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Music

Keith Richards remembers learning of John Lennon's death

If you were alive in 1980, there’s a good chance you remember exactly where you were when the news that John Lennon had been murdered broke. The former Beatles frontman was one of the finest songwriters of all time, and a bona fide guitar hero to boot. He changed music forevermore, and for the better, swirling perceptions and changing lives as he went. For this reason, he continues to remain so relevant even some four decades after the tragedy.

Whilst all of us felt, and still feel, some connection to Lennon, due to the universal appeal of his music, none felt the loss more than his friends and family. Whether it be his wife Yoko, sons Julian and Sean, or former Beatles bandmates, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, all have spoken extensively about the gaping wound that was opened the day Lennon was murdered in New York.

Another who has discussed it is Rolling Stones guitar hero, Keith Richards. He shared a deep bond with Lennon, and once described him as “a particularly good friend of mine”, before disclosing that he has stories about the pair “that cannot be told”. 

Despite the newspaper column inches professing a deep and intense rivalry, it is well known that The Beatles and Stones were great friends. They were kindred spirits who were pulling culture into the future, and famously, their destinies were tied together forevermore when Lennon and McCartney wrote the hit ‘I Wanna Be Your Man‘ for The Stones in a corner of a Richmond pub in 1963.

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Duly, Richards remembers where he was when he was told the news that his old friend had passed away. Speaking to The Guardian in 2000 to mark the 20th anniversary of Lennon’s death, the guitarist revealed that he was also in New York on that fateful day. 

Richards recalled: “I was downtown on Fifth Avenue in New York. The first bit of news I got, I thought: ‘He’ll make it. It’s just a flesh wound.’ And then, later on, the news really came. He wasn’t just a mate of mine, he was a mate of everybody’s, really. He was a funny guy. And you realise that you’re stunned. You really don’t believe it. And you think, ‘God, why can’t I do anything about it?’ I got well drunk on it. And I had another one for John. Then there was the confusion, the phone calls, trying to find out if Yoko was OK.”

“There were the Beatles, and there was John. As a band, they were a great unit. But John, he was his own man. We got along very well. We didn’t see each other very often. But he would sort of turn up at your hotel. Usually, if I was in the city, I’d stay at the Plaza. If John turned up, that meant he wanted to party.”

“He didn’t come there to discuss, you know, philosophy, although it would end up like that. I would just get into town, and there’d be a knock at the door: ‘Hey, mon, what is going on around here?’ We would get the guitars down and sing. And, in our spare time, discuss world domination.”

The Rolling Stones legend concluded: “He’s rubbed off on me as much as anybody. A bit of me rubbed off on John, too, you know. He took it with him. My father just passed away, and he winked at me just before he died. I really feel a lot better about death now. I’m getting off on that wink. I’d give the wink to John.”

Watch Richards discuss his friendship with Lennon below.

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