Keith Richards’ Wildest Escapades: 19 Insane Tales From a Legendary Life
Keith Richards may have mellowed with age, but as anyone who has read his memoir can attest, the iconic Rolling Stones guitarist has raised enough hell to fill several lifetimes. We look back on the wildest and weirdest moments in Richards’ 50-plus-year tear through the limelight.
You already know about the time Keith snorted his deceased father’s ashes. (“My dad wouldn’t have cared, he didn’t give a shit,” said Richards of the infamous incident.) But what about when he jumped out of the window of a burning Laurel Canyon house wearing only a “short T-shirt”? Or stayed up for nine straight days during the recording of Some Girls? Those tales and many more await you in our comprehensive Keith-lore roundup.
Oh, Canada (1977)
By the mid-Seventies, Keith Richards was a drug-bust veteran, but this one topped them all and threatened to derail the Rolling Stones at their peak. In February 1977, Canadian cops found roughly an ounce of heroin in Richards' hotel room. Charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, and looking at a potentially lengthy prison term, Richards posted bond and wangled a special visa permitting him to undergo an experimental addiction cure in the U.S. By the time his case came up, in October '78, "there were five to six hundred people outside every time I turned up in court, chanting, 'Free Keith, free Keith,'" the guitarist recalled. Between this avid fandom, a halfhearted prosecution and a muscular defense, Keith was found guilty but walked anyway. (While out on bail, he even partied with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's frisky young wife, Margaret, who was hanging out with the band.) His community-service sentence: to play a benefit concert for the blind — a nod to Rita, the devoted, sightless Stones fan who buttonholed the judge and pleaded on Keith's behalf. "She hitchhiked to our shows. The chick was absolutely fearless," Richards wrote in his 2010 memoir, Life. "The love and devotion of [fans] like Rita is something that still amazes me."
No Sleep, No Problem (1992)
"Adrenaline is the most amazing thing we have," Richards told an interviewer in 1992. Indeed, his ability to go without sleep is almost beyond belief. He recorded "Before They Make Me Run," from 1978's Some Girls, in a five-day studio binge ("One [engineer] would flop under the desk and have a kip, and I'd put the other one in and keep going," he wrote in Life). But his actual record is almost twice that long: "Nine days without a wink," he bragged. "I fell asleep standing up, eventually … I was just putting another cassette back on the shelf, and I was feeling great, and I turned 'round and fell asleep. I fell against the edge of the speaker. Woke up in a pool of blood, wondering, 'Is that claret?'"
Some Acid, Some Cops and a Mystery Mars Bar (1967)
Richards purchased Redlands — a picturesque estate in Sussex, England — for £20,000 in 1966. A few months later, it became the site of one of the Sixties' most infamous drug busts, when 20 cops descended on the home in search of illegal substances. Richards, Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, who were all coming down from a daylong acid trip, were ensnared in the raid. "There's a knock on the door, I look out the window, and there's this whole lot of dwarves outside," wrote Richards. "I'd never been busted before, and I'm still on acid." It was later revealed that the police had been tipped off by a tabloid paper that had been tipped off by Richards' driver ("He never walked the same again," Richards recalled). A rumor immediately spread that the police had interrupted an orgy in which Jagger had been licking a Mars candy bar pushed into Faithfull's vagina. In fact, Richards had politely answered the door and the police had found what Faithfull later called "a scene of pure domesticity." Richards and Jagger were brought up on drug charges and received brief prison sentences that were eventually overturned. "How the Mars bar got into the story, I don't know," Richards recalled. "It shows you what's in people's minds."
Father Nose Best (2007)
Five years after the death of Bertrand Richards, Keith's father, the guitarist once implied he committed an inventive act that brought him closer to the dearly departed. "The strangest thing I've tried to snort? My father," Richards reportedly told the U.K.'s New Musical Express in 2007. "He was cremated, and I couldn't resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow." In response to anyone who might've been offended, Richards said, "My dad wouldn't have cared, he didn't give a shit." Although his manager later said that Richards had made the statement "in jest," Keith provided some teasing details in Life. "As I took the lid off of the box, a fine spray of his ashes blew out on to the table," he wrote. "I couldn't just brush him off, so I wiped my finger over it and snorted the residue."
Keith’s Snowy Swiss Ski Vacation (1972)
“I learned to ski when I was a complete junkie,” Richards once boasted. In 1972, Richards — exiled from France on drug charges and from Britain for tax reasons — moved to a chalet in Montreux with Anita Pallenberg and their family. Pallenberg fondly remembered driving around in Bentleys and Ferraris with a revolving cast of friends. Amid all the partying, Richards found time to take up skiing, and those present recalled him as a risk-taker on the slopes. “The reason I made it through [his exile status] was because it was all top-quality shit,” he said of his drug supply while 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!”
Gunning for Trouble (1973)
Richards was partying at his home on Cheyne Walk in London's Chelsea neighborhood — with guests that included the great Chicago-blues record producer Marshall Chess — blasting reggae records and getting lit. Then the police broke in and turned up heroin, marijuana, Mandrax tablets, a handgun, a rifle and 110 rounds of ammunition. Faced with 25 charges, Richards got off with the help of his "brilliant lawyer" Richard Du Cann. "He was, soon after my case — in spite of it, perhaps — made chairman of the bar."
Scout’s Dishonor (1950s)
As a teenager, Keith spent two years in the Boy Scouts. But this brief flirtation with public service ended after he smuggled a couple of bottles of whiskey into a jamboree and found himself engaging in fisticuffs with fellow members of what he called the "Beaver Patrol." "Soon afterwards there were a couple of fights that went down between us and some Yorkshire guys, and so I was under suspicion," he once recalled, according to Victor Bockris' Keith Richards: The Biography. "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!" A few weeks later, he punched out "some dummo recruit" and was expelled.
A Near-Death Shocker (1965)
Richards has almost died many times, but there's one close call he says is his "most spectacular": On December 3rd, 1965, while playing "The Last Time" in front of 5,000 fans at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California, his guitar touched his microphone stand, a flame shot out, and Richards dropped to the ground, unconscious. Promoter Jeff Hughson thought Richards had been shot. Said attendee Mick Martin, "I literally saw Keith fly into the air backward. I thought he was dead. I was horrified. We all were." It turns out Richards had been shocked by the electrical surge from the mic. He was carried out with oxygen tubes and rushed to the hospital. Richards later laughed as he recalled hearing a doctor in the hospital say, "Well, they either wake up or they don't." Richards may have survived because of the thick soles of his suede Hush Puppies shoes, which halted the electrical charge. He was back onstage the next night.
The Stones: Brought to You by Merck! (1975)
The Stones were in top form on their legendary 1975 Tour of the Americas, and for a good reason: "[It] was fueled by Merck cocaine," Richards wrote in his memoir, referring to the ultrapure pharmaceutically manufactured form of the drug. "It was when we initiated the building of hideaways behind the speakers on the stage so that we could have lines between songs. One song, one bump was the rule between Ronnie and me." Richards also had a supply of heroin that was cut into lines and hidden amid the amplifiers, along with heroin-laced cigarettes — or "dirty fags," as they were known. Things went fairly smoothly until Richards and his cocaine supplier, on a detour to get some good barbecue, were arrested in Arkansas. But they called in some favors, paid a $162 bail and were soon back on the road.
That Time He Didn’t Kill Anybody (1976)
"I'm a good driver," Richards wrote in Life, recalling a 1976 incident when he fell asleep at the wheel with his seven-year-old son, Marlon, in the back seat and was arrested after a crash. "I mean, nobody's perfect." The guitarist had been driving back from a gig in Knebworth, England, and 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 Life. "And on the dashboard, there was still the dent where my nose hit it." Richards, who was arrested when the police found acid in his jacket, later wrote, "At least we didn't hit anybody."
Keith Richards, Nanny (1973)
During their Australian tour in 1973, Richards met a single mom with a pharmaceutical cocaine connection. So, naturally, he moved in with her for the duration of a layover Down Under. "Living in the suburbs of Melbourne for a week with a mother and child was kind of weird," he recalled in his memoir. "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." According to Keith, he even took care of the baby when Mom was at work. "There's somebody in a suburb in Melbourne who doesn't even know I wiped his ass."
Giving Hef the Hotfoot (1972)
In 1972, on a tour stop in Chicago, Richards and saxophonist Bobby Keys were invited to stay at the Playboy Mansion by Hugh Hefner and nearly set it ablaze while doing drugs in a bathroom. "Bobby says, 'It's smoky in here,' " Richards recalled in Life. "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." The house was saved, but, as Richards notes, Hefner would relocate the Playboy Mansion to Los Angeles.
Keith in the Sky With Diamonds (1967)
In Life, Richards recalled heavy experimentation with psychedelics in 1967 and 1968. But there's one LSD trip in particular he regards as truly special. After meeting up with John Lennon one day, the pair embarked on what the Stones guitarist described as an "acid-fueled road trip" over the course of two or three days that took them to the English towns of Torquay and Lyme Regis. Relying heavily on the memory of Kari Ann Moller, who later married Jagger's younger brother Chris, Richards recalled driving in circles (either with or without a chauffeur) and visiting Lennon's country house, where they "said hi to [Lennon's wife] Cynthia." Years later, when Lennon and Richards met up in New York, Keith recalls the ex-Beatle asking, "What happened on that trip?"
During a break from the Bigger Bang tour, Richards and a small group flew to a private island off Fiji. After an afternoon swimming with Ronnie Wood, he perched himself on a tree — a "gnarled low tree that was basically a horizontal branch" about seven feet off the ground. As he tried to jump off the tree to go to lunch, he slipped and hit his head on the trunk. Richards didn't feel any serious pain until days later, when he suffered a "blinding headache" on a boat ride. That night, he had two seizures in his sleep, and his wife, Patti, frantically called for medical attention. After enduring an excruciating four-hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand, he was operated on by neurosurgeon Dr. Andrew Law. "I woke up feeling great," Richards said. "And I said, 'Well, when are you going to start?' Law said, 'It's all done, mate.'" Richards was back onstage in six weeks, with Dr. Law (his "head man") by his side.
Berry Scary (2014)
In 2014, while promoting his children's book Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar, Richards appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where the host asked him about an infamous instance in which rock & roll legend Chuck Berry allegedly punched Richards in the face. "I was back in a dressing room," Richards said. "He went up to collect the money, I think. His guitar was laid out in its case like, 'Aw, c'mon, Keith,' you know, 'just a touch.'" When Richards picked up the instrument and innocently strummed an E chord, Berry came in yelling, "Nobody touches my guitar" and promptly slugged Richards in the face. As Richards joked to Fallon, "That's one of Chuck's biggest hits."
Hey, the Man Likes Pie (1989)
The 1989 Steel Wheels tour was the Stones' biggest yet, but Richards still likes things homey. In Toronto in December, the catering setup had re-created an English pub, complete with a jukebox, cricket bats and standard pub food. When Richards arrived late to find that the shepherd's pie he'd been looking forward to had been dug into, he refused to go onstage until another one was produced. Jagger was furious, but the concert was still delayed until Keith got his special meal. "It's now famous, my rule on the road," he wrote. "Nobody touches the shepherd's pie till I've been in there. Don't bust my crust, baby."
Naked and Afraid (1978)
During the late Seventies, Richards struck up a relationship with a Swedish blonde named Lil Wergilis, whom he described in Life as "incredibly funny, very witty and a great lay." One night, they were staying in a rented house in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon, when Wergilis woke him in the middle of the night because a fire had broken out in another room. (The cause of the fire remains undisclosed, though the guitarist told the Telegraph in 2010 that he'd accidentally set it aflame.) "We had a few seconds to jump out of the window," Richards wrote in Life. "I'm dressed in a short T-shirt only, and Lil is naked." A cousin of Anita Pallenberg picked them up and brought them to safety. When they returned to the house the next day, they found a "large sign stuck in the blackened grass that read, 'Thanks a lot, Keith.'" The guitarist said his only possession that survived was a chest of drawers containing his passport, his favorite tapes, jewelry and a gun with 500 rounds of ammunition. After recounting the story, he asked, "So what am I supposed to gather from my life? That I'm blessed?"
Some Blow, Keith, a Baby Shower … What Could Go Wrong? (1970s)
In It's Only Rock 'n' Roll: 30 Years Married to a Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood's ex-wife Jo Wood remembers first encountering Richards in a Paris hotel room in 1977. "Keith reached into his bag and took out a silver spoon, a bottle of pills and a lighter. In a matter of seconds, he'd crushed some of the pills with a bit of water, cooked them up, then filled a syringe and stabbed it straight through his shirt." Moments later, Richards smiled: "He looked up at me [and said], 'Hello, my dear. I've heard so much about you!'" Jo was unfazed: "I adored Keith from the start — which was lucky, because he and Ronnie came as a pair … One of the first things I loved about him most was his naughtiness." But Richards' behavior tested even Jo. At a baby shower in the late Seventies, Jo asked Richards not to do cocaine in front of her mother. Unsurprisingly, her request went ignored: "[After dinner] suddenly Keith declared, 'And now for dessert!' With that, he pulled out a big bag of coke and slammed it on the table." Mortified, her mother fled the room. "He's been doing it for years," Jo told her mom. "I can't stop him. It's just his way of life."
The Pirate of Weston (1991)
After decades of drugs, sex, arrests and legendary insanity, the only way left for Richards to truly shock people was to settle down. And in 1991, that's exactly what he did, moving with his wife, Patti, and their two young daughters from Manhattan to leafy Weston, Connecticut. "The woods have a primeval serenity about them that would suit the ancestral spirits," he says in Life, going on to write at length about enjoying his private surroundings and large library. In 2002, he gave Rolling Stone an account of his gentlemanly country life: "I'd get up at seven in the morning," he said. "I read a lot. I might have a little sail around Long Island Sound if the weather is all right. I do a lot of recording in my basement — writing songs, keeping up to speed. I have no fixed routine. I wander about the house, wait for the maids to clean the kitchen, then fuck it all up again and do some frying. Patti and I go out once a week, if there's something on in town — take the old lady out for dinner with a bunch of flowers, get the rewards."