Faithfull's mother, Eva, was the daughter of an Austro-Hungarian nobleman, Artur Wolfgang, Ritter von Sacher-Masoch (1875–1953). Eva chose to style herself as Eva von Sacher-Masoch, Baroness Erisso.
Faithfull's mother had been born in Budapest and moved to Vienna in 1918. The family of Sacher-Masoch had secretly opposed the Nazi regime in Vienna. Faithfull's father's intelligence work for the British Army brought him into contact with the family, and he thus met Eva, his Future wife. Faithfull's maternal grandfather had aristocratic roots in the Habsburg Dynasty, while Faithfull's maternal grandmother was Jewish. Eva had been a ballerina for the Max Reinhardt Company during her early years, and danced in productions of works by the German theatrical duo Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
Her television acting in the late 1960s and early 1970s included The Door of Opportunity (1970) with Ian Ogilvy, adapted from W. Somerset Maugham's story, followed by August Strindberg's The Stronger (1971) with Britt Ekland, and Terrible Jim Fitch (1971) by James Leo Herlihy, which once more paired Faithfull with Nicol Williamson.
Born in Hampstead, London, Faithfull began her career in 1964 after attending the Rolling Stones party where she was discovered by Andrew Loog Oldham. After the release of her hit single "As Tears Go By", she became an international star. Her debut album Marianne Faithfull (1965) (released simultaneously with her album Come My Way) was a commercial success followed by a number of albums on Decca Records. From 1966 to 1970, she had a highly publicised romantic relationship with Mick Jagger. Her popularity was further enhanced by her film roles, such as I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967), The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), and Hamlet (1969). However, her popularity was overshadowed by personal struggles in the 1970s. During that time she suffered from heroin addiction, alcoholism, and anorexia.
Faithfull began her singing career in 1964, landing her first gigs as a folk music performer in coffeehouses. She soon began taking part in London's exploding social scene. In early 1964 she attended a Rolling Stones launch party with Artist John Dunbar and met Andrew Loog Oldham, who discovered her. Her first major release, "As Tears Go By," was written and composed by Jagger, Keith Richards, and Oldham, and became a chart success. (The Rolling Stones recorded their own version one year later, also became successful.) She then released a series of successful singles, including "This Little Bird," "Summer Nights," and "Come and Stay With Me." Faithfull married John Dunbar on 6 May 1965 in Cambridge with Peter Asher as the best man. The couple lived in a flat at 29 Lennox Gardens in Belgravia just off Knightsbridge, London SW1. On 10 November 1965, she gave birth to their son, Nicholas. She left her husband shortly after to live with Mick Jagger.
In 1966 she took Nicholas to stay with Brian Jones and Anita Pallenberg in London. During that time period, Faithfull started smoking marijuana and became best friends with Pallenberg. She also began a much publicised relationship with Mick Jagger that same year. The couple became notorious and largely part of the hip Swinging London scene. She was found wearing only a fur rug by police executing a drug search at Keith Richards's house in West Wittering, Sussex. In an interview 27 years later with A.M. Homes for Details, Faithfull discussed her wilder days and admitted that the drug bust fur rug incident had ravaged her personal life: "It destroyed me. To be a male drug addict and to act like that is always enhancing and glamorising. A woman in that situation becomes a slut and a bad mother." In 1968, Faithfull, by now addicted to cocaine, miscarried a daughter (whom she had named Corrina) while retreating to Jagger's country house in Ireland.
Her first professional theatre appearance was in a 1967 stage adaptation of Chekhov's Three Sisters, at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in which she played Irina, co-starring with Glenda Jackson and Avril Elgar. Before that she played herself in Jean-Luc Godard's film Made in U.S.A. Faithfull has also appeared in the 1967 film I'll Never Forget What's'isname alongside Orson Welles (where she notably became the first person to say "fuck" in a mainstream studio picture), in the French television film Anna, starring Anna Karina (in which Faithfull sang Serge Gainsbourg's "Hier ou Demain"), as a leather-clad motorcyclist in the 1968 French film La Motocyclette (English titles: Girl on a Motorcycle and Naked Under Leather) opposite Alain Delon, and in Kenneth Anger's 1969 film Lucifer Rising, in which she played Lilith. In 1969, Faithfull played Ophelia opposite Nicol Williamson's title character in Hamlet, directed by Tony Richardson and featuring Anthony Hopkins as Claudius. The original producers of The Rocky Horror Show wanted her to play "Magenta/Usherette", but Patricia Quinn (who got the part) stated in an interview, "She went to India with her guru."
Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) wrote the song Incarceration of a Flower Child in 1968; it was never recorded by Pink Floyd. The song was eventually recorded by Marianne Faithfull on her 1999 album Vagabond Ways.
Her stage work also included Edward Bond's Early Morning at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in which she played a lesbian Florence Nightingale, The Collector at St Martin's Theatre in the West End opposite Simon Williams, Mad Dog at Hampstead Theatre opposite Denholm Elliott, A Patriot for Me by John Osborne, at the Palace Theatre, Watford and the role of Lizzie Curry in N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker, which toured the UK and in which Faithfull's co-star was Peter Gilmore. Other film roles in the 1970s included Sophy Kwykwer in Stephen Weeks's Ghost Story (AKA Madhouse Mansion), released on a newly mastered DVD in the UK in 2009, and Helen Rochefort in Assault on Agathon.
Faithfull lived on London's Soho streets for two years, suffering from heroin addiction and anorexia nervosa. Friends intervened and enrolled her in an NHS drug programme, from which she could get her daily fix on prescription from a Chemist. She failed at controlling or stabilising her addiction at that time. In 1971, Producer Mike Leander found her on the streets and made an attempt to revive her career, producing part of her album Rich Kid Blues. The album was shelved until 1985.
Severe laryngitis, coupled with persistent drug abuse during this period, permanently altered Faithfull's voice, leaving it cracked and lower in pitch. While the new sound was praised as "whisky soaked" by some critics, Journalist John Jones, of the Sunday Times, wrote that she had "permanently vulgarised her voice". In 1975 she released the country-influenced record Dreamin' My Dreams (a.k.a. Faithless), which reached No.1 on the Irish Albums Chart. Faithfull moved into a squat without hot water or electricity in Chelsea with then-boyfriend Ben Brierly, of the punk band the Vibrators. She later shared flats in Chelsea and Regent's Park with Henrietta Moraes.
Faithfull's career returned full force in 1979 (the same year she was arrested for marijuana possession in Norway) with the album Broken English, one of her most critically hailed albums. The album was partially influenced by the punk explosion and her marriage to Brierly in the same year. In addition to the punk-pop sounds of the title track (which addressed terrorism in Europe, being dedicated to Ulrike Meinhof), the album also included "Why D'Ya Do It?", a punk-reggae song with aggressive lyrics adapted from a poem by Heathcote Williams. The musical structure of this song is complex; though on the surface hard rock, it is a tango in 4/4 time, with an opening electric guitar riff by Barry Reynolds in which beats 1 and 4 of each measure are accented on the up-beat, and beat 3 is accented on the down beat. Faithfull, in her autobiography, commented that her fluid yet rhythmic reading of Williams' lyric was "an early form of rap". Broken English was also the album which revealed the full extent of Faithfull's drinking and drug use and its effect on her singing voice, with the melodic vocals on her early records being replaced by a raucous, deep voice which helped capture the raw emotions expressed in the album's songs.
Faithfull began living in New York after the release of the follow-up to Broken English, Dangerous Acquaintances, in 1981. Despite her comeback, she was still battling with addiction in the mid-1980s, at one point breaking her jaw tripping on a FLIGHT of stairs while under the influence. In another incident her heart stopped. A disastrous appearance on Saturday Night Live was blamed on too many rehearsals, but it was suspected that drugs had caused her vocal cords to seize up. Rich Kid Blues (1985) was another collection of her early work combined with new recordings, a double record showcasing both the pop and rock 'n' roll facets of her output to date. In 1985, Faithfull performed "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" on Hal Willner's tribute album Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill. Faithfull's restrained readings lent themselves to the material, and this collaboration informed several subsequent works.
In 1985, she was at the Hazelden Foundation Clinic in Minnesota for rehabilitation. She then received treatment at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. While living at a hotel in nearby Cambridge, Faithfull started an affair (while still married to Brierly) with a dual diagnosis (mentally ill and drug dependent) man, Howard Tose, who later committed suicide by jumping from a 14th floor window of the flat they shared. In 1987, Faithfull dedicated a "thank you" to Tose within the album package of Strange Weather, on the back sleeve: "To Howard Tose with love and thanks". Faithfull's divorce from Brierly was also finalised that year. In 1995, she wrote and sang about Tose's death in "Flaming September" from the album A Secret Life.
In 1987, Faithfull again reinvented herself, this time as a jazz and blues singer, on Strange Weather, also produced by Willner. The album became her most critically lauded album of the decade. Coming full circle, the renewed Faithfull cut another recording of "As Tears Go By" for Strange Weather, this time in a tighter, more gravelly voice. The singer confessed to a lingering irritation with her first hit. "I always childishly thought that was where my problems started, with that damn song," she told Jay Cocks in Time magazine, but she came to terms with it as well as with her past. In a 1987 interview with Rory O'Connor of Vogue, Faithfull declared, "forty is the age to sing it, not seventeen." The album of covers was produced by Hal Willner after the two had spent numerous weekends listening to hundreds of songs from the annals of 20th-century music. They chose to record such diverse tracks as Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It with Mine" and "Yesterdays", written by Broadway composers Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. The work also includes tunes first made notable by such blues luminaries as Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith; Tom Waits wrote the title track. In 1988, Faithfull married Writer and actor Giorgio Della Terza, but they divorced in 1991.
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. Blazing Away was recorded at St. Ann's Cathedral in Brooklyn. The 13 selections include "Sister Morphine", a cover of Edith Piaf's "Les Prisons du Roy", and "Why D'Ya Do It?" from Broken English. Alanna Nash of Stereo Review commended the Musicians whom Faithfull had chosen to back her—longtime Guitarist Reynolds was joined by former Band member Garth Hudson and Pianist Dr. John. Nash was also impressed with the album's autobiographical tone, noting "Faithfull's gritty alto is a cracked and halting rasp, the voice of a woman who's been to hell and back on the excursion fare which, of course, she has." The reviewer extolled Faithfull as "one of the most challenging and artful of women artists," and Rolling Stone Writer Fred Goodman asserted: "Blazing Away is a fine retrospective – proof that we can still expect great things from this greying, jaded contessa."
In 1993, she played the role of Pirate Jenny in The Threepenny Opera at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. Later she performed Kurt Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins" with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, a CD of which was released in 1998.
A Collection of Her Best Recordings was released in 1994 by Island Records to coincide with the release of the Faithfull autobiography; the two products originally shared the same cover art. It contained Faithfull's updated version of "As Tears Go By" from Strange Weather, several cuts from Broken English and A Child's Adventure and a song written by Patti Smith scheduled for inclusion on an Irish AIDS benefit album. This track, "Ghost Dance", suggested to Faithfull by a friend who later died of AIDS, was made with a trio of old acquaintances: Stones' Drummer Charlie Watts and Guitarist Ron Wood backed Faithfull's vocals on the song, while Keith Richards coproduced it. The retrospective album also featured one live track, "Times Square", from Blazing Away as well as a new Faithfull original, "She", penned with Composer and arranger Angelo Badalamenti to be released the following year on A Secret Life, with additional songs co written with Badalamenti. Faithfull also sang "Love is Teasin," an Irish folk standard, with The Chieftains on their album The Long Black Veil, released in 1995. Faithfull sang a duet and recited text on the San Francisco band Oxbow's 1997 album Serenade in Red. Faithfull also sang background vocals on Metallica's song "The Memory Remains" from their 1997 album ReLoad and appeared in the song's music video; the track reached No. 28 in the U.S. (No.3 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart) and No.13 in the UK.
As her fascination with the music of Weimar-era Germany continued, Faithfull performed in The Threepenny Opera 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.
In 1998 Faithfull released A Perfect Stranger: The Island Anthology, a two-disc compilation that chronicled her years with Island Records. It featured tracks from her albums Broken English, Dangerous Acquaintances, A Child's Adventure, Strange Weather, Blazing Away, and A Secret Life, as well as several B sides and unreleased tracks.
In 1999, Faithfull ranked 25th on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll.
Faithfull released several albums in the 2000s that received positive critical response, beginning with Vagabond Ways (1999), which was produced and recorded by Mark Howard. It included collaborations with Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, and Writer (and friend) Frank McGuinness. Later that year she sang "Love Got Lost" on Joe Jackson's Night and Day II.
In 2001 Faithfull appeared with Lucy Russell and Lambert Wilson in C.S. Leigh's Far From China. She has also appeared in Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy (2001) and, in 2004, in Jose Hayot's Nord-Plage. Faithfull appeared as Empress Maria Theresa in Sofia Coppola's 2006 biopic, Marie Antoinette. She starred in the film Irina Palm, released at the Berlinale film festival in 2007. Faithfull plays the central role of Maggie, a 60-year-old widow who becomes a sex worker to pay for medical treatment for her ill grandson.
Her renaissance continued with Kissin Time, released in 2002. The album contained songs written with Blur, Beck, Billy Corgan, Jarvis Cocker, Dave Stewart, David Courts and the French pop singer Étienne Daho. On this record, she paid tribute to Nico (with "Song for Nico"), whose work she admired. The album also included an autobiographical song she co-wrote with Cocker, called "Sliding Through Life on Charm".
She has played both God and the Devil. She appeared as God in two guest appearances in the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous 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, which opened at London's Barbican Theatre, toured to San Francisco, but from which she was forced to withdraw prior to performances at the Sydney Festival, owing to exhaustion.
In 2005, she released Before the Poison. The album was primarily a collaboration with PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, though Damon Albarn and Jon Brion also contributed. Before the Poison received mixed reviews from both Rolling Stone and Village Voice. In 2005 she recorded (and co-produced) "Lola R Forever", a cover of the Serge Gainsbourg song "Lola Rastaquouere" with Sly & Robbie for the tribute album Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited. In 2007, Faithfull collaborated with the British singer-songwriter, Patrick Wolf on the duet "Magpie" from his third album The Magic Position and wrote and recorded a new song for the French film Truands called "A Lean and Hungry Look" with Ulysse.
On 11 October 2007 Faithfull revealed she suffered from hepatitis C on the UK television programme This Morning, and that she had first been diagnosed with the condition 12 years before. She discusses both the cancer and hepatitis diagnoses in further depth in her second memoir, Memories, Dreams and Reflections. On 27 May 2008, Faithfull released the following blog posting on her MySpace page, with the headline "Tour Dates Cancelled" and credited to FR Management – the company operated by her boyfriend/manager François Ravard: "Due to general mental, physical and nervous exhaustion doctors have ordered Marianne Faithfull to immediately cease all work activities and rehabilitate. The treatment and recovery should last around six months."
In 2008, Faithfull toured readings of Shakespeare's sonnets, drawing on the "Dark Lady" sequence. Her accompanist was the Cellist Vincent Ségal.
On 5 March 2009, Faithfull received the World Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 2009 Women's World Awards. "Marianne's contribution to the arts over a 45-year career including 18 studio albums as a singer, Songwriter and interpreter, and numerous appearances on stage and screen is now being acknowledged with this special award." The award was presented in Vienna, with ceremonies televised in over 40 countries on 8 March 2009 as part of International Women's Day.
In 2010, she was honoured with the Icon of the Year award from Q magazine.
In 2011 and 2012 Faithfull had supporting roles in the films Faces in the Crowd and Belle du Seigneur.
Marianne recently starred in a production of Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins at Landestheater Linz, Austria. The production ran from October 2012 to January 2013.
On 18 September 2013, Faithfull was featured in the genealogy documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are?, tracing her family's roots, in particular her mother's side of the family in pre World War II Austria.
On 30 May 2014 Faithfull suffered a broken hip after a fall while on holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes and underwent surgery. Afterwards, an infection formed where the prosthetic was placed, causing Marianne to cancel or postpone parts of her 50th Anniversary tour for additional surgery and rehabilitation. She has stated the initial infection was the result of the Doctor performing the initial procedure not washing his hands beforehand. Faithfull was able to quit smoking during this time period.
During a webchat hosted by The Guardian on 1 February 2016, Faithfull revealed plans to release a live album from her 50th Anniversary tour. She also had ideas for a follow-up for Give My Love to London, but had no intention of recording new material for at least a year and a half.