Leonard Cohen, the brilliant mind behind classic hits like “Hallelujah,” “I’m Your Man,” “Suzanne” and many more, wrote a heartbreaking final note to his muse and onetime lover Marianne Ihlen shortly before her death from leukemia on July 29. Ihlen and Cohen met in Hydra, Greece in the 1960s and lived together for nearly a decade, with Ihlen serving as the inspiration for songs “So Long Marianne” and “Bird On a Wire.”
Ihlen’s friend Jan Christian Mollestad reportedly contacted Cohen after learning that Marianne’s condition was deteriorating, leaving her with only days to live. Cohen responded with a letter only hours later, which was delivered to Marianne in Norway the next day, during her last few days of consciousness. Mollestad read the letter aloud to Marianne, who was delighted that Cohen had written something for her so quickly:
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 for 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 Canada’s CBC radio that Ihlen had reached out her hand at the line, “Stretch out your hand.” “Only two days after, she lost consciousness and slipped into death,” he continued. “And when she died, I wrote a letter back to him saying in her final moments I hummed ‘A Bird on the Wire’ because that was the song she felt closest to.”
Mollestad went on to detail the pair’s relationship and how Cohen changed Marianne’s life. A post on Cohen’s Facebook page reads, “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.’”