Keith Richards’ Canadian Redemption

After a high-profile 1977 heroin bust in a Toronto hotel, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards cleaned up his act and told People magazine: “It’s dangerous when you start to attribute everything you do to what you’re hung up on, instead of realizing that even if you took a ton of acid you couldn’t write the greatest song if you weren’t capable of it in the first place.”


Then, in his next breath: “Drink has never been a problem. I’ve written some of my best things pissed out of my mind.”

What did you expect – a testament to the inspirational power of herbal tea?

On February 27, 1977, RCMP officers entered Richards’ suite (which he shared with longtime girlfriend Anita Pallenberg) in Toronto’s Harbour Castle Hotel and arrested him for drug possession. It wasn’t the kind of room service he’d expected.

“I walked by a garbage bin at the end of his bed and there was fresh drug residue in it,” Bernie Barbe, one of the arresting officers, explained to the Ottawa Sun in a 2005 interview about the infamous arrest. “There was no resistance from him or the others, he was a gentleman. He didn’t say much of anything.”

At that time, the Rolling Stones guitarist already had multiple drug arrests under his belt, so the handcuff—squad car—trial—release routine must have felt second nature. That is, until authorities handed down the charge of heroin possession for the purpose of trafficking, which meant that Richards faced the possibility of life in prison.

The rocker remained in Canada until April of that year, when he received permission to travel to the U.S. to enter a drug rehabilitation program. Still, with the threat of jail looming, and some media proclaiming the bust to be the beginning of the end of the Rolling Stones, Richards reportedly made a conscious decision to clean up his act for good.

“I had reached the point of no return,” Richards told People magazine. “I had this realization that I was endangering everything I wanted to do and what people around me wanted to do.”

While Canada and its stringent sentencing practices served to help scare Richards (sort of) straight, it was a young blind girl from Montreal who helped get the Rolling Stone off the hook. Dubbed the “Blind Angel” by Richards himself, the girl told the judge of the rock star’s generosity and care when she’d travel to shows and of how he’d make sure she was looked after and taken safely home.

Ultimately, thanks in large part to his blind fan, Richards’ charge was reduced to possession of heroin, and resulted in two court-ordered benefit concerts for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

The entire ordeal served as a wake-up call that Richards says provided him with the determination to kick heroin and cocaine – a rehabilitation that stands to this day. With a mind clear of the drug influence he helped write on of the Stones’ most celebrated albums, Some Girls.

Now, years later, with a legendary rock career under his belt, Richards has proven to be a survivor. But if you think his Canadian redemption mellowed him out completely, consider this from an interview with Britain’s The Daily Mail in 2010:

“I smoke my head off. I smoke weed all the damn time. But that’s my benign weed. That’s all I take, that’s all I do.”

Considering the habits that Richards left behind, that’s not so bad at all.

-Mike Crisolago