The Trials of Saint Keef
The 1977 Keith Richards Toronto Drug Bust
“I don't think it was Canada's fault or that it had anything to do with it. It could've happened anywhere. Mind you, you should do something about those Mounties.”
The Rolling Stones live at the El Mocambo in Toronto 1977
The trouble began on the evening of February 24, 1977, when a jet from London, England landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards stumbled off the plane followed by a considerable entourage, including their young son, Marlon, and a ridiculous amount of luggage.
Keith had flown in because The Rolling Stones were planning on playing their first club gig since 1964. They wanted to record some live tracks in a smaller club setting and had already made secret plans to use the El Mocambo. They chose Toronto because they figured they could lay relatively low and keep Keith out of trouble.
Keith expected to sign a few autographs or face a few cameras at the airport; what was waiting for them was something very different.
Anita Pallenberg had 28 large suitcases with her, which was a bit overwhelming to the border agents, who had to search through each and every one. The airport staff eventually called for help from the RCMP.
The Lovely Anita Pallenberg
At this point, according to legend, Keith Richards was so high--so out of his mind on a strange mixture of cocaine, heroin, and God knows whatever else he put into himself--that he mistook the uniformed police officers for porters who were going to carry his bags for him. Instead, they searched all the bags and found a spoon coated in residue that, not surprisingly, proved to be heroin, as well as a large quantity of hashish. Because the drugs had been found in Anita’s bags, she was booked at a police station in nearby Brantford and eventually issued an order to appear in court a few days later. Keith and his son were sent on their way to the Harbour Castle Hilton Hotel.
It was only three days later that the police showed up at the hotel, supposedly tipped off by someone on the hotel staff. When police arrived in the middle of the night, they had great trouble finding Keith Richards. This was, in part, thanks to a technique that the band used to evade groupies, reporters, and other pests.
Keith had not rented just one suite; he had rented six suites spread throughout the four floors that housed the rest of the Rolling Stones crew.
The police only had a warrant to enter a room under the name of Anita Pallenberg, but they ignored that legal technicality and began banging on doors looking for somebody to bust. Forty-five minutes later, they found the room that Keith Richards was passed out in.
The police tried to jar the wasted Richards back to reality by smacking him repeatedly across the the face. They tore the place apart and found an ounce of heroin and a small bag of cocaine as well. This time, Richards was arrested, booked, and taken in front of a lenient Justice of the Peace, who granted him immediate bail.
The charges facing Keith were no laughing matter in Canada at that time, as heroin and cocaine carried with them ridiculously stiff sentences. Because of the relatively large volume of heroin that Keith Richards was found with, the police decided to charge him with the more serious “possession of controlled substances with an intent to traffic”, which implied that he'd brought the drugs into the country in order to sell them. Keith faced the very real risk of a jail sentence anywhere from seven years to life.
Keith entering the courthouse in Toronto
Since Keith was out on bail, the show had to go on. On Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, The Stones played to a crowd of VIPs, reporters, and radio contest winners at the El Mocambo, recording both nights. They played long sets and included early numbers like “Little Red Rooster” and “Mannish Boy” that they hadn’t played in years. These tracks would later become the second album in the band’s “Love You Live” collection.
Notable in the audience that first night at the club was Margaret Trudeau, the then-Prime Minister’s wife and current Prime Minister’s mother (let that one sink in for a minute) who caused a media scandal by hanging out and partying with the band. (Editor’s note: for a crude lyrical reference, see Dayglo Abortions' “Proud To Be A Canadian”.)
The court proceedings against Keith Richards dragged on until December 1978. In the meantime, he had tried to show he was being a good boy and entered into a radical drug rehab program that included something called “neuroelectric acupuncture”. When he finally came before York County Judge Lloyd Grayburn, Keith claimed to be a changed
Justin Trudeau's Mom
man. The judge allowed him to plead guilty to the lesser charge of possession and sentenced him to probation and a one-year suspended sentence. The judge went a step further and placed an unusual condition on Richards: he wouldn’t serve a day of jail time as long as he agreed to come back to Toronto and play a free concert for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
Keith and Rita Bedard 1989
Why did the judge add this strange condition? It was actually due to the actions of a huge Rolling Stones fan who went the extra mile to save her rock n’ roll hero. A visually impaired woman named Rita Bedard appeared at the Judge’s house on a Sunday afternoon and knocked on his front door. She explained how years before, when she was just a young vulnerable teenager, she had gone to see the Rolling Stones and had been lucky enough to get backstage and meet Keith Richards. She said that he had been
a total gentleman, and that he had even arranged a car service to take her home and called later to make sure she got there safe. Judge Grayburn was touched by the story and that night came up with this idea of a concert for the CNIB.
On April 22, 1979, Keith Richards and The Rolling Stones played two shows at the Oshawa Civic Auditorium and Keith, as we all know, went on to live a completely clean life and never did drugs again...
*Editor's Note: Keith Richards definitely kept doing heroin for 2-3 more years before “quitting” in the early '80s. He only gave up cocaine in 2006, at the age of 62, after falling out of a palm tree in Fiji and nearly killing himself.