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04 June 2016

Marianne Faithfull

British singer and actress Marianne Faithfull (1946) started her career in the 1960s with sweet, melancholy folk-pop. Her personal life was turbulent and years of drug and alcohol abuse followed. But few stars reinvented themselves as successfully as Faithfull. In addition to her music career, Faithfull had a career as an inventive, creative actress in theatre, television and film.

Marianne Faithfull
French postcard by Publistar, no. 1200. Photo: Roger Kasparian.

As Tears Go By


Marian Evelyn Faithfull was born in 1946 (some sources say 1949) in Hampstead, London. Her father, Major Robert Glynn Faithfull, was a British Army officer and professor of Italian Literature at Bedford College of London University. Her mother was styled as Eva von Sacher-Masoch, Baroness Erisso and was originally from Vienna. The family of Sacher-Masoch had secretly opposed the Nazi regime in Vienna. Glynn Faithfull's work as an Intelligence Officer for the British Army brought him into contact with the family, and he thus met Eva. Faithfull's maternal great great uncle was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the 19th century Austrian nobleman whose erotic novel, Venus in Furs, spawned the word ‘masochism’.

Faithfull began her singing career in 1964, landing her first gigs as a folk music performer in coffeehouses. In early 1964 she attended a Rolling Stones launch party with art dealer John Dunbar while she was still in school. She met Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who discovered her. He coaxed her into a recording career and she had a big hit in both Britain and the U.S. with her debut single, the Jagger/Richards composition As Tears Go By (1964).

A series of successful singles followed. Faithfull married John Dunbar in 1965 and later that year she gave birth to their son, Nicholas. She left her husband in 1966 to live with Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger. The couple became part of the hip Swinging London scene. This highly publicised romantic relationship and her extraordinary beauty made her a 1960s icon.

Making headlines, Faithfull was caught in 1967 police raid of Keith Richard's home wearing nothing but a fur rug. Jagger and Richards faced drug charges as a result of the raid, and the incident damaged Faithfull's public image. In 1967 she made her professional stage debut in an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, at the Royal Court Theatre, London, co-starring with Glenda Jackson.

She appeared in several prolific films at the time. She played herself in Jean-Luc Godard's film Made in U.S.A. (1966). She also acted in I'll Never Forget What's'isname (Michael Winner, 1967) alongside Oliver Reed and Orson Welles. In the French television film Anna (Pierre Koralnik, 1967), starring Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy, Faithfull sang Serge Gainsbourg's Hier ou Demain. She also appeared as a leather-clad motorcyclist in the French film La Motocyclette/Girl on a Motorcycle (Jack Cardiff, 1968) opposite Alain Delon.

The following year, she played Lilith in the short film Lucifer Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1972) and in Hamlet (Tony Richardson, 1969) as Ophelia opposite Nicol Williamson's title character and Anthony Hopkins as Claudius. In 1969, she also recorded the compelling single Sister Morphine, which she co-wrote. Sister Morphine is also featured on The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album. In 1970, Faithfull split up with Jagger. She lost custody of her son in that same year, which led to her attempting suicide.

Marianne Faithfull
American postcard.

Broken English


During the 1970s, Marianne Faithfull developed a serious drug habit, and recorded only two little-noticed studio albums. For a couple of years, she was homeless in London's Soho district and hospitalised several times. In 1979, she pulled off an astonishing comeback with the album Broken English.

Her voice, roughed up by time and hard living, had lowered a good octave since the mid-1960s. The emotionally expressive and captivating album incorporated elements of punk with modern dance music and earned her widespread praise. Richie Unterberger at AllMusic: “After allowing herself to be framed as a demure chanteuse by songwriters and arrangers throughout most of her career, Faithfull had found her own voice, and suddenly sounded more relevant and contemporary than most of the stars she had rubbed shoulders with in the 1960s.”

Her recordings in the 1980s and 1990s were sporadic and erratic. In 1987, Faithfull again reinvented herself, this time as a jazz and blues singer, on Strange Weather. The album, produced by Hal Willner, included a new recording of her greatest hit, As Tears Go By. It was her triumph of the decade.

When Roger Waters assembled an all-star cast of musicians to perform the rock opera The Wall live in Berlin in July 1990, Faithfull played the part of Pink's overprotective mother. Her musical career rebounded for the third time during the early 1990s with the live album Blazing Away, which featured Faithfull revisiting songs she had performed over the course of her career. In 1994, she published her self-titled autobiography; the biography As Tears Go By by Mark Hodkinson is an objective and thorough account of her life and times.

She returned to the screen in the British action crime drama film Shopping (Paul W. S. Anderson, 1994) about a group of British teenagers who indulge in joyriding and ramraiding. The film stars Jude Law in his first major role. She appeared in the Irish coming-of-age drama Moondance (Dagmar Hirtz, 1995) and also provided the vocals for the song Madam George written by Van Morrison, who wrote the lyrics for the songs included in the soundtrack. Then she played in the British psychodrama Crimetime (George Sluizer, 1996) starring Stephen Baldwin and Pete Postlethwaite.

On stage, Faithfull performed in The Threepenny Opera (1991) at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, playing Pirate Jenny. Her interpretation of the music led to a new album, Twentieth Century Blues (1996), which focused on the music of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht as well as Noël Coward, followed in 1998 by a recording of The Seven Deadly Sins, with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. A hugely successful concert and cabaret tour accompanied by Paul Trueblood at the piano, culminated in the filming, at the Montreal Jazz Festival, of the DVD Marianne Faithfull Sings Kurt Weill.

Marianne Faithfull
Italian postcard.

Marianne Faithfull
Italian postcard by Edizione diesse.

Both God and the Devil


In 2001 Marianne Faithfull appeared in the films Far From China (C,S. Leigh, 2001) with Lambert Wilson, and Intimacy (Patrice Chéreau, 2001) with Mark Rylance. Intimacy won the Golden Bear for Best Film and the Silver Bear for Best Actress (Kerry Fox) at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001. In 2004, Faithful featured in the French film Nord-Plage (José Hayot, 2004).

Faithfull has played both God and the Devil. She appeared as God in two guest appearances in the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous (1996-2001) opposite friend Jennifer Saunders, with another close friend, Anita Pallenberg, playing the Devil. In 2004 and 2005, she played the Devil in William Burroughs' and Tom Waits' musical, The Black Rider, directed by Robert Wilson.

She returned to recording in 2002 with Kissin' Time, an eclectic collection of songwriting collaborations with Beck, Damon Albarn, and Billy Corrigan of the Smashing Pumpkins. In 2004, Before the Poison was released. This album continued in the vein of its predecessor, with songwriting and production contributions from PJ Harvey, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Jon Brion, and Albarn.

In the cinema, Faithfull appeared as Empress Maria Theresa in the biopic, Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006). That year she also could be seen in Gus van Sant’s segment of the anthology film Paris, je t'aime/Paris, I love you (2006). She starred in the film Irina Palm (Sam Garbarski, 2007) as Maggie, a 50-year-old widow who becomes a sex worker to pay for medical treatment for her ill grandson. She received a Best Actress nomination for her role at the European Film Awards, but Helen Mirren won for The Queen.

Faithfull and Dan Willner reunited for the albums Easy Come Easy Go (2008) and Horses and High Heels (2011). In 2011 Faithfull was awarded the Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of France's highest cultural honours. Faithfull had supporting roles in the films Faces in the Crowd (Julien Magnat, 2011) starring Milla Jovovich, and Belle du Seigneur (Glenio Bonder, 2013) with Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

In 2012, she also appeared in a production of Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins at the Linz State Theater in Austria, and in 2013 she appeared at the Yoko Ono-curated Meltdown Festival in duet with guitarist Bill Frisell. Faithfull's recording career resumed in late 2013 when she began writing and recording with a host of friends old and new, and for the first time, writing her own lyrics to each song. Her collaborators included Brian Eno, Adrian Utley, Roger Waters, Anna Calvi, and Steve Earle. Give My Love to London was released in the fall of 2014. She started a 12-month 50th anniversary tour at the end of 2014.

Marianne Faitfull was married three times. After her marriage to John Dumbar, she married Ben Brierly (1979-1986). In 1988, she finally married writer and actor Giorgio Della Terza, but they divorced in 1991. She is now a grandmother of two and lives in Ireland.


Marianne Faithfull sings As Tears Go By in Hullabaloo London (1965), introduced by Brian Epstein. Source: lovehongdou3458 (YouTube).


Trailer for La Motocyclette/Girl on a Motorcycle (1968). Source: iCandyTV (YouTube).


Marianne Faithfull sings The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan. Source: flock you (YouTube).


Trailer Irina Palm (2007). Source: Soda Pictures (YouTube).

Sources: Richie Unterberger (AllMusic), Biography.com, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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