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46 Years Ago: Keith Richards Crashes His Mercedes Convertible

Keith Richards
Express Newspapers, Getty Images

How many times has Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards cheated death? Enough that we’ve devoted an entire list to the subject, and we didn’t even get to the time he totaled his car in the spring of 1969.

On June 7 of that year, Richards and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg were speeding around Sussex County in the U.K. when he reportedly took a corner at 70 mph, sending the car spinning in the air. As he later recalled in his memoir, Life, “On a corner, close to Redlands, a red light came on in the car and nothing would work. A hydraulic fault. Brakes wouldn’t work, steering wouldn’t work, it just teetered on a patch of slippery grass and then rolled over. It was a convertible, and it was three tons rolling on the windscreen and on the struts that hold up the canvas. The miracle was that the windscreen held up.”

Also sort of miraculous: Richards was thrown from the car, escaping injury, while Pallenberg — who was seven months pregnant — sustained nothing more serious than a broken collarbone. “My body left the car,” wrote Richards. “I watched it all happen from 12, 15 feet above. You can leave your body, believe me. I’d been trying all my life, but this was the first real experience of it […] I know that Anita is in the car, and I’m wondering in another part of my mind if Anita is also watching from above. I’m more concerned about her than myself, because I’m not even in the car. I’ve escaped, in the mind, or wherever you think you are when things like that happen in a split second.”

Although police suspected drugs were involved, the pair escaped prosecution thanks to some quick thinking on the part of associate “Spanish Tony” Sanchez, who hid their stash in the branches of a nearby oak tree. And as Richards later discovered, hydraulic malfunctions notwithstanding, they’d been lucky to be riding in that particular car: “[It] was built in 1947 out of Panzer parts and armored steel, immediately postwar, German scrap lying around the battlefield,” he recalled in the pages of his book. “Basically I was riding a tank with a canvas roof.”

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