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Music

45 years on from Keith Richards' Toronto drug bust

@SamWKemp

Keith Richards found a way to be on the wrong side of the law since 1967. In the February of that year, he and his bandmate Mick Jagger were arrested at Richards’ home, Redlands, for drugs possession. Exactly ten years later, the law came knocking yet again.

In the late winter of ’77, Richards was in Toronto, where The Rolling Stones were set to perform at the El Mocambo Club for their live concert album Love You Live. Richards’ stay had been pretty uneventful all in all; that is until the Canadian Mounted Police bust in and found five grams of cocaine and 22 grams of heroin in his room. Richards was promptly charged with “possession of cocaine and heroin with intent to traffic”.

But to formally arrest the star, the police needed Richards to be conscious, which, at that moment, he was not. The Stones guitarist later recalled being slapped into life by one of the arresting officers: “That took them about two hours to drag me out — pow, pow. I woke up with, like, rosy cheeks. ‘Oh, he’s awake: You are under arrest!’ (Laughs) ‘Oh, great!’ I looked at the old lady and I said, ‘I’ll see you in about seven years, babe'”.

This was not good news for Richards. Because of the trafficking charge, he faced a minimum sentence of seven years in jail if found guilty. After being interrogated, he was released on $25,000 bail. However, he could only breathe a quick sigh of relief before the stark reality of his situation hit home. He was still facing a potentially life-changing criminal sentence, after all.

At the court hearing, Jagger received a suspended sentence after the judge concluded that Richards had not brought drugs across the Canadian border – rather he had purchased them during his stay in Canada. More good news came when a blind woman called Rita Bedard privately appealed to the judge, explaining that Richards had looked out for her whenever The Rolling Stones were on the road in Canada, arranging for taxis to come and pick her up after shows.

Bedard’s portrait of Richards as a benevolent rock god convinced the judge to reconsider his sentence. “This chick went to the judge’s house in Toronto, personally, and she told him this simple story, y’know?” Richards recalled. “And from there I think he figured out the way to get Canada and himself and myself off of the hook. And so I was sentenced to a concert for the blind — which I gladly performed, y’know? And my blind angel came through, bless her heart”.

In the end, Richards walked away with a very cushy part sentence, which involved him playing a local charity concert for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in 1979 with The Rolling Stones and Ron Wood’s side band the New Barbarians. The near-miss also convinced Jagger to kick the heroin for good, and by 1979, he was two years clean.

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