The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards is the ultimate rockstar who wrote the book on top shelf shenanigans. This anecdote, however, of when he 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, Life, which was released in 2010, Richards came clean about the scandalous stay 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?’“
Reflecting on the incident years later, Richards discussed that near fateful night again with Q Magazine in 2016: “There’s all these bunnies all over the place – don’t throw that lot in front of the Stones, you know. We had a tour doctor we used to love to raid. We’d get him stoned and take his bag.
“Bobby and I stashed ourselves in this john and were trying everything from the doctor’s bag. Somewhere a fire started. There’s bells ringing and people running down the corridor. As we left the bathroom, it burst into flames.”
The house would luckily be unscathed and, fortunately, there were no casualties at the hands of Richards. However, as the Stones man noted in his biography, it wouldn’t be long before Heffner would relocate the property to Los Angeles. Was the extreme relocation to the other side of America Heffner’s polite way of stopping Richards from wreaking havoc the next time he would be in Chicago? Almost certainly not, but it’s a comical picture to envisage nonetheless.