Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ 10 wildest moments
The Rolling Stones are rightly revered for their unstoppable rock ‘n’ roll. Exploding on to the rocking rhythm and blues scene in London, the band arrived complete with a secret weapon: Keith Richards. As well as being known as the ‘Human Riff’—a moniker garnered from his unbeatable ear for a tune—Keef also brought the danger to proceedings.
It was here that the band helped to differentiate themselves from the sudden surge of British pop groups. While The Beatles were a ready-made pop outfit, The Animals were the calm and cultured gang and The Kinks were London’s own soul men, The Rolling Stones represented the flash of a flick knife, the glint in the eye and the balled up fist of the youth. They were the darker side of rock ‘n’ roll.
As anyone who has met Keith Richards will attest to, there’s one thing he always was and always will be—authentic. It means that while in this day and age you could easily expect a group to be “mad, bad and dangerous to know” on the pages of your favourite music rag and sweet choirboys behind closed doors, Richards was the real deal and lived out the rock ‘n’ roll fantasy many of us imagined he did.
It was a wild life for the guitarist. Richards has not only been a part of one of the biggest bands of the 20th century, cementing his name along those of his idols and beyond in the annals of music history, he is also rightly seen as the archetypal rock star. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll have always been the name of the game for Richards and while he has slowed down of late, his stories are wilder and crazier than anybody else’s.
To prove that, we’ve brought together 10 of Keith Richards wildest moments in one perfect list. Largely taken from his incredible memoir, Life, the stories are not only impressively varied but also a testament to the man’s durability. A life like his would have surely ended earlier for a weaker man.
Once threatened to stab Donald Trump
Back in 1989, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was seen as an ageing rocker. 30 years later and he’s seen as an ageless legend. While in the late eighties he may have been a rockstar apparently on his way out of the hedonistic lifestyle, he was still setting trends. Namely, the dislike of the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
At the time the Rolling Stones were coming to the end of their massive Steel Wheels tour with a huge pay-per-view show to increase the massive cash-in opportunity. The only problem was that the only venue they could find was Donald Trump’s Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. With Richards vitriolic hate of Trump known by most of the band, then Rolling Stones manager Michael Cohl had a lot of work to do to ensure smooth sailing.
The deal was made that Trump wouldn’t be at the hotel when the band performed and that they would never cross paths. Naturally, Trump soon arrived at the hotel full of hyperbole of why he should be there. The news arrived at the Stones dressing room and landed badly with Richards.
Cohl later said: “They call me back, at which point Keith pulls out his knife and slams it on the table and says, ‘What the hell do I have you for? Do I have to go over there and fire him myself? One of us is leaving the building – either him, or us’. I said, ‘No. I’ll go do it. Don’t you worry’.”
He snorted his dad’s ashes… maybe
Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what you read. Richards, arguably the archetypal rock ‘n’ roller, once tried to snort his father’s ashes in an attempt to continue his rebellious streak.
The story was originally shared in a wide-ranging interview with NME back in 2007 as the veteran rocker opened up about his debaucherous past. In the interview, Richards was asked what the strangest drug he had taken was, his replay said it all: “The strangest thing I’ve tried to snort? My father. I snorted my father.” Adding: “He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared, he didn’t give a shit. It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive.”
Richards has backtracked a little on the legendary tale of late, “The complete story is lost in the usual slanting,” complained Richards when the story first broke. “The truth of the matter is that I planted a sturdy English Oak. I took the… ashes [and sprinkled them beneath the tree], and he is now growing oak trees and he would love me for it!”
In 2016 though, Richards seemed to double-down on the original tale. Speaking with American GQ, Richards opened up a little more about the episode, “I had him in a box in England,” remembered the guitarist. “I bought this little oak sapling, my idea being that he was gonna fertilise the tree, but when I pulled the top off of the box, wafts of Dad landed on the table. And my dad knows I’d always liked my cocaine, a snort here and there. So I just (mimes snorting) and had a line of dad.”
A blind fan named Rita once saved him from jail
Keith Richards has likely been “saved” by a lot of women during his time but none have a claim like Rita. A blind fan from Canada once helped to save Richards from what seemed like an unavoidable drug charge when the group set foot in the country.
The incident arose when the guitarist’s girlfriend of the time Anita Pallenberg, who had been travelling with Richards, had been nabbed on her flight from London to Toronto with 10g of marijuana and a spoon containing traces of heroin on it. Not a good way to start a business trip. Pallenberg’s customs issue was enough for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to raid of Richards’ room at the Harbour Castle Hilton, February 27th, 1977.
“They couldn’t wake me. By law you have to be conscious to be arrested,’’ Richards recalls in his 2010 autobiography Life. “My memory of it is waking up and them going slap, slap, two Mounties dragging me about the room, slapping me. Trying to get me conscious.’’ Richards admitted that he had been awake for “five days” straight prior to his arrest. The police would find nearly an ounce of high-grade heroin in his room and later charged him with “possession of heroin for the purposes of trafficking.”
It looked as if the guitarist was finally about to spend some time in jail for his continued drug-taking but Rita Bedard would show up for Richards and be an influential figure in getting him off. Bedard, who has been blind all of her life, was an avid Stones fan, often hitchhiking to see the band perform live. She orchestrated masses of people to be at the court for every hearing and also spoke to the judge prior to Richards’ sentencing.
After their discussion, the judge order Richards to continue with his drug therapy and to “give a special performance at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind,” helping him to avoid jail—all thanks to Rita, the “angel”.
For a time, it appeared as though The Rolling Stones were the main target of Metropolitan Police drug busts. The band’s flagrant use of substances had begun to permeate the public consciousness and the urge to make an example of the group was electrified.
It meant the group were often set-up for sting operations. One such moment would interrupt a particularly interesting session at Richards’ home. In February 1967, nineteen police officers began yet another raid and swarmed Richards’ home finding the group in a more than compromising position, allegedly reports were “they had interrupted an orgy of cunnilingus in which Jagger had been licking a Mars candy bar pushed into Marianne’s vagina.” Naturally, those rumours have been heavily denied by all involved with Faithfull describing the gossip as “a dirty old man’s fantasy” in her autobiography.
The story may feel like the beginning of an Andy Warhol-directed porno, but the fact is that the police did not burst into the badly lit and poorly soundtracked scene, in fact, they didn’t burst in at all. The truth is that they arrived with a very British, and rather loud, knock on the door. Making the rumour of Faithfull arriving at the door in nothing but an orange fur bedcover and holding a Mars bar, far more likely.
He was a nanny for a short time in Australia
The Rolling Stones were given a rare break during a layover in Australia and Richards linked up with a single mum with an apparent pharmaceutical cocaine connection. However, during his downtime, he became enchanted by the casual and comfortable pace of suburban life.
Richards recalls in his 2010 memoirs Life: “Living in the suburbs of Melbourne for a week with a mother and child was kind of weird,” wrote the guitarist. “Within four or five days, I was like a right Australian old man. Sheila, where’s my fucking breakfast? … It was like I’d been there forever. And it felt great.” After a hectic life on the road for the last decade, it’s unsurprising that the allure of domesticity proved attractive.
It even saw Richards provide a bit of free child care while his girlfriend went to work. It would see the stadium-sized rocker as the man of the house: “I was a husband for a week. Changed the baby’s diapers. There’s somebody in a suburb in Melbourne who doesn’t even know I wiped his ass.”
Richards once stayed awake for nine days
Staying up all night may well be the first lesson in rock ‘n’ roll debauchery but even Keith must’ve been impressed by his longstanding record of longest time without sleep—an astonishing nine days. That feat was achieved in 1978 as the band were recording Some Girls.
The album was a tough one to get over the line thanks to the band’s increased drug habits. Mick Jagger, speaking with Rolling Stone, put the band’s prior creative lull down to one thing, “Everyone was using drugs, Keith [Richards] particularly,” said the frontman in 1995. “So I think it suffered a bit from all that. General malaise. I think we got a bit carried away with our own popularity and so on. It was a bit of a holiday period. I mean, we cared, but we didn’t care as much as we had. Not really concentrating on the creative process.” For the new record, they would have to get their head in the game.
‘Before They Make Me Run’ from the record was the result of a five-day intense studio session, Keith wrote in Life, “One [engineer] would flop under the desk and have a kip, and I’d put the other one in and keep going.” However, he then went on to boast about the record that he’s most proud of from this drug-fuelled era, “Nine days without a wink,” he said.
“I fell asleep standing up, eventually… I was just putting another cassette back on the shelf, and I was feeling great, and I turned ’round and fell asleep. I fell against the edge of the speaker. Woke up in a pool of blood, wondering, ‘Is that claret?’”
An acid trip to Torquay with John Lennon
Often pitched as arch-enemies, there are few people who could understand what it was like to be in The Rolling Stones like members of The Beatles. Add to that their dual acceleration of funds and access to drugs and there were always going to be some crazy stories featuring two of the biggest bands of all time.
Richards’ ability to churn out a bouncing riff is almost matched by his ability to drink and take drugs—but even he found his match in John Lennon, who was no slouch in the party stakes and in his memoir Life, Richards details a particularly intense and hedonistic “acid-fueled road trip”.
The duo took themselves off on a trip around the British isles during a rare three days off. Propelled by acid, the group spent some time in Torquay before finally getting themselves home, without much memory of the events that took place.
Richards has little recollection of the three days he and Lennon spent on the road (who would?), the Beatle didn’t have any clearer idea himself: “Johnny and I were so out there that some years later, in New York, he would ask ‘What happened on that trip?’”
Chuck Berry’s “greatest hit”
Keith Richards has always been infatuated with the iconic Chuck Berry. He was, after all, the man who inspired him to pick up a guitar in the first place. But while Richards was certainly a fan he let his heart get the better of his head when he met his idol.
Richards wrote to Rolling Stone following Berry’s sad demise and shared his story: “Chuck Berry once gave me a black eye, which I later called his greatest hit. We saw him play in New York somewhere, and afterwards, I was backstage in his dressing room, where his guitar was lying in its case.”
Now, we don’t know Keith Richards personally, but we’d assume that good ol’ Keef isn’t one for abiding by the rules, even if they are the unspoken writs of the guitarist, such as ‘never touch a man’s guitar without his blessing’.
“I wanted to look, out of professional interest,” Richards remembers, “And as I’m just plucking the strings, Chuck walked in and gave me this wallop to the frickin’ left eye. But I realised I was in the wrong. If I walked into my dressing room and saw somebody fiddling with my axe, it would be perfectly all right to sock ’em, you know? I just got caught.”
The moment he threatened Truman Capote
After The Beatles had bowed out of their unofficial scrap, The Rolling Stones were at the top of the rock ‘n’ roll pile in 1972. The band’s debauchery was at its peak and their tours were the stuff of legend. It was something Rolling Stone, the magazine, was keen to explore and so sent along with the acclaimed writer Truman Capote.
As we’ve already discovered with Donald Trump, Richards was never a fan of the establishment and he saw Capote as a member of the high-brow intelligentsia and equally despised him and his presence on the tour.
Richards later recalled in his 2010 autobiography Life: “I remember, back at the hotel, kicking Truman’s door. I’d splatter it with ketchup I’d picked up off a trolley. Come out, you old Queen. What are you doing round here? You want cold blood?” Klenfer remembers that Keith teamed up with the head of the PR agency to trash Truman’s door with some stolen ketchup “so it looked like blood”.
The band’s publisicit at the time, Carol Klenfer then alleges that she remembered the practical joke coming with an added threat: “I’m going to beat the shit out of you.” Luckily, things never reached that point.
A shocking stage presence
On December 3rd back in 1965, The Rolling Stones were performing to 5,000 wild fans at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But it was here that Richards would have his closest call with death.
The Stones were at their rightful place on stage when, during the performance of their track ‘The Last Time’, an ironic choice which isn’t lost on anyone, Richards’ guitar touched his microphone stand and an electrical blast erupted from the axe—Richards dropped to the ground unconscious.
The crowd became worried that the musician had been shot, a notion which was shared with promoter Jeff Hughson. It wasn’t an inconceivable notion, The Stones had slowly been gathering a reputation as the dark side of rock and roll and there was every chance they were on some lunatic’s hit list. Luckily, that wasn’t the case but Richards had suffered a serious electric shock.
As with every non-sensical occurrence that has ever happened to Keith Richards in his life, he was alive enough to see the funny side. The guitarist later laughed that he recalled hearing a doctor in the hospital say, “Well, they either wake up or they don’t.” Richards, in a show of his unwillingness to conform to the idea of mortality, returned to the stage the very next night ready to perform.
Setting the Playboy Mansion on fire
When the guitarist nearly burnt down the Playboy Mansion, could well be the ultimate Keith Richards story. The incident in question took place in 1972, a time whilst the Rolling Stones were on their infamous tour of North America that saw the group cause a barrage of chaos night after night in each passing town they set foot in.
The Stones performed three shows in Chicago at the International Amphitheatre and, given their arrival, where else would the hippest rock act on the planet lay their head at night apart from Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Mansion?
In his legendary autobiography, Richards came clean about the scandalous their stay at the party house and explained how he nearly made the whole mansion erupt into flames “[Saxophonist] Bobby [Keys] and I played it a little far when we set fire to the bathroom,” he explained. “Well, we didn’t, the dope did. Not our fault. Bobby and I were just sitting in the john, comfortable, nice john, sitting on the floor, and we’ve got the doc’s bag and we’re just smorgasbording.”
Richards then disclosed further detail: “‘I wonder what these do?’ Bong. And at a certain point… talk about hazy, or foggy, Bobby says, ‘It’s smoky in here.’ And I’m looking at Bobby and can’t see him. And the drapes are smouldering away; everything was just about to go off big-time… There was a thumping on the door, waiters and guys in black suits bringing buckets of water. They get the door open and we’re sitting on the floor, our pupils very pinned. I said, ‘We could have done that ourselves. How dare you burst in on our private affair?’“