Rockstars always seem to be plagued by one of two afflictions. They either die at 27 and are shrouded in immortal legacy, or they are literally immortal and live forever. I’m not sure which one is worse but Keith Richards is definitely the latter.
Keith Richards is one of the mythologised characters in rock. From his whiskey-swilling swagger to the endless hits and iconic look, Richards might as well be rock n’ roll incarnate.
In his 2010 autobiography, Life, co-written by music journalist James Fox, Richards reveals the details on a remarkable, if slightly drug-hazed existence. Many tales are downright unbelievable and make you wonder whether Keith Richards actually did all the stuff people say, if not more.
From the man with a face like a topographical world map and some of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time, these are 5 amazing facts about Keith Richards.
The Rolling Stone that keeps on rolling, Keith Richards is still drinking, still partying and still making music. These are 5 amazing facts about his life.
5. Nothing better than Merck!
The Rolling Stones were in fine form on their legendary 1975 ‘Tour of the Americas’ with a hefty daily dose of sex, drugs, and violence. The special ingredient, however, Merck cocaine.
In fact, the whole tour “was fuelled by Merck cocaine,” Richards wrote in his memoir, referring to an ultra-pure 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.”
Keith also kept a liberal supply of heroin on stage that was cut into lines and hidden amid the amplifiers. If that wasn’t enough, Richards also had heroin-laced cigarettes – aka ‘dirty fags’ – for when he couldn’t wait until the end of a song.
The tour was running fairly smoothly until Richards and his cocaine supplier were arrested in Arkansas. Nonetheless, they called in a few favours, paid a $162 bail, and were soon back on the road.
4. Berry Bites Back
As well as being a notorious fist-fighter in his youth, Keith Richards has also received his fair share of lickings. The story goes that Richards was in the dressing room after one of Chuck Berry’s shows. “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,'” Richards told Jimmy Fallon in 2014.
He couldn’t resist the allure of Berry’s iconic cherry Gibson ES-355 and, picking it up, began innocently strumming an E chord. Berry came in yelling, “Nobody touches my guitar” and promptly socked Richards in the kisser. As Richards joked to Fallon, “That’s one of Chuck’s biggest hits.”
Keith Richards claims to have written the guitar riff to Satisfaction in his sleep. While it’s not an uncommon occurrence, it’s made even more uncanny by the fact that Richards rarely slept.
Keith claimed to only sleep two nights per week on average during the Stones’ glory days. “This means that I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes,” he notes.
Whether aided by drugs or not this is actually a common phenomenon for many of history’s greatest minds. Nikola Tesla was known to only sleep two hours per night, and Thomas Edison slept for three. Leonard da Vinci, it is said, slept for approximately 1.5 hours per day, but did it in intervals of 20-minute naps every four hours.
Keith Richards’ personal record is 9 days without sleep while recording in a studio. At the end of the stint he, “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?'”
Keith Richards has been involved in countless drug busts and run-ins with the law. If there’s one thing you should learn though it’s that you don’t mess with Keith.
After the highly publicised Redlands drug raid in 1967, Richards nearly received a hefty year and a half prison sentence. In the wake he found out that is was the British tabloid, News of the World – which was shut down in 2011 after several phone tapping incidents – who tipped off the police.
The plot thickened when it surfaced that it was his long-time Belgian chauffeur who contacted the paper. Richards was seething with rage that his well-paid employee could be bought off by a tabloid.
Shortly afterwards the driver’s legs were mysteriously broken. Richards’ only answer, “As I heard it, he never walked again.”
1. The show was electric
Keith has flirted with death many times throughout his life. One call came closer than most however. On 3 December, 1965, while playing The Last Time in front of 5,000 fans at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California, his guitar touched his mic stand and a flame shot out as Keith fell to the ground unconscious.
Said attendee Mick Martin, “I literally saw Keith fly into the air backward. I thought he was dead. I was horrified. We all were.” Turns out Keith had suffered a severe shock from the electrical surge of the microphone.
He was carried out with oxygen tubes and rushed to the hospital. Richards looked back on it with laughter in the hospital say, “Well, they either wake up or they don’t.” Richards may have survived because of the thick soles in his suede Hush Puppies shoes. Rubber being an insulator they allowed no electricity to pass through, halting the charge. He was back onstage the next night.
All in all, an incredibly wild life and these tales are only the tip of the iceberg. Happy 76th birthday Keith! Long may you reign!
While we’ve got you, check out: