It's unbelievable that twenty years have zipped by since Marlene left us. For four years, we talken virtually every day on the phone and each time we went to Paris we would drop in at her apartment on avenue Montaine. Itself an experience, for by the time I got to know her, she was living in the bedroom--stretched out on the bed all day long, her only lifeline her telephone, and the pile of newspapers sitting next to it. Paris-Match took a picture after she died--my book, The Piaf Legend, was atop the pile.
Marlene was fond of sticking bits of paper on the corridor wall outside her room. There was a picture of Liz Taylor, under which she had scribbled that Richard Burton should take the jewels he'd bought her and rammed them down her throat! One of Meryl Streep read, "What awful news!" A third, of African AIDS victims, read, "If they stopped f*****g, this disease wouldn't be half as widespread!" I understaood where she was coming from.
What I didn't like was the tea she served--Earl Grey, which tasted like someone had dropped soap into the pot.
She was also hilariously but unintentionally witty. When our friend the singer Betty Mars flung herself out of a fourth-floor window Marlene quipped, "Someone could have been hurt." When I explained that Betty had eventually died of her injuries she said, "I mean, she could have landed on someone!" Dalida's suicide she described as, "A great performance at last. If you're going to do it, get on with it. Don't keep doing it just for attention!"
I wouldn't like to think that my friend took her own life, but something at the back of my mind tells me she might have done. Initially, she always called at 19.45 hours--sometimes an hour on either side, depending on the clocks. When we became very close, it would be at all hours--once she called at three in the morning to say Saddam had an atom bomb in Iraq! Another call lasting three hours was discussing just one song on the album I produced and compiled for her--this was released 6 May 1991, exactly a year before she died. Many of these calls I recorded--she asked me to, just in case no one believed me after she died, which is exactly what happened. On 4 May she called, "I have called to say goodbye. I am telling you that I love you, and that now I may die." Two days later I received the call from Madame Tahon, her housekepper, one hour before the media were alerted.
I didn't go to her funeral--there were three, one in Paris, one on the French/German border, the other in Berlin where Marlene was buried. I was represented by Roger, my godfather, who had known her longer than I had. She hadn't wanted to be buried in Berlin--certainly each time she's talked about her death, which was often during those last months, she had expressed a desire to be buried in Paris, if possible at Marne-la-Coquette, near Maurice Chevalier. Her last public act was the handwritten introduction she provided for my Chevalier book.
Twenty years have zipped by....and I still miss her.