In November 2016, the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, renowned for his melancholic and romantic ballads, died a few months after the woman who inspired many of his famous songs – his Norwegian lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen.
On the summery idyll of Hydra, Greece in 1960, there was a bohemian community of artists and musicians living in squalid conditions. Marianne Ihlen was 24 years old and stunningly beautiful. She went to Greece trailing her (then) partner, Axel Jensen with whom she had a child.
Ihlen was then abandoned by her partner for another woman. She was heartbroken and alone in Greece and considered returing with her son to Norway. It was then that she met a handsome, chivalrous and sensitive poet from Canada named Leonard Cohen.
“Though I loved him from the moment we met, it was a beautiful, slow movie” – Marianne Ihlen
If the moon has a sister
It’s got to be you. Leonard Cohen, “The Law”
“It was as if everyone was young and beautiful and full of talent – covered with a kind of gold dust. Everybody had special and unique qualities. This is, of course, the feeling of youth, but in the glorious setting of Hydra, all these qualities were magnified.” – Leonard Cohen
Marianne Ihlen on those times in Hydra, Greece
“Oh, those years were really good. Very good. We sat in the sun and we lay in the sun. We walked in the sun. We listened to music, we bathed, we played, we drank, we discussed. There was writing and lovemaking and…It was absolutely fabulous, you know, to have it like that. During five years, I didn’t have shoes on my feet, you know…And I met many beautiful people. Now they are cast to the winds. Some are dead. Many are dead.”
Just before her death in July 2016 of leukaemia, a friend of Ihlen’s, Jan Christian Mollestad, contacted Cohen, who sent an email to his former lover, which Mollestad read out to Ihlen as she was in her final days. It said:
I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way any day now.
“I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Love and gratitude. Leonard
Four months later, Cohen died after a fall at his home in Los Angeles.
8 thoughts on “So long, Marianne: Leonard Cohen and his muse Marianne Ihlen”
I’m in the middle of Sylvie Simmons’ bio of Leonard Cohen, and he and Marianne were very supportive of each other, even as their relationship faded. They gradually spent less and less time together while he built his music career in different countries, and he eventually got together with Suzanne Elrod, with whom he had two kids. But the affection between LC and Marianne never died apparently.
Also, there is a new documentary, not released here in Greece yet: Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is released on 26 July. Have you seen it yet?
You are over in Greece? Wow how amazing. I thought mistakenly that because of your love of Australian movies that you were in Australia. I have always wanted to go to Greece, I am fascinated by the ancient culture, because it is the cradle of western civilisation, democracy, the law, mythology, everything!
It’s a beautiful country with a very dense history and culture. I still visit Australia every year. But I’m traveling with only my phone, so I can’t write much now. Cheers. Peter
That sounds like a good book, I think I’ll need to get a hold of it. I don’t know much about their relationship to be honest, I like some of Cohen’s work, especially So Long, Marianne, I didn’t know about their back story until all of the promo stuff came out recently with this upcoming documentary. This looks to be an amazing documentary. What is your favourite Cohen song? Mine is The Partisan, there is something bone-tingling and sad about it. This resonates with me after visiting places in Poland that were ravaged by WW2 and the Polish Uprising Museum in Warsaw and knowing how much they suffered there under Nazism. This all ties in well with the themes and ideas in the Partisan song. A very sad and beautiful song. What is your fav?
What a story and that final letter is one of the most heart-warming things I’ve ever read!
I know…its so beautiful. Reading it along with listening to the song…I was tearing up a bit
Oh completely!! As good as it gets