The great Italian director Federico Fellini noticed Nico when she walked through the set of his most famous film La Dolce Vita and he immediately gave her a small cameo role starring as herself. This seemed to always happen to Nico, she had got her break in modelling by simply standing outside an upscale Berlin department store. With her striking, stunning beauty she was always going to attract attention.
Nico’s life is the stuff of legend and like all legends the exact details are somewhat hazy. She was either born in 1938 or 1943 in either Cologne or Budapest (though it was probably 1938 in Cologne). She started modelling at 16 in Berlin which led to a peripatetic existence that was to continue throughout her life. She spent a large part of the Sixties in New York where she met Andy Warhol and consequently become one of his Superstars, starring in his experimental extravaganzas, most notably Chelsea Girls. Warhol then decided that The Factory house band The Velvet Underground needed a chaunteuse and who better than Nico, the Teutonic Ice Queen with her distinctive husky, heavily accented monotone? The main movers in The Velvet Underground, the singer Lou Reed and the Welsh sound wizard John Cale initially met the suggestion with consternation. Nico was a notoriously capacious and difficult character who was also tone deaf. However she featured on lead vocals on three songs (Femme Fatale, I’ll Be Your Mirror and All Tomorrows Parties) on their ground-breaking and hugely influential debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico.
She left the group to pursue a solo career, however she only started to write her own material at the suggestion of Jim Morrison of The Doors with who she had a particularly intense relationship. After his death she dyed her hair black and started to sport heavy, dark clothes and recorded with the help of John Cale the desolate, wintry The Marble Index in 1969, the first of three albums unmatched in their crushing bleakness. Unsurprisingly there all sold poorly, as Cale remarked ‘you can’t sell suicide,’ and Nico spent the next two decades as the junkie Dietrich. Her addiction was such that hardened drug fiends crossed the road to avoid her.
Nico’s death was spectacularly bathetic. She had finally getting her act together: successfully kicking her heroin habit and re-established relations with her adult son Ari from her relationship with the actor Alain Delon. She was on holiday with Ari in the Balearic island of Ibiza when she announced that she was off to buy some marijuana and on the way fell off her bicycle suffering a cerebral haemorrhage. A taxi driver found her on the hillside and took her to four hospitals before she was admitted. She was misdiagnosed as suffering from sunstroke before dying the next day.
Nico, known as the Moon Goddess and Queen of the Bad Girls was cremated and buried in her mother’s grave in Berlin.