To say that Grace Jones was a head-turner is an understatement akin to Captain Lawrence Oates announcing, “I am just going outside and may be some time,” before embarking on an ill-fated Antarctic expedition. In fact, throughout the 1980s, Grace Jones was responsible for head-turns of such severity that she has her own section on ‘whiplashes’ Wikipedia page.
However, it wasn’t just her remarkable aesthetic that captivated, allured and, in some ways, perturbed. She was as fiery and striking in person as she was in pictures. After all, it takes a relatively unflinching character to almost permanently dress like a Gladiator who strolled onto the Blade Runner set.
Thus, in 1981, Russell Harty should well have known that he was wafting a flame near a dangerous touchpaper when he continually sent Jones fizzing by turning his back to her on his talk show. While there is evidently some petulance at play from both parties, it would seem that the outburst on Jones’ cards had been marked well in advance.
According to her autobiography, her caustic outburst was the culmination of a toxic combination of bad cocaine, pigeon shit and infected sinuses (unclear whether this is linked to the avian arse juice and narcotics, but it seems possible). As Jones writes: “Bad coke was the last thing I wanted before I went on a live television show. The purest form, maybe, but anything else was not going into my body.”
As if that wasn’t enough to cause a brooding storm, the tables had also been literally turned on the star between rehearsal and the live show. As she explains: “We rehearsed the show in some detail; the three of us politely sat all facing each other in a semicircle. There didn’t seem to be anything to worry about…On the live show, the real thing, it was all very different. There was a live audience, which immediately changed the atmosphere. Things moved very fast, and I wasn’t feeling any better.”
Later adding: “I was meant to sit next to Russell Harty and keep still and quiet. I was all dressed up like an Amazonian seductress, and treated like the hired help. I thought, This is no way to treat a guest. This wasn’t at all like what we’d rehearsed. Being stuck there while he ignored me made me feel very uncomfortable. I felt I was provoked. I was feeling exhausted, had no idea where I was, and was coated in pigeon shit; now it seemed I was hallucinating that I was on a live chat show and the host was ignoring me. Pissed off, I poked him in the back.”
And from then on, there was an air of inevitably about her continual slaps to his shoulder. “I wasn’t attacking him because I was drunk or stoned,” Jones explains. “I was lashing out because I felt he was not being proper. You can see if you watch it. I am being sensitive rather than unruly. In fact, because I was tired and disorientated, everything was heightened. I never wanted to do these kinds of shows high. If anything, I get high afterward.”
In a bit of an amoral minefield, she then concludes: “When he did turn around and look at me, I started to see Mas P (her step-grandfather) in his face, and an irritable expression that seemed to say, women are the root of all evil….Harty was rude. I wasn’t going to put up with it. I lashed out on live television. It takes balls to do that, which could be seen as a little crazy. And then they tried to get me back on the show! The ratings soared. I had done him a favour. They wanted a rematch. It was all so tacky.”
The attack in the video below commences at around the seven-minute mark.