The many lives of the enthralling and enigmatic Amanda Lear

She rose to prominence as a fashion icon in the 1960s and served as muse to some of modern history’s most iconic figures, including Salvador Dali, David Bowie, and the Rolling Stones, but her origins remain one of Pop Culture’s most fascinating enigmas

The many lives of the enthralling and enigmatic Amanda Lear



Amanda Lear, supermodel, groupie, muse, singer, songwriter, artist, and actress, is now (oddly) largely unknown to mainstream audiences, and new generations may be oblivious of the impact the mysterious and enigmatic Lear had on Pop Culture, Art, Music, and Fashion. Exploring Amanda Lear, Salvador Dali’s muse, the subject of a Rolling Stones song, and David Bowie’s protégée, can be a challenging task.

Swinging in London

By 1986, far from her heyday as Disco Queen, Amanda Lear sang “I’m a Mistery.” At first glance, the title of this song appears to be ordinary, unless we read between the lines of the word “mistery,” which, correctly spelled, is “mystery,” indicating a “double entendre.” By removing the “y,” we get “mister y”. It’s one of the many “double entendres” Amanda Lear strategically put in her song lyrics throughout her fascinating career.
The beginning of her life remains officially incognito: place of birth, birth name, birth date, and family. She suddenly landed in the European fashion world as a model during the early 1960’s. Prior to that, little to no information on Amanda Lear can be found. By then, she was already dating names from European high society. It was, physically and personally, a different Amanda, far from the iconic sculpted image that she would present to the world during the 1970’s when she became a singer.
By the mid 1960’s, Amanda Lear was one of the most popular figures in the swinging London scene. There, she was often seen with the man who called her muse, Salvador Dali. He took Amanda into his arms and shielded her, even moving her to his home, where his wife Gala also lived.

The song the Rolling Stones wrote inspired in Amanda Lear “Miss Amanda Jones”

She was already known as Amanda Lear, but nobody’s really sure what her original name was. And she decided to keep it that way officially. Between 1966 and 1967, she dated the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, and the result was a song about her and Jones’s relationship, released on the 1967 Rolling Stones album “Between the Buttons”: “Miss Amanda Jones.” What did Amanda have that attracted rock stars so much? Her androgyny, her enigmatic persona, her exotic and sculptural beauty? Photographed with the Stones, with John Lennon, and Andy Warhol, Amanda seemed to be the talk of town wherever she went.
In 1967, after being arrested for drug possession, Brian Jones sent Amanda his blue Rolls Royce to drive her “in style” to the courthouse. Dali praised her insatiably. And yet, nobody knew where that skinny, tall, and sculptural woman had originated from, except perhaps, as the rumor goes, Salvador Dali knew.  During the late 1960’s, Amanda Lear, besides being a very requisite model for stylists such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Paco Rabanne, and Mary Quaint, was also blending into the London British scene, becoming part of the British experimental art groups and ensembles of the time, while still walking under Dali’s wing and rock stars.
In 1972, she met rocker Bryan Ferry from Roxy Music, with whom she started a short relationship, also resulting in Amanda posing for the famous and now iconic cover of Roxy Music’s 1973 album “For Your Pleasure”, while swinging among celebrities, rock stars such as The Who’s Keith Moon, and high-profile names in Paris, Rome, and London.

Rare footage of Amanda Lear during her 1960’s modeling career

The Bowie Connection

And it was in London, that Amanda Lear came across another rocker that ended up changing her artistic path: David Bowie. Amanda met David Bowie in 1973, when she starred in a TV special featuring Bowie and Marianne Faithful. Nonetheless, with enough fuel for her modeling career, the now different and sculptural Amanda was a different person from the early 1960’s Amanda, the mid 1960’s Amanda, and the late 1960’s Amanda, both in her public persona and in her body, which had been skinny and now sculptured. She was almost like a chameleon, altering her physical appearance like an artist changes the colors and shapes of his canvas. With her unique smile, chiseled exotic facial features, and sculptural and androgynous body, needless to say, the then “Ziggy” David Bowie became infatuated and fascinated by her, and so, at the insistence of Bowie, she went to host the TV special that was being produced for American audiences, despite Amanda’s accent, perhaps too “exotic” for the United States audiences. It was during that show that she made her famous appearance in the David Bowie music video for “Sorrow”. As Dali before him, as the Rolling Stones and Bryan Ferry before him, he not only took Amanda under his wing as a protégée, but also started a three-way relationship with Amanda and his wife Angie, moving all three together to Bowie’s apartment in London. Amanda eventually moved to her own place, “sponsored” by Bowie as the “triad” started to fail, but not the infatuation he still had for her. And so, fascinated by her masculine and strong vocal tone, blending French, German, and English accents, Bowie suggested to Amanda that she should become a singer and leave her modeling career for good, following music instead. He paid for her singing lessons and introduced her to the right people in the business, but shortly afterward, Bowie moved to the U.S. where he became the Thin White Duke, falling heavily into drug addiction.

Watch Love & Watch the David Bowie music video “Sorrow” featuring Amanda Lear



Salvador Dali and Amanda Lear back in the 1960’s

The Disco Queen

The path for Amanda was ready for her to walk through on her own. With a voice that can perhaps be best compared to Jeanne Moureau and Marlene Dietrich, Amanda Lear skyrocketed to music fame in 1976 with her debut album, the dance and disco fueled “I Am A Photograph”, a reference to Amanda’s modeling career, with the cover featuring her centerfold Playboy magazine shot. The album spanned several disco hit songs, including “Blood and Honey”, “Tomorrow”, “Alligator” and “Queen of China-Town”. All of the original material on the record was co-written by Lear, mainly the lyricist. Most of the lyrical content of her songs pointed to intriguing autobiographical notes. In “Alphabet”, she uses each letter of the alphabet to supposedly describe her own life with a double-entendre. When Amanda Lear gained quick attention from the media, especially in Europe, where she became the Disco Queen, and with that attention, the media began for the first time to investigate her past life, and when they found nothing, they looked up her song lyrics. The conclusion the media took was that Amanda Lear was born a male, and sometime during the early 1960’s, after a sex change operation offered by Dali and a few years as a drag queen performing in French and German cabarets where she was known as Peki D’Oslo (according to several European transgenders), she emerged as a female model in London.  Lear denied the rumors, but she continued to play along with them throughout her career. She has throughout the years stated the regret of starting the double-entendre lyrics that spawned the rumors, confiding that David Bowie was the one who first told her she should use them to gain quick attention as a singer, given her somehow androgynous complexion.
It seems that Lear only made matters worse by stating on different occasions different dates for her birthday, birthplace, and origin, and her follow-up album “Sweet Revenge,” released in 1978, fueled even more rumors with more lyrical material filled with double meanings.
“Sweet Revenge” is Amanda Lear’s best-selling album and remains underrated. It’s a fine production of electronic music and disco-flavored songs, which Lear says is a concept album about a girl who sells her soul to the Devil only to regret it later. The songs reflect that story, which opens with “Follow Me,” a memorable electronic dance song. Like her previous album, “Sweet Revenge” spanned several hits, mainly across Europe, with “Follow Me”, “Run Baby Run”, “Enigma” and “Gold”. In “Enigma,” she sings, “I’m a mystery.” In “Follow Me,” she sings, “Unbelievable maybe You’ll have a new identity.” Her third album, “Never Trust a Pretty Face,” keeps up the rumors, starting with the title of the album itself, and features songs such as “Fashion Pack,” “The Sphinx,” “Dark Holes,” and even a cover of Marlene Dietrich’s “Lili Marlene.”

Amanda Lear performing her groundbreaking hit “Follow Me” in 1978

Amanda Lear performing “Enigma (Give A Bit Of Mmh To Me)” in 1978



Reinvention

During these 4 years from 1976 to 1979, Amanda Lear was, as Bowie predicted, a music star, and her modeling days were behind her. But as the 1980’s approached, there was a sudden lack of interest from the audience, partially due to the fact that disco was coming to an end.
Released in 1980, her 4th album, “Diamonds For Breakfast”, spanned a couple of minor hits, including “Fabulous Lover (Love Me)” (where she sings the line “the surgeon built me so well nobody could tell I was who I was”) and “Diamonds”. Throughout the 1980’s, Amanda Lear continued to release new music, but never had a big hit like her early albums again. She embraced acting more seriously and began to explore her artist side by painting. She learned from one of the very best, Dali.
During the 1980’s Amanda Lear delved deeper into acting, even as she continued to create new music. At this point in time, acting and TV became her career priority. She was a leading media personality in Italy during that decade, hosting TV shows, and continued her TV host career in France.
Today, Amanda Lear remains active as an actress and a singer, still releasing new music that is drastically different from her 1970’s electronic and disco sounds. She conducts her career from France, where she has permanently lived since the 1980’s, and it’s in France that she does most of her appearances on TV and acts. In the late 2000s, Lear reinvented herself as a theatrical actress, performing in long-running stage plays in France, and recently she released a new album, Tuberose.
Amanda Lear is an extraordinary cult figure that seems to be unfairly renegaded to second place in Pop Culture’s history, and despite her real origins, one thing is certain: she did pave a solid and strong path out of nowhere, from her early days as model, to disco queen, to acclaimed actress, and along the way she captivated the interest and inspired some of the most solid figures in modern history: Dali, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Brian Jones, Keith Moon, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and many more, with her exotic, mysterious ways.

Interview with Amanda Lear in 1976



Decades of speculation: Where did Amanda Lear really come from, according to rumors?

To date, Lear's origins remain largely inconsistent, with her birth pointing out to several different locations, days, and years. Sources point out 1939, 1941, 1946, and 1950 as the most likely dates, though 1939 seems the most logical date. In 2010, Amanda presented her ID card to a French journalist that stated she was born on November 18, 1950 in Saigon. However, that date is unlikely to be real, considering that Amanda Lear first started to get noticed during the late 1950's and early 1960's when she dated jet-set figures from Italy and France. She also married in 1965, making 1950 an unlikely birth date. As for her birthplace, Saigon (which Lear confirmed to be her birthplace in 2021) and British Hong Kong appear to be the most credible versions, but places like Singapore, Switzerland, and even Transylvania have been rumored as Lear's birthplace. At times, Lear stated her father was British and her mother was Russian and that they had both died, but she also claimed on different occasions that she had a French background. She allegedly grew up in the South of France and in Switzerland, or between London and Paris, but nothing is certain and there are no photographs or proof of identity of Lear prior to her surfacing to popularity during the 1960's. Some sources insinuate that Dalí sponsored Lear's sex reassignment surgery in Casablanca in 1963, carried out by Doctor Georges Burou and also that Dalí invented the stage name for her, a pun of the Catalan language "L'Amant de Dalí" (Dalí's lover). In 2016, an article in La Stampa included passport details and a reproduction of a copy of Lear's birth certificate, which states that she was born Alain Maurice Louis René Tap on June 18, 1939 in Saigon, and a picture of Lear before her supposed transition. She denied this and continues to do so. Her alleged transgender background was, at times, also  commented on by Salvador Dalí himself. April Ashley, a transgender entertainer and model, has claimed that in the 1950s and early 1960s, Lear, whose birth name she stated was "Alain Tap", and she were working together in the Parisian transgender revues Madame Arthur and Le Carrousel. In her book, April Ashley's Odyssey, Ashley recalls Lear performing drag acts under the stage name "Peki d'Oslo". Similar facts have been reported by Romy Haag, a transgender artist living in Germany, who ran the popular nightclub Chez Romy in Berlin and knew Amanda. In 1979, Amanda Lear married the French millionaire Alain-Philippe, a bisexual man who was rumored to have had a male lover with Lear's consent. In 2000, a fire broke out in Lear's house, killing her husband and his lover. The fire destroyed personal memorabilia and a number of Dalí's paintings.

 

 

Listen to “[Have I Stayed] Too Long at the Fair?” a new song from Amanda Lear

Listen to some of the best Amanda Lear songs on Spotify

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David Warren

David Warren is editor and author for Pop Expresso reach out at david@popexpresso.com