodbye before they left. Then, positioning herself in front of the mirror, in the midst of changing from her devil outfit, she peeled off her top and undid what was probably an H-cup bra to reveal the perfect breasts that had once inspired Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham (who discovered her in 1964 when she was 17) to dub her "an angel with big tits". Then she put on another bra and a black chiffon blouse with nary a glance in my direction and stalked out, every inch the star, imperious and disdainful. Remembering that moment, that night, the extraordinary body of which Marianne is so palpably proud, the news of her cancer diagnosis is horrifying in the extreme.
Yet as befitting an icon who has successfully battled heroin addiction, survived a suicide attempt, two abortions, two miscarriages and a bout of homelessness, not to mention a heartbreaking affair with Jagger, Marianne remains brave in the face of the disease, insisting: "I will be well again, if not better than before. Next year’s tour I want to assure fans will be one big celebration."
Marianne’s diagnosis comes as she is on the verge of winning acclaim as an actress for her role in the Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette as the French queen's mother, the Empress of Austria. But, as someone who has spent hours listening to Marianne tell the tale of her aristocratic Austro-Hungarian baroness mother, I realize that playing the Empress of Austria was not much of a stretch for her. "My mother was born the Baroness von Sacher-Masoch, whose novel Venus in Furs gave rise to the term masochism", she airily informed me. Her maternal grandmother Flora came from an aristocratic Jewish family and it is from that Marianne claims to have inherited her long blonde hair. That is not the only heritage she has from her maternal family.
During the Second World War, by which time Marianne’s mother and grandmother had moved from Budapest to Vienne, they were both raped by Russian soldiers. Despite the shame and humiliation, they fought back, just as Marianne has always fought and no doubt always will, convinced that no matter how "disgraceful" her behaviour she will always emerge unscathed. After the war, Marianne’s mother fled to England and changed her name to Baroness Erisso, then met and fell in love with Major Glynn Faithfull. In contrast to the grandeur of pre-war Austro-Hungarian Europe, Eva was compelled to endure life in an Oxfordshire commune. After she and Glynn had divorced, she ended up in a small terraced house in Reading and a lifetime away from the aristocratic world to which she was born.
"We had no money of course, but I was brought up very much the little princess," Marianne said. "My mother adored me and it is one of the reasons I got through everything later on."
Although her mother died in 1990, Eva still looms over Marianne. In her luxurious Paris apartment, where she spends most of the year, walls and cabinets are adorned with images of Eva in her prime.
Those pictures, however, are not the most striking memorabilia in the cavernous apartment. Marianne shares with Francois. Pride of place goes to Simo, the vast coffee table-sized book of semi-pornographic pictures by Helmut Newton, one of which features the young Marianne exuding a sultry sexuality from every pore. The fact that she displays Newton’s book so proudly is indicative of Marianne’s attitude to her chequered past. Although she lives firmly in the present she has no shame about having lived out her wildness in the excess-ridden Sixties. In those days, she had no idea she was beautiful, nor that her convent purity prompted erotic fantasies in countless men. However, that angelic façade did not last long. It shattered when, in 1967, police raided Keith Richards’s home in Sussex, where (as folklore has it) Marianne was discovered naked, wrapped in a fur rug with a strategically placed Mars bar. She was only 19, but, as Jagger's girlfriend and the chatelaine of his Cheyne Walk mansion, she was already queen of the demi-monde. At 21, she lost Mick's baby, her second child after Nicholas Dunbar, the son she had conceived during a brief first marriage and, in the aftermath, took an overdose, spent six days in a coma and returned to heroin for succor.
A year after her failed suicide attempt, she and Mick split up. He then married Bianca, while Marianne plunged into heroin addiction and was even forced to sleep rough on the streets of Soho. I the Seventies and Eighties she sometimes resurfaced to make records, the best of which, Broken English, won rave reviews.
Since then, she has done two major world tours, had a song written for her by Jarvis Cocker, had two more brief marriages (about which she remains a stony silence) and has formed a rewarding relationship with her son Nick, author of a book on hedge funds. In her mid-50s she fell in love with Francois, who rarely leaves her side.
With glamour and fame intact, she has emerged from the entire trauma, scandal and the ups and downs, as a role model to a new generation of stars such as Kate Moss, who is so enthralled by Marianne that she pad her first-class round-trip fare to Jamaica to spend a holiday with her. Although (until now) the highlight of her acting career has been Girl On A Motorcycle from her Sixties hey-day, her role as Empress of Austria heralds a renaissance for Marianne Faithfull, actress. As for singing, the shock diagnosis has put her tour on hold but there is every reason to believe she will continue to be a smash hit. Call her a survivor and she admits: "I used to think of surviving as just managing to keep your nostrils above the water. That did not seem like much to look forward to. Now I understand that being a survivor means getting stronger as you get older. I think I'm doing that."
She has never dealt in self-pity. She growls: "Don't give me any bullshit about my tragic life. I’ve had a charmed life."
Those who care about Marianne pray her charmed life will continue, that she will win her battle against cancer and will live out the rest of her years as vigorously as ever.
source: International Express newspaper
What a feisty bitch. :)