Drug busts, guns, car crashes, fights, fires… these are Keith Richards’ biggest scrapes
Despite his narcotic adventures over the years, Rolling Stones icon Keith Richards claimed in the early 1980s that he had only ever missed a single concert, blaming a “dodgy burger”.
More recently, the Stones have had to reschedule tours twice because of Keith’s misadventures, but the reasons have been relatively trivial: in 1998, he fell from a ladder while “trying to retrieve a book” in the library of his Connecticut home, sustaining damage to his ribs and chest. And in April 2006, he fell from a coconut tree in Fiji and injured his head. He later apologized for “falling off his perch”.
What follows is a breakdown of Richards’ most memorable misadventures, where it all could have gone wrong, but it didn’t.
Keith becomes embroiled in a fight with a group of Americans who hurl insults and question the Rolling Stones’ sexuality at a restaurant at Heathrow Airport. One of the Americans is knocked unconscious but no charges result.
Keith’s home in West Wittering, Sussex, is raided following a tip-off by the world news. The police find “various substances of a suspicious nature” and a young woman (later revealed to be Marianne Faithfull) dressed only in a rug. Keith refuses to turn off the record player when asked, but agrees to turn it down.
But then someone put Bob Dylan on Rainy day woman, which does not diffuse the situation. Keith is later found guilty of allowing his house to be used for smoking Indian hemp, fined £500 and jailed for a year. His conviction is overturned on appeal.
Following a small traffic accident in Beaulieu in the south of France, where the Stones are recording Exile on the main street, Keith fires a toy gun belonging to his son Marlon at the local harbor master, who pulls out a real gun and calls the police. The incident is mitigated when the local mayor is invited to Keith’s house, Nellcôte, for supper and receives autographed albums.
In May, Keith and Mick Jagger were charged with assaulting a photographer at Warwick Airport. No costs result. In December, French police search Nellcôte and find quantities of heroin, cocaine and hashish. Keith and Anita Pallenberg, his common-law wife, were later given suspended sentences.
Later that month, Anita is arrested at Keith’s home in Jamaica for drug trafficking and detained. He wants to leave the country immediately but fears that the Jamaican police are waiting for him. Anita is then released, allegedly after $12,000 is paid to a “middleman”.
Police raid Keith’s home in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea and discover Chinese heroin, methadone, Mandrax, brass pharmaceutical scales, an antique shotgun and a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson revolver .38, both unlicensed. He is fined £205, while Anita is granted parole.
That night, celebrating the verdict, Keith sets fire to his room at the Londonderry House hotel. The following month, he and Anita narrowly escape a fire that destroys Redlands, their country home in Sussex.
Keith is arrested for illegal possession of a knife in Fordyce, Arkansas. The case is then closed.
Keith crashes his car on the M1 after a Stones concert at Bingley Hall in Stafford. The police find “suspicious substances” in the car and his jacket. In court, Keith claims the jacket could have belonged to any Stones member or entourage. He was fined £750 plus £250 costs for possession of coke but cleared of possession of LSD.
In March, Keith and Anita are arrested by the Canadian RCMP in a hotel room in Toronto. Keith is charged with trafficking 22 grams of heroin – an offense which carries a minimum sentence of seven years in prison. Anita is charged with possession of heroin and hashish.
After failing to have the charge reduced from trafficking to possession, Keith opted for a jury trial in October. The trial is delayed for two days when he does not appear. He later explains to the judge that he was waiting for his pants to come out of the dryer. The judge is surprised that “a man of your stature only has one pair of pants”.
Keith is found guilty and given a suspended sentence. The judge orders him to continue his treatment for heroin addiction in New York and give a benefit concert for the blind within six months. He gave two concerts to benefit the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in April 1979. Keith spent the next three years undergoing medical treatment in the United States under threat of criminal sanctions.
In December 1983, he married Patti Hansen on her 40th birthday. In 2006, Keith said he had stopped taking drugs – not for health reasons but because they weren’t strong enough. The following year, he claimed to have sniffed his father’s ashes. The story which is later denied and then reconfirmed, although he continues to deny that the ashes were mixed with cocaine.