When you’re playing the role of a 19th-century Australian outlaw, the chances are you’ll find yourself in a gun battle or two on set. That said, most people would be expecting those battles to be all for show. That was sadly not the case for Mick Jagger when he was shot in the hand on this day in 1969.
The Rolling Stones frontman was playing the titular character of a Tony Richardson film Ned Kelly. The film looked at the outlaw with a keener eye on his revolutionary ideals but very little of that would have brought comfort to the strutting Jagger after he took one in the hand during filming.
Jagger was keen to move into acting when The Rolling Stones’ success was assured. The frontman had become the charismatic mouthpiece of the group and his natural affinity with the camera lens made him a prime target for filmmakers looking to bolster ticket sales. It hadn’t gone down well with the Australian who held Ned Kelly so dear.
Kelly has often been portrayed as a wreckless criminal without morals or values. Certainly, in this film, that’s the only image we really have. While a lot of Australians see Kelly as a Robin Hood type figure, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, it meant the choice of Jagger as the lead was a very divisive one, despite having roots in Australia.
It wasn’t a great start and things got progressively worse for Jagger. Earlier in the year, the singer had fired his bandmate and The Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones and only weeks later he was found dead in his own home. To make matters worse, Jagger and his girlfriend Marianna Faithfull (also cast in the film) had to miss Jones’ funeral due to contractual obligations to be in Australia for filming.
When they got there, things declined even further. Faithfull was soon fired from the movie after she overdosed on drugs and spent several days in the hospital. In a letter written to another girlfriend, Jagger further denoted the film’s compelling curse. The shoot was hit by bad weather, swathes of the crew went down with an illness, a fire destroyed the costumes and there were a number of accidents. It was a disaster but the worst was yet to come.
Jagger was shooting one of his final scenes when things went awry. “A pistol loaded with blanks, which he was using at the time, backfired to drive the metal into his hand,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The newspaper confirmed that Jagger had later left a hospital in Canberra “heavily bandaged and in a sling under his long fur coat. Still affected by the local anaesthetic used to extract the metal, Jagger said he only remembered he was ‘shooting a lot of policemen’ when the incident occurred.”
When the film hit the theatres it was quickly apparent that this had been one of Mick’s misses and the critics reviewed it as such. Happy to tear down Jagger as a performer in the wrong field, Jagger himself later calling the production “a load of shit” and suggested: “I only made it because I had nothing else to do … you never know until you do it whether a film will turn out to be a load of shit, and if it does, all you can say is, ‘Well, that was a load of shit,’ and try to make sure you don’t do anything like it again.”
One good thing did come from the experience, however. After suffering serious burns on his right hand, doctors told him to ensure he was exercising it as much as possible but not to overstrain. It meant Jagger practised the guitar in a different way and it led to the origination of the song ‘Brown Sugar’.
Speaking in 1995 with Rolling Stone, Jagger said: “That’s a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? I wrote that song in Australia in the middle of a field. They were really odd circumstances… my hand had got really damaged in this action sequence. So stupid. I was trying to rehabilitate my hand and had this new kind of electric guitar, and I was playing in the middle of the outback and wrote this tune.”