Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards may have mellowed with age, but as anyone who has read his memoir can attest, the iconic musician had enough crazy moments to fill several lifetimes. You already know about the infamous incident when Richards snorted, well, you know… (“My dad wouldn’t have cared,” the guitarist said of the incident).
But what about the time he jumped out of a burning house in Laurel Canyon wearing only a T-shirt? Or that other time he stayed up nine days straight while recording Some Girls? Those tales and several others await you in our Keith-lore roundup. We’re taking a look back at the weirdest and wildest moments in Keith Richards’ 50 plus years in the limelight.
By the mid-‘70s, Richards had been busted so many times for drugs that it hardly surprised anyone anymore. However, this bust was the bust of all busts. In fact, it was so bad that it nearly derailed Rolling Stones while they were at their peak of fame. In February ’77, Canadian police officers found one ounce of illegal substances in Richards’s hotel room.
The guitarist was arrested, charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, and faced a pretty lengthy prison sentence. He posted bond and was given a special visa that permitted him to travel south to the U.S. to undergo an experimental cure for addiction. By the time his case came up in October ’78, fans were pissed.
Every time Richards pulled up to the courtroom, he was greeted with five to six hundred fans chanting, “Free Keith, free Keith.” Between his superstardom and his muscular legal defense team, Keith was found guilty but still managed to walk away nearly scotch-free. His sentence was to play a benefit concert for the blind, which Richards gladly did.
So, how did Richards and his legal team manage to pull this one-off? Well, the guitarist partied with some pretty important people while on bail in Canada. The Prime Minister’s wife, Margaret Trudeau, was a huge fan of The Rolling Stones and hung out with the band.
Thirty years younger than her husband, Pierre Trudeau, Margaret was known for being a flower child. “She hitchhiked to our shows. The chick was absolutely fearless,” the guitarist wrote in his memoir, Life. The Prime Minister’s wife heard that Richards had been arrested and charged with possession, so she pleaded with the judge.
I guess it pays off to party with the right people. Six months later, fans flocked to Toronto to see The Rolling Stones perform. As for Margaret, she and her husband separated, largely due to her partying ways and affairs with members of the U.S. government. She was also associated with both Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger, but that’s another story for a different time.
“Adrenaline is the most amazing thing we have,” Richards told reporters in 1992. One of the craziest things about Richards (there are plenty) is his ability to go without sleep. In fact, he recorded Before They Make Me Run in a five-day binge, according to his memoir. However, his actual record for not sleeping is nearly twice that long.
“Nine days without a wink,” Richards bragged. “I fell asleep standing up, eventually. The guitarist said he was feeling great but fell asleep while putting away a cassette, and it did not end well. “I fell against the edge of the speaker. Woke up in a pool of blood, wondering, ‘Is that claret?'” Richards explained.
In 1966, Richards bought the Redlands—a picturesque estate in Southern England—for £20,000. A few months later, Redlands became the site of the most infamous drug bust of the ‘60s. One night, 20 cops showed up on Richards’ doorstep in search of illegal substances.
Jagger, Richards, and singer Marianne Faithfull were just coming down from a day-long trip. Let’s just say the three were furious at the cops. “There’s a knock on the door, I look out the window, and there’s this whole lot of dwarves outside,” Richards wrote in his 2010 memoir. “I’d never been busted before, and I’m still on [drugs].”
It later came out that the police had been tipped off by the tabloids, who had been tipped off by Richards’ driver. “He never walked the same again,” Richards said of the driver who betrayed his trust. After the bust, rumors began spreading around town that the police had found Jagger in a compromising position involving a Mars bar and Faithfull.
But according to Richards, that was not the case. He had, in fact, opened the door politely, and everything was fine. “How the Mars bar got into the story, I don’t know,” the guitarist later recalled. “It shows you what’s in people’s minds.”
Richards found himself between a rock and a hard place in 1972. He had been exiled from Britain for tax reasons and from France on drug charges. But this is Keith Richards we’re talking about—he knows how to make the best out of any situation.
So, what did the guitarist do? Well, he decided to shack up with Italian actress Anita Pallenberg and her family at their home in the Swiss Alps. Not too shabby, eh? Pallenberg fondly remembered driving around town in Ferraris and Bentleys and a revolving door of Richards’ friends.
“The reason I made it through [his exile status] was that it was all top-quality s**t,” Richards said of his drug supply in Switzerland. “You’ll do anything to get your hands on it, and if you’ve got to move across international borders, then you better start figuring it out!”
But when the guitarist wasn’t busy partying or trying to get his hands on illegal substances, he was skiing the slopes. “I learned to ski when I was a complete junkie,” Richards once boasted to reporters. Those who were on the trip say that the guitarist wasn’t afraid of taking risks and was actually quite the skier. Who would have thought?
After finally being able to return to Britain, Richards decided to celebrate the only way he knew how: more partying. One night, he was partying at his home on Cheyne Walk in London. Besides his usual buddies, the guest list also included the great Chicago blues producer, Marshall Chess.
Richards was blasting reggae, and everyone was getting lit when suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The police busted inside, where they found loads of illegal substances, a handgun, a rifle, and 110 rounds of ammunition. Richards faced 25 charges but somehow got off with the help of his “brilliant” lawyer, Richard Du Cann.
When Richards was a teenager, he spent two full years in the Boy Scouts. However, his days as a Scout came to an end after he smuggled a few bottles of whiskey into a jamboree. Before he knew it, Richards found himself in a fistfight with the guys of what he called the “Beaver Patrol.”
“All the fighting was found out after I went to slug one guy, but hit the tent pole instead, and broke a bone in my hand!” Richards explained in 2010. A few weeks later, the guitarist punched “some dummo recruit” and was expelled from the Boy Scouts.
Richards has had quite a few near-death experiences. However, there’s one close call that he says was his “most spectacular.” It was December 3, 1965, and Richards was playing The Last Time in front of 5,000 screaming fans at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento.
Everything was going great until Richards’ guitar touched his microphone stand and suddenly a flame shot out. The guitarist dropped to the ground. He was out cold. It happened so suddenly that promoter Jeff Hughson actually thought that Richards had been shot by someone in the audience.
“I literally saw Keith fly into the air backward. I thought he was dead,” said Rolling Stones fan Mick Martin, who was there that night. “I was horrified. We all were.” It turns out that Richards had been shocked by an electrical surge from his microphone.
First responders arrived at the scene, carried him off stage, and rushed him to the hospital. The doctors believe that Richards survived the incident thanks to his suede Hush Puppies shoes— whose thick soles stopped the electrical charge. In proper Keith Richards fashion, he was back on stage the following night.
The Rolling Stones’ 1975 Tour in America was hands-down the tour of a lifetime, and for a good reason too. “[It] was fueled by Merck,” the guitarist wrote in his 2010 memoir, referring to the ultrapure, pharmaceutically manufactured form of cocaine.
“It was when we initiated the building of hideaways behind the speakers on the stage so that we could have lines between songs,” Richards continued. “One song, one bump was the rule between Ronnie [Wood] and me.” The guitarist also had other types of drugs hidden between amplifiers, along with laced cigarettes.
Everything seemed to be going great until Richards, Wood, and their supplier went out looking for some good BBQ in Arkansas. They grabbed a bite to eat, signed a few autographs, and headed back on the road. But their short detour turned into an extended trip when they were pulled over and arrested for reckless driving.
But the musicians knew they were protected. “The phone starts ringing from England, D.C., the state department, all our congressmen and senators,” deputy prosecutor Tommy Mays told reporters. So, after posting a $162 bail, the boys were free to go.
In his 2010 memoir, Richards claims that he’s a good driver, despite the fact that he fell asleep at the wheel while his young son, Marlon, was in the backseat. The guitarist and his seven-year-old were driving back from a concert when Richards plowed his Bentley into a tree.
“Until five or six years ago, there was still my bloody handprint on the back seat,” Marlon wrote in 2010. “And on the dashboard, there was still the dent where my nose hit it.” The guitarist was arrested when police found illegal substances in his coat pocket.
During the Rolling Stones’ Australian tour in ’73, Richards met a single mom who had good drug connections. So, naturally, the guitarist moved in with her during a layover in his tour Down Under. “Living in the suburbs of Melbourne for a week with a mother and child was kind of weird,” Richards recalled in 2010.
“Within four or five days, I was like a right Australian old man. Sheila, where’s my fucking breakfast? It was like I’d been there forever. And it felt great.” Richards also said that he took care of the woman’s baby while she was at work.
While on a tour stop in Chicago, Richards and the Stones’ saxophonist Bobby Keys were invited to stay at the original Playboy Mansion by none other than Hugh Hefner himself. But the trip almost ended very badly when Richards and Keys nearly set the house ablaze while doing drugs in the bathroom. “Bobby says, ‘It’s smoky in here,'” Richards recalled in his memoir.
“And then a little later, there’s a thumping at 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 eyeballs very pinned.” Luckily for Richards, the house was saved.
In his 2010 memoir, Richards tells story after story about his experimentation with psychedelics in the late ‘60s. However, there’s one particular trip that he considers pretty special. After bumping into John Lennon one day, the two embarked on what Richards called an “acid-fueled road trip.”
Over the course of two or three days, Lennon and Richards drove all throughout England while under the influence of drugs. Richards recalled driving in circles and dropping by Lennon’s country house to say hi to his wife, Cynthia. Years later, the pair met up again in New York, and Richards recalls Lennon asking, “What happened on that trip?”
Richards has ingested quite an array of substances over the years. However, nothing is as bizarre as his 2007 confession. Five years after the death of Richards’ father, Bertrand Richards, the guitarist implied that he committed an act that brought him closer to his father.
So, what did he do exactly? Let’s just say that it involved mixing his dad’s ashes with some drugs. “He was cremated, and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow,” Richards told reporters at New Musical Express in 2007.
And for anyone that might have been offended by the guitarist’s actions, he said, “My dad wouldn’t have cared, he didn’t give a s**t.” Well, rightfully so, Richards’ confession caused quite the stir. I mean, come on, this is over the top even for Richards. So how did this come about?
Well, according to Richards, he was planning on scattering his father’s ashes on a small oak sapling that he recently planted in his yard. But when Richards took the lid off the box, some of the ashes flew up and landed on the table. One thing led to another, and, well, Richards did what came naturally to him.
While on break from the band’s Bigger Bang tour, the guitarist and a small group of friends jetted off to a private island next to Fiji. After taking an afternoon dip with Ronnie Wood, Richards decided to climb up a tree (“that was basically a horizontal branch”) about seven feet from the ground.
When it was time to head to lunch, the guitarist made his way down, but slipped and hit his head on the tree trunk. Richards felt fine until he came down with a “blinding headache” a few days later while taking a boat ride around the island.
Richards’ condition got worse later that night. According to his wife Patti, the guitarist began seizing in his sleep. After the second seizure, Patti frantically called the front desk requesting a medic. After an excruciating four-hour flight to New Zealand, Richards was met by neurosurgeon Dr. Andrew Law, who rushed him into emergency surgery.
“I woke up feeling great,” Richards told reporters. “And I said, ‘Well, when are you going to start?’ Law said, ‘It’s all done, mate.'” The guitarist made a quick recovery and was back on stage six weeks later, with Dr. Law by his side.
While on a promotional tour for his children’s book, Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar, Richards stopped by Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The host then asked him to verify the infamous incident in which music legend Chuck Berry reportedly punched Richards in the face.
“I was back in a dressing room,” Richards began. “His guitar was laid out in its case like, ‘Aw, c’mon, Keith,’ you know, ‘just a touch.'” So, the Stones’ guitarist decided to innocently stum an E-chord on Berry’s guitar.
Well, Berry was pissed. He came running back into the dressing room, yelling, “Nobody touches my guitar,” before punching Richards’ in the face. “That’s one of Chuck’s biggest hits,” Richards joked. But jokes aside, Richards went on to explain that Berry was a major influence, not just for his guitar playing, but for songwriting too.
Richards even said that the only reason why he struck up a conversation with Mick Jagger was that the singer was carrying a copy of Rockin’ at the Hops by Chuck Berry. But despite the punch, Richards remains as fond of Berry as ever.
While on the road, musicians like to keep things homey. For some, that might mean having the room temperature at a certain setting, while others like to have flower arrangements. But Richards is a simple man. All he wants in his hotel room is a nice slice of shepherd’s pie.
However, this simple request turned into a downright nightmare in 1989. Before taking the stage in Toronto on the band’s Steel Wheels tour, the catering company decided to recreate an English pub backstage, complete with a jukebox and standard pub food.
For some reason or another, Richards arrived at the dinner late. But when he walked into the room, he saw that the shepherd’s pie that he’d been looking so forward to eating, had already been dug into.
Richards threw a fit and actually refused to go onstage until catering brought a fresh shepherd’s pie. Jagger was furious, but the concert was delayed until Richards got his favorite meal. “It’s now famous, my rule on the road,” the guitarist wrote in 2010. “Nobody touches the shepherd’s pie till I’ve been in there. Don’t bust my crust, baby.”
In the late ‘70s, Richards began a relationship with a Swedish blonde named Lil Wenglass, whom he described as “incredibly funny, very witty and a great lay.” One night, while the two were sleeping at a rented home in Laurel Canyon, Wenglass frantically woke Richards up.
A fire had broken out in another room down the hall, and the two needed to get out of the house ASAP. “We had a few seconds to jump out of the window,” he wrote in his memoir. “I’m dressed in a short T-shirt only, and Lil is naked.”
While the cause of the fire remains a mystery, Richards once told The Telegraph that he had accidentally set it on fire. Richards and Wenglass sat outside until his ex-girlfriend’s cousin picked them up and drove them to safety. When the couple returned to the house the following day, they saw a huge sign stuck in the burnt grass that read, “Thanks a lot, Keith.”
The Stones guitarist said that the only thing to survive the fire was a chest of drawers that contained his passport, favorite tapes, jewelry, and a gun. “So, what am I supposed to gather from my life? That I’m blessed?” Richards asked himself.
In the book It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: 30 Years Married to a Rolling Stone, Jo Wood, Ronnie’s ex-wife, remembers the first time she met Richards in a hotel in Paris. Apparently, Richards reached into his bag, took out a spoon, a bottle of pills, and a lighter.
After doing his thing, he looked up at Jo and said, “Hello, my dear. I’ve heard so much about you!” Jo says that she was unfazed by the incident. “I adored Keith from the start, which was lucky because he and Ronnie came as a pair,” she continued.
Jo says that one of the things she loved most was Richards’ “naughtiness.” But as calm and easy-going as Jo was, Richards’ behavior eventually got on her nerves. While at a baby shower in the late ‘70s, Jo had to ask Richards to stop doing drugs in front of her mother.
Unsurprisingly, her requests were ignored. “[After dinner] suddenly Keith declared, ‘And now for dessert!’” Jo explained in her book. “With that, he pulled out a big bag of coke and slammed it on the table.” Jo’s mother was mortified and fled the room.
After decades of drugs, arrests, and legendary stories, the only way left for Richards to actually shock the world was to settle down. In 1991, that’s exactly what he did. He moved with his wife Patti and their two young daughters from New York City to Connecticut. “The woods have a primeval serenity about them that would suit the ancestral spirits,” Richards wrote in 2010.
In 2002, the guitarist gave Rolling Stone magazine an account of his country life. “I’d get up at seven in the morning,” he explained. “I read a lot. I might have a little sail around Long Island Sound if the weather is all right.”
Richards also says that he does a lot of recording in his basement. “Writing songs, keeping up to speed. I have no fixed routine,” the musician continued. “I wander about the house, wait for the maids to clean the kitchen, then f*** it all up again and do some frying.”
Richards says that he and his wife go out once a week, but only if there’s something going on downtown. The two sure have come a long way since Richards first laid eyes on Patti while partying at Studio 54 in ‘79.
“When Patti and I met, it was just . . . boom,” he told Vanity Fair in 2018. “There was life before Patti and life after. We just clicked, and she rescued me from, shall we say, dark periods . . . without going into too much detail.”
While the model was head over heels for the musician, she says that her family was not. In fact, the first time that Richards met Patti’s parents, he showed up at their home in Staten Island, bottle in hand and completely wasted.
Richards eventually smashed his guitar down on the table while Patti sat on the top of the stairs and cried. According to Patti’s nephew, who was a teenager at the time, someone at the dinner table asked Richards to play, which he did.
“And then the family went on talking. So, he got a little angry,” Patti told Harper’s Bazaar. “But we were all high as a kite, and it just happened. It was another time.” Luckily for Richards, there were no hard feelings between him, Patti, and the rest of her family.