Leonard Cohen penned a poignant final letter to his dying muse Marianne Ihlen, a longtime friend of hers revealed on Canadian radio. Ihlen, whom Cohen wrote about in So Long, Marianne and Bird on a Wire, died in Norway on 29 July 2016, aged 81. Cohen passed a almost three months later.
Cohen met her on the Greek island Hydra in the 1960s and they became lovers. So Long, Marianne appeared on his 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Her close friend Jan Christian Mollestad got in touch with Cohen to tell him Ihlen was dying.
“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 she was so happy that he had already written something for her,” Mollestad said.
Mollestad, a documentary maker, read Cohen’s letter to her before she died. “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.
“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
Mollestad told CBC that when he read the line “stretch out your hand,” Ihlen stretched out her hand. “Only two days later she lost consciousness and slipped into death. I wrote a letter back to Leonard saying in her final moments I hummed Bird on a Wire because that was the song she felt closest to. And then I kissed her on the head and left the room, and said “so long, Marianne.”
Leonard Cohen’s Facebook page also marked Ihlen’s death. “The death last week of Marianne Ihlen, the woman immortalized in So Long, Marianne, has evoked an overwhelming response from those who knew Marianne well, those who knew her only as Leonard Cohen’s muse, and even those who previously didn’t know there was a real Marianne,” a post said.
Editor’s note: I really like the version below performed by Leonard’s son, Adam Cohen, at a tribute to his father shown on PBS.