Nico was born as Krista Päffgen in 1938 in Cologne, Germany and past away in 1988 on Spanish island of Ibiza. Most of her life is a great mystery. Some say Nico was just famous for being Nico, but she was also revered to as ‘the most beautiful creature who ever lived’. She was one of the most fascinating women of her time and still is today.
Spending her first years in Germany during Hitler’s rein must have left a deep impression on Nico, as well as the death of her father (soldier), when she was still very young. For some years, in her early teens, she loved being a pretty girl, but by the time she became a model at 16, she didn’t any longer. Modelling wasn’t enough for her and Nico also started acting, which she showed a natural talent for. On holiday at a friend’s villa in Rome, she got invited to the set of La Dolce Vita, where Frederico Fellini noticed her charismatic presence. She was offered a sizable role on the spot. Nico was asked to play Nico in this movie.
At 16 Krista was discovered by photographer Herbert Tobias, who gave her the name Nico after his ex-boyfriend, filmmaker Nikos Papataki. Not long after she was asked for by Vogue and moved to Paris. There Nico became famous for her beauty, worked for all major fashion magazines and hang-out with the in-crowd. At 17 she got a contract at Chanel.
Nico the model
Because Nico didn’t like working as a model she went to New York, where she attended acting workshops by Lee Strassberg. She wanted to become a serious actress. In 1963 she got the lead role in Jaques Poitrenaud’s film Strip-Tease. She also recorded the title track, written by Serge Gainsbourg (in 2001 the song was included in the compilation Le Cinéma de Serge Gainsbourg)
She met Alain Delon and they had a brief affair. Nico became pregnant and decided to keep the baby. She thought Delon would acknowledge the baby and marry her, but he never did. Christian Aaron ‘Ari’ Päffgen was born in 1962 and because Nico wasn’t able to take care of him, he was mostly raised by Delon’s mother and her husband, who eventually adopted Ari and gave him their surname Boulogne. Delon always denied being the father and therefore got very angry with his mother for taking in Ari, Delon never spoke to her again. Nico visited Ari whenever she was is around and took him on holidays. It was on one of their trips to Ibiza, when Nico got a bicycle accident and died as a result of the complications.
In 1965 Nico met Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones and she recorded her first single ‘I’m not Saying’. Brian Jones introduced her to Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, who work with her in their experimental movies, like Chelsea Girls. Nico was one of the original Chelsea Girls, together with Edie Sedgwick. They became a role model in fashion and were copied all over the world for their original style.
Andy Warhol began managing The Velvet Underground and proposed the group take Nico on as a ‘chanteuse’. The band wasn’t happy with a girl singer, they thought it would give trouble and Lou Reed didn’t like to share the spotlights with Nico (Lou Reed and Nico had a brief love affair during this period), but still she joint the band for a while. Nico sang lead vocals on three songs ‘Femme Fatale’, All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ plus the backing vocals on ‘Sunday Morning’ on the band’s debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico. This became one of the most acclaimed rock records ever! The album ranked in at #13 on ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Times’ by Rolling Stone Magazine.
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Following her musical work with The Velvet Underground, Nico began working as a solo artist. Her debut album was called Chelsea Girl, on which she recorded songs by Bob Dylan, Tim Harding and Jackson Browne and collaborated with some members of The Velvet Underground. Her second album The Marble Index was released in 1969, Nico wrote the lyrics and music herself.
Nico the singer & actress
Between 1970 and 1979, Nico made about seven films with her French lover and director Philippe Garrel. Her physical beauty detested her more and more, so she dyed her hair deep dark red. When friends told her, she looked ugly now, she smiled (happily). During her days with Garrel she got hooked on heroin, which made her deteriorate more and Nico became devious to the people around her. She went from being a stunning beauty to a freak act in a couple of years. Some audiences came to her performances just to see what had become of her.
Nico died in 1988 on Ibiza, where she was spending a holiday with her son. She had recently decided to quit heroin and started a healthy food diet and physical exercise. She had a minor heart attack while riding a bike and hit her head as she fell. She was incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from heat-exposure and died July 18 at eight o’clock in the evening. Later x-rays revealed a severe hemorrhage as the cause of death.
She couldn’t stand being this Marble Statue everybody looked at and admired, was it because she hated being judged by the cover and not for her contents? Was Nico too intelligent to be just this beautiful creature? Was she an undiagnosed manic depressed? Did she never recover from the horrible impressions WWII left on her and the death of her father when she was so little? We will never know, so we’d better celebrate her legacy of beautiful photographs, music and movies.