Leonard Cohen wrote a farewell to the woman who inspired some of his finest songs just before she died, paying tribute to a friendship that stretched across five decades.
Marianne Ihlen, 81, was the subject of songs including So Long Marianne,Famous Blue Raincoat and Bird on the Wire, ballads that helped to cement Cohen’s status as one of the most incisive lyricists in popular music.
They met on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s, shortly after her first husband left her following the birth of their son and before Cohen had released a note of music. The poet and aspiring musician eventually invited them to live with him in Montreal, and the couple were together for seven years.
Jan Christian Mollestad, a documentary film-maker and friend of Ms Ihlen, learnt last month that she was dying of leukaemia. He visited her in hospital in Oslo, where she asked him to tell Cohen, also 81, what was happening.
“So I sent him a letter telling him that, unfortunately, it seems like Marianne only has a few days to live,” Mollestad told Canadian public radio. “It took only two hours and in came this beautiful letter from Leonard to Marianne. We brought it to her the next day and she was fully conscious and so happy.
“It said, ‘Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
“I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road’,” Mollestad said.
“When I read her the line ‘stretch out your hand’, she stretched out her hand.”
Ms Ihlen died two days later on July 29.