Leonard Cohen met Marianne Ihlen in his 20's. Though his relationship with her was unstable and complicated, they adored each other till their last breath.
The 90s is a memorable year in the history of pop music. Every music lover will remember those glorious days when legendary releases by Prince, Bruce, and Madonna created headlines. Leonard Cohen, a name unknown at the time suddenly rose to fame after his album Songs of Leonard Cohen that gained great attention. However, he was widely known for his song Hallelujah. But before he became a known face in the music industry, Cohen was a struggling poet.
Life took a different turn for the Canadian artist after he met Marianne Ihlen who changed his life forever. She inspired him to become a musician and a songwriter. A new documentary, Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, sheds light on their complicated yet romantic relationship.
According to Daily Mail, Cohen met Marianne Ihlen on the Greek Island of Hydra. Cohen who had moved to the island from Canada met Ihlen who had already been there for 2 years. Though Ihlen was married at the time to a Norwegian novelist, their marriage was failing and her husband had already found another woman.
The two who were attracted to each other soon started living together. Cohen called Ihlen "the Scandinavian goddess" and thought she was perfect.
For six years, the two lived together in their magical world. "We bathed, we played, we drank, we discussed. There was writing and love-making," said Ihlen quoted Daily Mail. Those years were critical in the life of Cohen as it shaped him to become a musician. His motivation was none other than Ihlen.
Nick Broomfield, the director of the documentary, who knew Cohen and Ihlen said to Daily Beast, "...I think she had the ability to bring out their strengths and to help hone their art. She was the one who encouraged Leonard to make that massive switch from being a writer and novelist and poet to putting his words to music. And I think she deserves that credit."
Soon, the struggling poet became a singer with the release of his first album. The artist who became a hit found little time to continue pursuing his bohemian dream. His visits to the island became seldom and his professional calls took him farther away from Ihlen and the Island. Though Ihlen initially followed Cohen to New York, the pair became estranged and Ihlem returned to Norway.
“Still, Marianne would always say Leonard was the best thing that happened to her, despite the fact that a lot of it was very painful,” Broomfield reflected.
Cohen who was a ladies man had affairs with several famous women such as Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and actress Rebecca de Mornay. However, his thoughts were never away from the Scandinavian goddess even after his marriage to artist Suzanne Elrod. The duo who admired and loved each other exchanged numerous letters and notes from continents away.
His love for her was so strong that in his song I Can’t Forget, Cohen sang, "I’ve loved you all my life/And that’s how I want to end it." At the age of 70, Cohen's career saw an even greater growth after his song Hallelujah. Though the duo had already spent decades apart from each other, Cohen reached out to Ihlen and invited the woman who had remarried at the time to his concerts in Oslo.
At the age of 81, Ihlen was diagnosed with leukemia. The singer who heard of her illness wrote a mail to her that said, "Dearest Marianne, 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 anymore. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Love and gratitude. Leonard."
Before she died in 2016, she kept the mail sent by him close to her heart and read it repeatedly. Four months after her death, Cohen too joined his goddess.
“His poem, "Days of Kindness," was such a powerful acknowledgment of his relationship with Marianne, and with [her son] Axel. There was a lot of self-criticism and guilt in it, which was obviously very profound. That was a very incredibly thoughtful poem, I think, and so much about his enduring love and his responsibility. Because I think he always felt a responsibility to Axel and Marianne, right to the very end,” said Broomfield To Daily Beast.
Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen had an indefinable relationship till the very end. But Ihlen was always his muse and the inspiration behind every line he ever sang.