The two fires that almost killed Keith Richards

Keith Richards is the first musician in history to have survived such proximity to complete devastation. The guitarist for the Rolling Stones is a byword for drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. His extreme drug use is as well-known as his music, which portrays the unfathomably chaotic aspect of his existence.

From a succession of whirlwind romances to drug charges and the accusation that he snorted his father’s ashes, most of Richards’ life reads like a work of fiction. He has therefore experienced more close calls with death than the typical individual, and each one is accompanied by fascinating anecdotes.

Notably, and by his own mistake, Richards has also avoided two potentially fatal fires. The first time was during a Chicago trip for his band in 1972. Hugh Hefner invited Richards and his notorious sidekick, saxophonist Bobby Keys, to stay at the first Playboy Mansion on the Gold Coast of the city during this downtime. However, when doing narcotics in the restroom, the two almost set the entire building on fire.

Richards recalled in his autobiography, Life, “Bobby says, ‘It’s smoky in here’, And then a little later, there’s a thumping at the door, waiters and guys in black suits bringing buckets of water. They get the door open, and we’re sitting on the floor, our eyeballs very pinned.”

The second fire, which happened in 1978, was even more dangerous. The lead guitarist of The Rolling Stones dated Swedish model Lil Wergilis in the latter part of the decade. Richards was unexpectedly awakened in the middle of the night by Wergilis, who was renting a house in Laurel Canyon, the birthplace of the Los Angeles counterculture, to warn him of a fire that had started in another room.

Although Richards stated in an interview with the Telegraph in 2010 that he had unintentionally set it on fire, his fuzzy recall from this time frame suggests that anything may have caused the fire. The cause of the fire has never been formally determined. Richards wrote of the order in Life, “We had a few seconds to jump out of the window, I’m dressed in a short T-shirt only, and Lil is naked.”

Richards’ longtime girlfriend Anita Pallenberg’s cousin came to save the couple, picking them up and escorting them away from the scene. But when they went back to the property the next day, they discovered a “huge sign that said, ‘Thanks a lot, Keith,’ stuck in the blackened grass.” The guitarist also disclosed that his passport, favorite cassettes, jewelry, and a rifle with 500 rounds of ammo were the only items that had survived.

Following the story, Richards queried: “So what am I supposed to gather from my life? That I’m blessed?”

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


Leave a Comment