Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has had many brushes with death, but in late April 2006, he had one of his scariest mishaps.

While on vacation with bandmate Ronnie Wood on a private island off the coast of Fiji, Richards took a tumble out of a tree. The injury led to the Stones postponing tour dates, as well as much consternation over his health. The circumstances around his fall were also shrouded in mystery: Some articles reported he was up a palm tree — which, in a weird way, made perfect sense — while others referenced a separate jet ski accident that also occurred around the same time.

As it turns out, Richards cleared up all of these rumors in his autobiography, Life. There were no jet skis — in fact, he wrote those are "things I really dislike intensely because they're noisy and stupid and disruptive to the reefs" — and the huge tree was more like a "gnarled low tree that was basically a horizontal branch," seven feet off the ground (despite what.our above illustration depicts).

While drying off after a swim, Richards perched on this branch. As he clambered down to go to lunch, he misjudged his path down to the ground. "There was another branch in front of me, and I thought, 'I'll just grab hold of that and drop gently to the ground,'" he wrote. "But I forgot that my hands were still wet and there was sand and everything on them, and as I grabbed this branch, the grip didn't take. And so I landed hard on my heels, and my head went back and hit the trunk of the tree. Hard. And that was it."

Richards noted he wasn't fazed by the knock at the time, and even two days later his vacation seemed to be going great. However, during a day trip out to the sea, he was knocked back by a boat swell, and suddenly got a "blinding headache" and urged everyone to head back to land. His pain got "worse and worse," which was alarming, Richards wrote, since "I never have headaches, and if I do, it's an aspirin and it's gone. I'm not a headache man."

As it turns out, Richards had fractured his skull in the tree branch incident. This caused an intercranial hemorrhage (e.g., bleeding in the skull), which in turn produced acute subdural hematoma (e.g., blood clots between the brain and its outer protective layer) and led to an emergency flight to New Zealand for treatment.

The flight there from Fiji there was so traumatizing that when Richards ended up having to have surgery, he had it done there by a doctor named Andrew Law, who happened to be a big Stones fan. Thankfully, the procedure was a success: "[Law] had opened up the skull, sucked out all the blood clots and then put the bone back on like a little hat with six titanium pins to connect the hat back to its skull."

After weeks of convalescence — which included a hospital staff who thoughtfully "brought me a little extra morphine" — Richards was as good as new. "And actually," he added, "I've never had a headache since."

 

 

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