Keith Richards’ Strange History of House Fires
Keith Richards’ country home, known as Redlands in West Wittering, Sussex, suffered serious damage on Sept. 2, 1982 as a result of a fire.
“Sixty-five firemen spent six hours bringing the fire under control,” UPI reported back then. “Three-quarters of the thatched roof was destroyed, along with half the contents of the building.”
This was not the first, or last, remarkable escape by the Rolling Stones guitarist. In fact, the 1982 fire happened almost nine years to the day after the same house was ablaze.
Richards' girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and their children narrowly survived a 1973 fire that tore through the home. Its source was later the subject of debate: Richards claimed the fire was caused by a mouse chewing through electrical wires, while observers suggested he'd fallen asleep while smoking.
The cigarette theory held weight because it had happened before, when the Rolling Stones were working on their soon-to-be classic Exile on Main St. album in 1971 at a rented villa in the south of France. A smoking Richards passed out while deep in the throes of heroin addiction, only to awaken as the sheets of his bed were engulfed with flames.
Richards was dating Swedish model Lil Wergilis in 1978 when she alerted him to another fire while they were staying at a rental property in the famed Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles. They escaped before part of the roof caved in.
“We had a few seconds to jump out of the window,” Richards wrote in his autobiography Life. “I’m dressed in a short T-shirt only, and Lil is naked." When the couple returned the next day, they found a “large sign stuck in the blackened grass that read, ‘Thanks a lot, Keith.’”
Richards’ fiery exploits weren’t just limited to the property where he resided. Things got out of hand with saxophonist Bobby Keys in 1972 when the Rolling Stones were guests at the Playboy Mansion, which at the time was located in Chicago.
“Bobby and I were just sitting in the john, comfortable, nice john, sitting on the floor and we’ve got the doc’s bag [of drugs] and we’re just smorgasbording,” Richards later wrote. “And at a certain point … talk about hazy, or foggy, Bobby says, ‘It’s smoky in here.’ And I’m looking at Bobby and can’t see him. And the drapes are smoldering away; everything was just about to go off big-time.
“There was a thumping on the door, waiters and guys in black suits bringing buckets of water,” Richards added. “They get the door open and we’re sitting on the floor, our pupils very pinned. I said, ‘We could have done that ourselves. How dare you burst in on our private affair?’”
Roughly a year later, Richards’ home in Chelsea, England, was raided by police. The bust turned up a wide array of drugs and drug paraphernalia, along with an unlicensed firearm. As a result, Richards was fined more than $200, but things ignited later that night.
He celebrated his relatively light punishment by partying in a room at the swanky Londonderry House hotel. Somehow – you guessed it – Richards managed to set fire to the room.
There are likely a few more incidents that didn’t become public. In some cases, a source for these blazes was never found, but most were connected to Richards’ drug use in one way or another. Addiction, like fires, was something he managed to survive, too.
“I was the most likely to die for many years,” Richards told CBS Sunday Morning in 2016, noting he was “lucky” to live into his old age. “But I’m prepared to face the maker,” he said with a laugh, adding that he’d spoken to God and they were on “good terms.”
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