The two fires that almost killed Keith Richards

Keith Richards

No other musician has come so near to ultimate annihilation as Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones guitarist is synonymous with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, with the depth of his debauchery as well-known as his music, portraying the unfathomably wild aspect of his existence.

The majority of Richards’ life reads like a work of fiction, from a string of whirlwind romances to drug busts to the assertion that he snorted his father’s ashes. As a result, he’s had more brushes with death than the typical person, with fantastic stories to go with each one.

Richards has also had close calls with two life-threatening fires, both of which were his responsibility. The first occurred in 1972, during a stop in Chicago by his band. Hugh Hefner invited Richards and his hellraising partner in crime, saxophonist Bobby Keys, to stay at the first Playboy Mansion on the city’s Gold Coast during this downtime. However, while using narcotics in the bathroom, the two nearly lit the entire building on fire.

“‘It’s smoky in here,’ Bobby says,” Keith Richards said in his autobiography, Life. “Then there’s a thumping at the door, waiters and men in black suits bringing buckets of water.” They open the door, and we’re sitting on the floor, our eyes pinned.” Soon after, Hefner moved his home to Los Angeles.

The second fire, which happened in 1978, was far more dangerous. The Rolling Stones lead guitarist had a connection with Swedish model Lil Wergilis in the decade’s second half. Wergilis awoke Richards in the middle of the night in a leased house in Laurel Canyon, the home of the Los Angeles counterculture, to warn him of a fire that had broken out in another room.

The origin of the fire has never been officially revealed, though Richards claimed to the Telegraph in 2010 that he’d unintentionally set it aflame, but given his fuzzy recall from this time, it might have been anything. “We had a few seconds to jump out the window,” Richards wrote in Life of the ordeal. “I’m dressed in a short T-shirt only, and Lil is naked.”

Anita Pallenberg, Richards’ longtime lover’s cousin, picked them up and took them away from the scene to save the two. When they returned the next day, they discovered a “large sign stuck in the blackened grass that read, ‘Thanks a lot, Keith.'” The guitarist also said that his only valuables were a chest of drawers with his passport, favorite CDs, jewelry, and a revolver with 500 rounds of ammo.

Following the story, Richards said, “So what am I supposed to take away from my life?” That I’m fortunate?”

Listen to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Play With Fire’ below.

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