Through the Past Darkly

updated 09/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

RELAXING WITH A CIGARETTE AND a glass of wine in the dining room of her 19th-century cottage outside Dublin, Marianne Faithfull picks up from the table a magazine with Mick Jagger's face on the cover. She scans the story, in which Jagger laments that he's getting too old for the rigors of the Rolling Stones' current world tour. "Poor old thing!" says Faithfull, putting on her specs to have a better look. "What else can he do? He goes on tour and performs. He's a rock-and-roll star."

But to Faithfull, Jagger is more than an aging rock demigod. He was her paramour and occasional drug companion for much of the '60s. Not surprisingly, he figures prominently in her new autobiography, Faithfull (Little, Brown)—a brutally honest chronicle of her self-destructive life as pop singer, boy toy, actress and drug addict. "She's always stayed true to herself in whatever state she's been in," says Denny Cordell, executive producer of Faithfull's forthcoming album, due next spring. "She's completely genuine." And realistic. "I'm not a young little thing looking for excitement anymore," says Faithfull, 47, whose husky voice and deeply lined face attest to her hard-living past. "I got all that I wanted."

In her book (released at the same time as a compilation album, also titled Faithfull), the singer recounts her turbulent past in blunt detail—including the time in the mid-'60s when, during an evening of lovemaking, Jagger revealed to her his secret lust for bandmate Keith Richards. "I'm not trying to shock," says Faithfull. "This is an interesting story that happens to be true. There are little darts thrown at all sorts of people, but that's how I am." To her credit, Faithfull also targets herself. By the late '60s she was a junkie more interested in her next fix than in maintaining her relationship with Jagger, whom she had begun dating at 19. "Ours was just a classic parting of ways," says Faithfull, who now occasionally speaks to Jagger. "He went in one direction—up—and I went down."

The only child of an Austrian baroness and a British professor, she moved with her mother to a working-class London suburb at age 6, when her parents separated. The 17-year-old Faithfull was still attending a convent school in 1964 when she met Jagger—then 20 and about to become a superstar—at a London party. Rolling Stone manager Andrew Loog Oldham also spotted her there and was so taken with her that he had her record a song written by Jagger and Richards in the hope of making her a pop star. The result, "As Tears Go By," became an instant hit (which the Stones eventually recorded themselves) in 1964. Meantime she married art dealer John Dunbar and had a son, Nicholas. But after 18 months she left Dunbar, having already fallen madly in love with Jagger—so much so that she abandoned her singing career because, she says, "it wasn't as important as being with Mick."

Their life together was an orgy of parties, booze, drugs and sex. Faithfull had numerous lovers and dabbled in lesbian affairs; she smoked hash, dropped acid and became hooked on heroin. Her decadence eventually cost her custody of Nicholas, and in 1969, Faithfull hit bottom. Despondent over her imminent breakup with Jagger—who was repelled by her addiction—and the death of Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, a close friend, she swallowed 150 sleeping pills in a Sydney hotel room. "I thought I wanted to die," says Faithfull, whom Jagger rushed to a local hospital. "But I was wrong. I was so glad when I didn't."

After splitting with Jagger in 1970, Faithfull, still an addict, began spending her days on the streets of London. "I loved the anonymity," she says. "It was the first time I got a sense of being just a part of humanity." By 1972 she was under the care of a doctor and had stopped using drugs. "I'd had enough and wanted to see what else there was to life," says Faithfull. She turned to acting, landing roles in obscure films. In 1979 she married punk rocker Ben Brierley and recorded Broken English, a darkly profane yet poignant album that enjoyed critical raves. Flush with 90,000 pounds sterling (198,000 U.S. dollars) in royalties, she gave in to temptation and spent it on clothes and cocaine; by the mid-'80s she was shooting heroin again. "The demons started to show up," she writes, and "my self-hatred was malignant at this point." Says her longtime friend and publicist, Ellen Smith: "That time was touch and go, and you just never knew day to day. But Marianne has a lucky angel following her around." In 1985, Faithfull checked into the Hazelden clinic in Minnesota for six months of treatment—paid for by her label, Island Records. Though clean and sober, Faithfull remains cautious. "Being an addict is something I'm always going to have to be aware of," she says.

Her trials weren't over. In 1985 a cocktail of jealousy and drugs ended her marriage. Faithfull was married again in 1988, to writer Giorgio della Terza, whom she met at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, but that marriage also failed soon after. Though enduring love has proved elusive, "I don't regret anything," says Faithfull. That includes her days with Jagger. "He was absolutely amazing when we fell in love," she says. "And in the end, I got out okay."

Her relationship with her son Nicholas has also triumphed. During her days as an addict, Faithfull spent little time with him, but now she says they're very close. She's even thrilled about being a grandmother. "I always knew this would come," says Faithfull about her 1-year-old grandson, Oscar. "And it did." These days, Faithfull, who is unattached, is looking forward to being back in the public eye. She plans to tour next spring in support of her new record. "It's going to be hard work, of course," she says, "but not the sort of thing where you have to drink or do drugs to get through it. And that's very important, isn't it?"

MOIRA BAILEY in Maynooth, Ireland

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