A very happy birthday to Keith Richards, who turns 71 today! To celebrate, here’s 50 stunning photos from across the Rolling Stones guitarist’s life and career, accompanied by little-known trivia, stories and quotes from the man himself… Kicking us off is this stunning shot of Richards in Joshua Tree National Park, captured by friend and photo legend Michael Cooper.
Keith at Joshua Tree National Park with long-term girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, and (out of shot) Gram Parsons. They would often go to the California desert, looking for flying saucers, under the influence of various narcotics. “It was a damn good feeling,” recalls Richards. “It gave me a sense of space. Eventually, I was so far in space, I was almost in the atmosphere.”
A piercing portrait of Keith Richards during the ‘Sticky Fingers’ sessions, 1971. According to Keef: “‘Sticky Fingers’ was never meant to be the title. It’s just what we called it while we were working on it. Usually though, the working titles stick.”
Keith photographed onstage during the 1972 US tour, during which the Stones were pursued relentlessly by police. The band had become public enemy number one. As Richards notes in his biography: “The State Department had noted riots (true), civil disobedience (also true), illicit sex (whatever that is), and violence across the United States. All the fault of us, mere minstrels.”
Another shot from the US tour. En route to one show in Fordyce, Nebraska, the band were pulled over by the police, their car packed with drugs. But they got away with it, since the judge turned up drunk and hundreds of fans had filled the town. In the end, Richards ended up paying a $165.50 fine for reckless driving – and posed for photos with the judge.
An earlier shot: this is Keef in London in 1963, shot by Phillip Townshend, who’d been given a brief by Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to “make the band look mean and nasty.” Oldham had signed the band that same year, and was just 19 – younger than any of the band.
Keith in drag for the cover of Stones single ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?’ The single was released in September 1966 and was ground-breaking in a number of ways. It was the first major hit single to incorporate guitar feedback. Meanwhile, Peter Whitehead’s promotional film for the single was one of the first music videos.
Keith Richards with Andrew Loog Oldham, circa 1966. The band came up with the Rolling Stones moniker on the fly, during a phone interview with Jazz News. Asked what they were called, they noticed a copy of a Muddy Waters best of lying on the ground. Track one? ‘Rollin’ Stone’.
Here’s Keith and his dog Ratbag during a visit to Hyde Park in 1965.
Keith lights a fag during the recording of ‘Exile On Main Street’ at Villa Nellcote in the south of France, 1971. Progress on the album was slow, thanks to frequent visits from druggy buddies like William Burroughs and Gram Parsons. In the end, Richards asked Parsons to leave the villa, so they could actually get some work done.
Brian Jones, Anita Pallenberg, and Keith Richards circa 1967 in Morocco. This shot was taken just before Pallenberg left Jones for Richards. Pallenberg later had an affair with Mick Jagger. To get his own back, Richards had sex with Jagger’s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull.
Keith with sword, Redlands, California, 1965. In his book, the guitarist says being a sex symbol could sometimes be frightening. “The power of the teenage females of 13, 14, 15, when they’re in a gang, has never left me… You’d rather be in a trench fighting the enemy than to be faced with this unstoppable wave of lust and desire.”
At ATV Sudios in Birmingham, 1963, the first time the Stones appeared on television. Despite his hell-raising image, Richards said he often didn’t sleep with groupies, he just hugged them, for warmth and companionship.
An early portrait of Keith Richards playing guitar backstage, circa 1965. It’s no secret that Richards and Mick Jagger dislike each other. Of Jagger’s solo work, Richards says, “I’ve never listened to the entire thing [‘She’s The Boss’] all the way through. Who has? It’s like Mein Kampf. Everybody had a copy, but nobody listened to it.”
Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg and their son, Marlon, arrive at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. When he and Pallenberg first checked into a hotel together they used the aliases Count and Countess Zigenpuss, from the German Ziegenfuss, meaning goat’s foot. They later used the names Count and Countess Castiglione.
Keith with Brian Jones on the shoot for the ‘Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow?’ artwork, 1966. At this time, Pallenberg was still Jones’ girlfriend, but things were starting to happen with Keith. “Brian would crash out sometimes,” recalls Richards, “and Anita and I would look at each other.”
Keith Richards and Gram Parsons sing together at Villa Nellcôte in the South of France. “I did more singing with Gram than I’ve done with the Stones,” claims the guitarist.
Sure, the Stones got busted for drugs, but mostly they got away with murder. In his book, Richards writes that in the ’60s, he used to walk down Oxford Street openly carrying “a slab of hash as big as a skateboard”. It never occurred to him that he might get caught.
In his memoir, Richards reveals that women had ignored him for years until his sudden fame attracted swarms of groupies. “These chicks were coming out there and you took that for granted every night. What are you going to do at that age when most of the teenage population of everywhere has decided you’re it?”
“It was the beginning of the ’80s when Mick started to become unbearable,” Richards writes of his bandmate. Richards accuses him of becoming “one of the crowd. He’d hear something in a club and a week later he’d think he wrote it. And I’d say, no, that’s actually a total lift.”
Richards claims he’s not the drug-fiend everyone makes him out to be. He writes: “People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s 30 years since I gave up the dope!”
Richards insists he feels no guilt over nabbing Brian Jones’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. “It’s said that I stole her. But my take on it is that I rescued her,” he writes, describing her as Jones’s “full-time geisha, flatterer, punchbag – whatever he imagined, including partaking in orgies, which Anita always resolutely refused to do.”
Richards claims to be shy with women, and always waits for them to make the first move. “I just don’t know how to do it,” he writes. “I’m tongue-tied.”
Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Richards performing live onstage as The Dirty Mac on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus’. In his book, Richards calls John Lennon “a silly sod, in many ways”.
Since Johnny Depp channelled Keef for the Pirates Of The Caribbean film, the two have been friends – though at first Richards didn’t have a clue who he was. Eventually, the penny dropped. “Then one day he was at dinner… And I’m like, ‘Whoa! Scissorhands.’ “
Richards and Pallenberg relaxing at his home in London on December 8, 1969, after he returned from touring in the US. One of Richards’ roles over the years has been consoling the heartbroken girlfriends of Mick Jagger: “The tears that have been on this shoulder from Jerry Hall, from Marianne… They’ve ruined so many shirts. And they ask me what to do! How the hell do I know? I don’t fuck him!”
Richards reveals that his band’s 1972 tour was known by other names, including “the Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise tour” and the “STP, Stones Touring Party”. “It was the beginning of the booking of whole hotel floors, with no one else allowed up, so that some of us – like me – could get privacy and security.”
Richards says he used to mock Mick Jagger with nicknames like “Your Majesty” and “Brenda”, and called him “that bitch Brenda” in front of other bandmates.
Richards finally quit cocaine in 2006, after he fell from a coconut tree in Fiji and had to undergo life-saving brain surgery, leaving him with a metal plate on his skull. “Yeah – that was cocaine I had to give up for that,” he writes. “You’re like, ‘I’ve got the message, oh Lord’.”
Richards reveals that he doesn’t just attribute his survival to the high quality of drugs he has consumed, but says he was “very meticulous about how much I took. I’d never put more in to get a little higher. That’s where most people fuck up on drugs. It’s the greed involved that never really affected me.”
In the book, Richards shares that he recently ran into Paul McCartney on the beach, and they formed a friendship and planned to work together. “We were really pleased to see each other. We fell straight in, talking about the past, talking about songwriting,” he writes.
Richards also clears up the story about singer/actress Marianne Faithfull, when she was found naked except for a fur rug, in a compromising position with a Mars bar during a drugs raid on his country mansion. There were a couple of chocolate bars there, “because on acid (LSD) you suddenly get sugar lack and you’re munching away.”
Marrianne Faithfull was “more dressed in this fur bedspread that she’d been in all day,” he writes. But what she was rumoured to be doing with the chocolate is a “myth”.
Richards writes that when the police arrived for the raid, he was in such a state from LSD that he thought he saw a gang of dwarfs. They were “very small people wearing dark blue with shiny bits and helmets!”
Richards on stage with his side project the New Barbarians and bass player Stanley Clark in 1980. The guitarist’s memory is hazy, but he’s pretty sure he once went on an epic acid-fueled road trip with John Lennon. He thinks it lasted two or three days, but his recollections are “almost a total blank.”
Richards with his wife Patti Hansen. He married her on December 18, 1983 – his fortieth birthday.
While acting in the movie Performance, Pallenberg cheated on Richards with Jagger. To get revenge, he reveals that he slept with Jagger’s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. “I was knocking Marianne, man,” he writes to his bandmate in his book. “While you’re missing it, I’m kissing it.”
He refers to the affair in the song ‘Gimme Shelter’: “Oh, a storm is threat’ning, My very life today; If I don’t get some shelter, Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away”.
“It was like Peyton Place back then,” writes Richards. “A lot of wife-swapping or girlfriend swapping and ‘oh, you had to have him, OK’.”
In his book, Keith Richards compares living with Mick Jagger to having “an annoying mynah bird”.
More bitching about Mick: “There is a weird possessiveness about him. Mick doesn’t want me to have any friends except him. I have a feeling that Mick thought I belonged to him. And I didn’t like that at all.”
And the final insult: describing Pallenberg’s fling with Jagger, he says: “She had no fun with the tiny todger.”
“But once [Jagger and I] were split up, I started going my way, which was the downhill road to dopesville, and Mick ascended to jet land…We’ve had our beefs but, hey, who doesn’t? You try and keep something together for 50 years.”
“Fame has killed more very talented guys than drugs,” writes Richards in his book. “Jimi Hendrix didn’t die of an overdose, he died of fame.”
Chuck Berry and Richards onstage during a celebration for Berry’s 60th birthday at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, October 17, 1986. Little-known Keef fact: he wrote a letter to Tony Blair in support of the Iraq war. It said: “Keep on rocking.” It’s said to be one of the former PM’s most treasured possessions.
During the band’s 1972 tour, they stayed at the Playboy Mansion. “Some of my most outrageous nights I can only believe actually happened because of corroborating evidence,” he reveals. “No wonder I’m famous for partying. You get these brief vignettes of what you did. ‘Oh, you don’t remember shooting the gun? Pull up the carpet, look at those holes, man’.”
During their stay at the Playboy Mansion, the band had a personal physician, who they called “Dr. Bill”, who kept them supplied with prescription drugs.
“Dr. Bill was there, however, primarily for the pussy,” writes Richards. “And being quite a young, good-looking doctor, he got plenty.”
“He was into getting laid every night”, Richards writes about Dr. Bill. “He also had this case of every kind of substance, Demerol, anything you wanted. He could write scripts in every city. We used to send chicks to his room and take his medicine bag. There would be a line waiting in the room with a waste bag of syringes while he was giving out the Demerol.”
Keith Richards on death: “I don’t want to see my old friend Lucifer just yet. He’s the guy I’m gonna see, isn’t it? I’m not going to the Other Place, let’s face it.”