Hands down the best member of the 20th century’s most important rock’n’roll band, Keith Richards never complains and never explains. His life has been filled with scandal, affairs, fires, fist fights, arrests and rampant drug abuse – and he doesn’t regret a second of it.
An unapologetically rakish, elegantly wasted pirate-king of a man, he still grins like a wolf in a fairy tale at the mention of trouble. It’s hard not to feel respect and affection for someone so indomitable. Cruising at the top of the Most Likely To die list for ten years, Keef has run rings around the Grim Reaper. Plopping out of a tree in Fiji, a near-fatal on-stage electrocution, setting fire to his own bed – none have been enough to pickle the old fella.
And the combination of a warm heart and a caustic wit has transpired to stop him becoming too pompous about his own legend, while never giving the tiniest of stuffs for societal norms. As he once said: ‘If you’re going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use two feet.’
With his kohl eyes, bandanas and gypsy jewellery – plus fag permanently hanging from his lips – Richards is also a perennial style icon. It’s easy to see why Johnny depp imitated his older hero for his role in Pirates Of The Caribbean. Yet such fripperies are nothing compared with the music. ‘Music is a necessity,’ he’s said. ‘after food, air, water and warmth, it’s the next necessity of life.’
While Mick Jagger is one of the greatest frontmen of all time, riff- master Richards is the heart and core of the band – the intro to Gimme shelter alone is reason enough for anyone with music in their soul to bow down at his skull’n’crossbones-strewn altar. Richards is devilishly blunt about Richards is devilishly blunt about his old friend and songwriting partner, starting one chapter of his (fantastic) autobiography Life: ‘It was the beginning of the 1980s when Mick started to become unbearable.’
And he shows no sign of mellowing with age. Most recently, he’s dubbed The Beatles’ sgt Pepper album ‘rubbish’ and claimed he’d be happy for his daughters to snort his ashes, just like he (supposedly) did his dad. ‘I’ll give them a straw,’ he said. In an era too full of dumb, bland stars, he’s a force to celebrate.