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The story of Keith Richards' most "spectacular" brush with death

@SamWKemp

Keith Richards has cheated death a number of times, and he has the scars to prove it. The concept of death has been ever-present since his childhood, always lurking among the rubble. In fact, it’s quite likely that if Richards’ mother hadn’t taken her son away from London at the height of the Blitz, he wouldn’t have survived beyond infancy. 

When the bombing died down and they returned to their home in the shell-strewn city, Richards and his mother found that their neighbours had been killed by a V-1 bomb. In more harrowing details, his mother found her baby’s cot amongst the debris: “Hitler dumped one of his V-1’s on my bed! He was after my ass, you know that!” Richards once recalled. This wouldn’t be the last time he would face a near-death experience. The rock star has countless stories in which he narrowly avoided the grave. There is one, however, that stands above all the rest – one he has described as the “most spectacular”.

As one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most anarchic personalities, it’s unsurprising that Richards’ career with The Rolling Stones was filled with stories of house fires, severe stage injuries, and drug overdoses. At one point, the guitarist almost burned down The Playboy Mansion. And yet, somehow, he’s still standing. “Several times I’ve thought, ‘This is it,'” he once said. “And it’s quite a comforting feeling, actually, thinking, ‘Jesus Christ I’m getting out of it now.’ I’ve no pretensions about immortality – I’m the same as everyone else – same as you, same as everybody, I’m the same old bugger, just kind of lucky. I tens Number one on the Who’s Likely To Die list for 10 years, I mean, I was really disappointed when I fell off the list.” 

But of all the times Richards escaped the ferryman, the most memorable and “spectacular” was an incident that happened in Sacramento.

It was 1965, and The Rolling Stones were performing at the Memorial Auditorium in the Californian capital. While they were playing the ‘The Last Time’ (later infamously sampled by The Verve), Richards whacked his guitar into an ungrounded microphone cable, resulting in an explosion that sent shockwaves through his entire body. He immediately collapsed – leading fans to believe that the guitarist had been shot. “I was right there in the front row, in front of Keith,” concertgoer Mick Martin once said. “I saw the blue light. I literally saw Keith fly into the air backwards. I thought he was dead. I was horrified. We all were. Silence fell over the crowd.”

Richards was quickly carried into an ambulance. On the way to the hospital, he slipped in and out of consciousness. The faces of the paramedics floated in front of him, blending together in a soft blur: “Well, they either wake up or they don’t,” one of them said bluntly. Thanks to his thick rubber shoes, however, Richards did wake up. Sheer dumb luck, that’s what saved him – and it would go on to save him many more times in the future.

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