Helen Mirren’s wild story about The Who drummer Keith Moon
Keith Moon earned the name ‘Moon The Loon’ for a reason, and his wild antics would become a major part of his fame – even more than his outrageous drumming talent at the heart of The Who. Those around at the height of his debauchery has a tale about their experience in the presence of Moon, a list of people that includes the great Helen Mirren, who is still dining out on her strange encounter with him decades later, but, after hearing it, you’ll understand why.
A man who lived every single day as though it was his last, when he had an impulse to do something, there was simply nothing stopping him. This innate childlike personality in Moon would tragically lead to his life ending devastatingly prematurely when he overdosed aged just 32 in 1978. It would be remiss in celebrating his fantastical behaviour, without mentioning that it wasn’t all bells and whistles with Keith Moon. The drummer wasn’t a caricature, but a real human who battled real issues just like everybody else; being a world-famous rockstar doesn’t take away the humanity of Moon.
Moon’s antics were once nailed perfectly by Alice Cooper, who remarked: “Nobody could compete with Keith Moon. Think of it this way: about 40 per cent of what you’ve heard about me or Iggy or Ozzy is probably true. Everything you’ve ever heard about Keith Moon is true, and you’ve only heard a tenth of it.”
With Alice Cooper’s comments in mind, there’s no reason for us to doubt the validity of Helen Mirren’s tale, which comes from her time in the West End play, Teeth ‘N’ Smiles, back in 1975. Appearing on Conan in 2008, Mirren divulged: “I did a play about the rock ‘n’ roll business, called Teeth’ N’ Smiles, written by David Hare and I was playing a Janis Joplin character,” she explains.
“I’m about to go on for my last entrance, and my dressing room overlooks the back alley where the stage door is. I hear this incredible crashing and banging. I look out the back because that’s where all the trash cans are and there climbing out of the trash cans is this completely drunken guy. Totally arseholed, as we say in England.
“He’s covered now in trash, and he’s got a pinstripe suit on. He looks a complete madman, and I thought, ‘it’s just some drunk as usual on a Saturday night in London’. So I go waiting to go on for my last entrance and then I hear the crashing and the banging coming in from the stage door. I think, ‘Oh my god, he’s broken into the theatre’. Then I hear the crashing and the banging coming up to the stairs outside my dressing room, then the crashing and the banging stops right outside my dressing room.
“Then I hear (knocks animatedly on the floor), ‘Helen, come out’,” Mirren screams in her best Keith Moon impression. “Then I open the door, and it’s Keith Moon. He was just standing there, and he was the man in the trash can. He goes, ‘Hello darling, I hear you’re fantastic in this play’, and I say, ‘Hello Keith, it’s really nice to meet you. I’m very honoured, thank you for coming to visit.’
“I say, ‘I’ve got to leave you now as I’ve got to leave you now as I’ve got to go on stage’, he says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll come with you, I’ll come and play in your band it’ll be good’. I’m so idiotic, and this is why I’d say I’m not rock ‘n’ roll, if I was rock ‘n’ roll I’d say, ‘Yeah, come on man’. Instead, I said you can’t as it’s a theatre and we don’t do that kind of thing. One of my great regrets is not having appeared on-stage with Keith Moon,” Mirren said remorsefully.
The story paints a rather dark picture of what an average Saturday night in London entailed for Keith Moon and him rambling the streets, but once Mirren realised who he was the story suddenly changed into a light-hearted anecdote. Although there is a charm at the heart of Mirren’s story – and how Moon is this free-spirit who almost blagged his way onto the West End stage – It is also drenched in sadness. The realisation that despite the fame and the riches that came with his career’s success, Keith Moon was still wandering the streets of the capital of his face and covered in trash, without a caring person looking out for him. Instead, everybody just said, ‘Well, that’s Keith Moon, what else would you expect?’.