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Marianne Faithfull: Singer, Actress, Writer, And Survivor

Icons | January 2, 2022

Marianne Faithfull photographed by Giancarlo Botti In Paris, France, in March 1966. Source: (Flashbak).

Marianne Faithfull seems to have escaped calamity many times throughout her life. She struggled with addiction and anorexia, fought breast cancer, hepatitis C, and Covid-19, from which she has developed lung and memory problems. Despite all of this, she has continued to perform, staging several comebacks over the course of her career.

Source: (Pinterest).

She Got Her Start In Coffeehouses

In 1964, when she was only 17, Marianne Faithfull catapulted to stardom with her song “As Tears Go By.” She had been singing in coffeehouses and made her way into the social scene in London, where she met the Rolling Stones. Her career really started after she attended a Rolling Stones party and was discovered by Andrew Loog Oldham. In 1965, she released her debut album, Marianne Faithfull, along with her album Come My Way. She found commercial success with her albums, and several others followed on Decca Records. On May 6, 1965, she married John Dunbar and gave birth to their son Nicholas on November 10. Shortly after this, she left her husband and began a relationship with Mick Jagger, and became tabloid fodder. She made headlines in 1967 after a drug bust at Keith Richards' home because she was wearing nothing but a fur rug.

With Mick Jagger. Source: (Tumblr).

Her Connections To Some Of The Stones' Songs

This relationship was not only tabloid fodder, but also made its way into some of Rolling Stone’s songs. Their song “Sympathy for the Devil” was partially inspired by a book Faithfull introduced to Jagger, The Master and Margarita. Supposedly, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was written about Faithfull, and two others were also allegedly influenced by her: “Wild Horses” and “I Got the Blues.” Additionally, she co-wrote “Sister Morphine.”

Photo by Roger Kasparian. Source: (Pinterest).

Her Struggles In The '70s

In May 1970, after an affair with Lord Rossmore, Faithfull’s relationship with Jagger ended. The same year, she lost custody of her son and attempted suicide. Her career continued to decline, and she made only a few appearances in the early 1970s. She lived on the streets for two years as she suffered heroin addiction and anorexia nervosa. Despite her friends’ attempts to help by enrolling her in an NHS heroin-assisted treatment program, she was unable to control her addiction. In 1975, she released Dreamin’ My Dreams. The album reached No. 1 on the Irish Albums Chart. In 1979, she released a comeback album, Broken English, which became one of her most highly critically acclaimed albums; the songs on it range from punk-pop to punk-reggae. This album also revealed the damage to her voice. Her drug abuse coupled with severe laryngitis changed her voice; in the 1960s, her voice was melodic and higher-pitched, but became lower-pitched and raspy, and was called “whisky soaked” by some critics. Others have noted that the changes to her voice capture the emotions expressed in the songs.

Source: (IMDb).

Her Battle With Addiction Continued

Her musical comeback did not mean an end to her battles with addiction. She broke her jaw when she fell down the stairs while under the influence, her heart stopped at one point, and she had a disastrous appearance on Saturday Night Live. In 1985, she entered the Hazelden Foundation Clinic in Minnesota for rehabilitation and received treatment at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. While in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she started an affair with Howard Tose, who was both mentally ill and drug dependent. Tose later committed suicide by jumping out of a window in the 14th-floor apartment they shared.

In Girl on a Motorcycle. Source: (Best Classic Bands).

Another Reinvention

In 1987, she reinvented herself as a jazz and blues singer. She released Strange Weather, her most critically acclaimed album of the 1980s. The album included a new recording of “As Tears Go By” as well as covers of “I’ll Keep It With Mine” by Bob Dylan, songs first made popular by Billie Holliday and Bessie Smith, and the title song by Tom Waits. She continued releasing albums, including her most recent which she collaborated with Warren Ellis on, She Walks in Beauty, a spoken word album of poetry by Keats, Shelley, and Lord Byron.

In Ghost Story. Source: (IMDb).

Her Work As An Actress

Early in her career, she also started acting, appearing in I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘is Name (1967), The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), and Hamlet 1969). She also had her first theater appearance in 1967, in Chekhov’s Three Sisters. She continued to act sporadically on stage, in the movies, and on TV throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, including her role as Sophy Kwykwer in Stephen Weeks’s Ghost Story. Just as she staged a comeback with her music, she also started acting again in the 1990s including roles on Absolutely Fabulous.

Source: (IMDb).

Writings And Recognition

Faithfull has written three books about her life: Faithfull: An Autobiography (1994), Memories, Dreams, & Reflections (2007), and Marianne Faithfull: A Life on Record (2014). At the 2009 Women’s World Awards, she received the World Lifetime Achievement Award and the government of France made her a Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.   

Tags: Marianne Faithfull | Mick Jagger | The Rolling Stones

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Linda Speckhals


When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.