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Did Keith Richards really have a full-body blood transfusion to get sober?

The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is the image that greets you when you look up the word hedonism in the Oxford Dictionary. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Richards is still alive today and, with that, he has had countless near-death experiences over the years which should have ended his wild ride. However, although it appears like Richards has attempted to celebrate excess throughout his career, the guitarist tried everything to eventually clean up his act.

Richards now only enjoys the occasional beer or glass of wine, but the rest of his life has famously been a different story and his five drug charges paint a picture of a life far different to the more tranquil one that he now leads. Speaking to the Telegraph in 2018, Richards was asked about his well-known hedonistic tendencies, “Drugs are not interesting these days,” he said, before adding: “They are very institutionalised and bland. And, anyway, I’ve done ’em all.”

“I’m not saying I’m definitely off all of this stuff,” he also admits. “In six months’ time, I might be on it again. But at the moment, for a couple of months, I haven’t touched it,” before going on to say he finds sobriety “novel”.

Sobriety is something that Richards had been chasing for decades. The wildest tale of his journey to sobriety is that the ‘Satisfaction’ guitarist once apparently had a full-body blood transfusion to get clean. With a life led on the rocks, and with more than one rumour about the guitarist being reported as fact, could it possibly be true?

Stones confidant Tony Sanchez later described the process in his 1979 tell-all book about the band, Up and Down with The Rolling Stones, stating: “In the midst of this chaos it was time for the Stones to finalise plans for their seven-week tour of Britain and Europe. Keith knew that he was in no condition to go on the road, but there was no time for a cure. Withdrawing would have meant being laid up for weeks — and that was out of the question.”

Sanchez then claimed that record producer Marshall Chess was the brains behind the ‘full-body blood transfusion’. The book states that Chess told Richards: “There’s a doctor from Florida who can get you off dope in a few days by changing your blood. He did it for me in Mexico a while back, and it worked perfectly.”

The procedure allegedly saw an unnamed Floridian doctor carry out the blood change for Richards in a villa called Le Pec Varp, in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland. The plan was for Richards to make his way to Switzerland immediately after The Stones performed in Birmingham on September 19th in 1973. The band were due to hit the stage in the Swiss city, Berne, on September 26th which Richards would recover in time to play.

According to Richards’ biographer, Victor Bockris, the process “involved a hemodialysis process in which the patient’s blood was passed through a pump, where it was separated from sterile dialysis fluid by a semipermeable membrane.” He added: “This allowed any toxic substances that had built up in the bloodstream, which would normally have been secreted by the kidneys, to diffuse out of the blood into the dialysis fluid.”

However, the guitarist would finally reveal how these wild rumours years were spread later and characteristically, the whole story was ignited by Richards’ boredom. “Someone asked me how I cleaned up, so I told them I went to Switzerland and had my blood completely changed,” Richards recalled. “I was just fooling around. I opened my jacket and said, ‘How do you like my blood change?’

“That’s all it was, a joke. I was fucking sick of answering that question. So I gave them a story.”

It remains unknown whether Sanchez and Bockris knew all along that this was untrue and were in on it with Richards or decided to run with the story without questioning its validity. However, Richards’ word on the matter is final, and seemingly he got tired of being asked about how he kicked his heroin habit. Therefore, Richards decided to make up the most elaborate tale he could. As this was Keith Richards, nothing was outside of the realms of possibility, and everyone fell for the story.