10 Times Keith Richards Almost Died
The old joke goes that after the nuclear apocalypse, all that will remain are cockroaches and Keith Richards. In our list of 10 Times Keith Richards Almost Died, the Rolling Stone survives drug addiction, fires, poison, stage accidents, the Hells Angels, libraries and palm trees to somehow reach a ripe old age. For every one of Keef’s actual brushes with death, there are a dozen myths, but this list of the times that the Stone nearly stopped rolling includes only those incidents that have at least a kernel of truth to them.
Bet you didn’t expect to see Adolf Hitler on the list of 10 Times Keith Richards Almost Died. Richards almost didn’t make it out of infancy, thanks to the 1944 Nazi bomb raids over London. During the height of the raids, Richards and his mom evacuated to a region that was out of the line of fire. When things died down, they returned to find that some of their neighbors had been killed and that baby Keith’s cot had been blown up by V-1 bomb. Richards would later offer this bit of revisionist history: “Hitler dumped one of his V-1’s on my bed! He was after my ass, you know that!”
Nearly Electrocuted Onstage
Only a couple of years into the Stones’ five-decade career, the band almost lost one of their prime creative forces. While playing a gig in Sacramento, the group launched into “The Last Time,” and Richards approached the microphone to sing his backing part. It was facing the wrong way, so he attempted to knock it with the neck of his guitar – which resulted in a near-fatal shock. In a blue flash, Richards was knocked unconscious, his guitar strings burned from the accident. Richards later called the incident his “most spectacular” moment and credited his salvation to a new pair of boots with thick rubber soles.
After watching Gimme Shelter, the gripping Rolling Stones documentary, you’d be amazed that anyone made it out of Altamont alive. Upon arriving at this hastily organized free concert, Mick Jagger was punched in the head. Violence erupted throughout the Stones’ set, forcing them to stop and restart songs. A fan in the audience died after pulling a gun on a member of the Hells Angels, who were being used as some semblance of a security force. Altercations continued to plague the event, which is often contrasted with Woodstock’s “peace and love” vibe. After the show, the Stones got away in a helicopter, only to learn later about the murder that had occurred. Three other accidental deaths happened. Richards’ immediate reaction to the event was, “on the whole, a good concert.”
Bed Fire at Nellcote
Richards and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg almost met an untimely end during the making of 1972’s Exile on Main St. During sessions for the double LP, mostly recorded at Richards’s rented villa Nellcote in the south of France, Richards and Pallenberg were deep in the throes of heroin addiction. Richards had a penchant for passing out, sometimes with the needle still in his arm or – on this occasion – a lit cigarette in his hand. The bed went up in flames, and Richards and Pallenberg woke up just in time to escape before being burned to a crisp. It wouldn’t be the last time that Richards played with fire.
Redlands Estate Fire
Given his habit of nodding off while smoking, our list of 10 Times Keith Richards Almost Died could include just fiery tales. Topping them is this incident, when a doped-up Richards allegedly set his Redlands estate ablaze. Many people claim that one of Richards’ still-burning cigarettes was to blame again, but in his autobiography ‘Life,’ Richards writes that the fire was caused by a mouse that ate through the wiring. Regardless, the fire spread to the home’s thatched roof as Richards, Pallenberg and their kids ran to safety, but then he returned to drag the most expensive possessions out of the house. There are famous photos that document the aftermath, including one of Richards sitting on the lawn on top of a stroller … smoking, of course.
Strychnine in Switzerland
Richards has always maintained that, despite his reputation, he was a relatively responsible drug addict and that the only times he got in serious trouble was when he got high with people he didn’t trust. Richards later told NME about his worst drug experience: “Someone put strychnine in my dope, it was in Switzerland,” he said. “I was totally comatose but I was totally awake. I could listen to everyone, and they were like, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead!’ waving their fingers and pushing me about, and I was thinking, ‘I’m not dead!'”
One of rock’s great myths is that by 1973, Richards’ blood had become so toxic that a specialist performed an experimental procedure in which the rocker traded all of his dirty blood for some clean pints. While the blood swap is probably untrue (Richards has admitted he spun the rumor mill himself), there is some evidence to support that he had his blood filtered in Switzerland in 1973. According to some sources, the guitarist underwent hemodialysis that allowed toxic substances to be removed from his body so they wouldn’t do further damage to his kidneys. Allegedly, Richards had to be put to sleep for a couple days for the procedure. Hopefully, the doctors reminded him to put his cigarette out first.
To think that after all the drugs and careless living, Richards was almost undone by a bunch of heavy books. He has recounted the tale many times: He was in his home library, standing on a chair to reach a book about Leonardo da Vinci’s study of anatomy when he slipped. Many tomes came pouring down on top of him. The accident resulted in three broken ribs for Richards and a tour postponement for his band. “It was one of those moments where you have to make a decision: take it in the ribs or take a shot in the temple on the desk,” he remembered. “All part of life’s rich pageant.”
In 2006 Richards took a tumble from a palm tree while he was on vacation with his and Ronnie Wood‘s families on the island of Fiji. Although initial reports indicated that he had taken a nasty knock after falling from a 40-foot tree, Richards later revealed that he fell from no more than seven feet. In Life, he wrote that he had been swimming and his wet hands caused him to slip from a branch, land on the ground and hit his head on the trunk. Although Richards didn’t think anything serious had occurred, a “blinding headache” two days later forced him to seek medical attention. As it turned out, Richards had fractured his skull and the accident required brain surgery – along with another Rolling Stones tour delayed.
Of course, strychnine isn’t the strangest thing Richards has put in his system. As the guitarist revealed in an interview, then confirmed in his autobiography Life, he once snorted a bit of Dear Ol’ Dad. “The truth of the matter is that after having Dad’s ashes in a black box for six years, because I really couldn’t bring myself to scatter him to the winds, I finally planted a sturdy English oak to spread him around,” Richard wrote. “And as I took the lid off of the box, a fine spray of his ashes blew out on to the table. I couldn’t just brush him off so I wiped my finger over it and snorted the residue. Ashes to ashes, father to son.” Perhaps this isn’t an incident that almost killed Richards, but it’s certainly a brush with death.