Yes, that title is not misleading you: Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards did indeed snort up his father’s ashes in an effort to bid his parent farewell from this earthly coil. But as ever with Richards, the movement had pragmatic reasons. His father’s ashes had sat in a box for more than half a decade before he decided it was time to cast the ashes away. Peering at the dust that had landed on the table, Richards took this moment to celebrate this moment of intimacy with his father by snorting the dust through a straw. Richards felt unashamed recounting the tale, and personally, I don’t think he should be.
But ever the performer, the guitarist couldn’t help adding a bit of flavour (terrible pun) to the proceedings when he revealed the story to the press. “My father. I snorted my father,” he added, clearly enjoying the spotlight. “He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared.” Then he stopped to re-assure anyone who was worried about the afterbite of the powder: “It went down pretty well and I’m still alive.”
Richards has witnessed a lot of grief in his life. His sparring partner Brian Jones was found dead in his garden. His longtime bandmate Charlie Watts died in 2021, despite leading the cleanest life of any Stone. And he also lost a child, Tara Jo Gunne, at the heartbreaking age of two months.
And yet he’s still found the strength to carry on playing music, no matter what the presses say about him. It was Richards who composed the seminal hooks to ‘Gimme Shelter’, just as it was Richards who acted as musical director during the protracted recording sessions for Exile On Main Street. Who knows what it was like for Richards to undergo all this personal hell, without letting it ruin him?
Paul McCartney, by his own admission, never recovered from the death of John Lennon, and any unresolved dreams he had were lost on the rims of a New York street. Tellingly, McCartney put that grief to good use on ‘Here Today’, perhaps his most naked vocal after ‘Maybe I’m Amazed.’ And then there’s the matter of Led Zeppelin, who could not contemplate a future without John Bonham, the boisterous drummer who died in 1980, just as Zeppelin were about to embark on another tour.
Unlike Mick Jagger, Richards has rarely found it easy to discuss his personal life, although it is interesting that he described bassist Bill Wyman’s departure from the band as a “bereavement”. He takes these things very close to heart, and no matter how much he pours into The Rolling Stones, there’s always a part of him that goes astray with every passing year.
So, rather than criticise his decision to snort his father’s ashes, maybe we should respect this admission as a rare insight into his personal life. And maybe by snorting the ashes, he was reminding himself that he still had a long way to go before someone would do the same to him.
See Richards discuss the reason why he snorted his father’s ashes, below.