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Keith Richards going to court, 1977
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Keith going to court, and then leaving court, after the Toronto drug bust in 1977 (silent footage)
From The Star (2018):
More than 40 years have passed since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had to “slap’’ Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards awake at a Toronto hotel so they could arrest him for possession of heroin for the purposes of trafficking.
The charge, which carried a minimum of seven years upon conviction, was based on the 22 grams of heroin found on Feb. 27, 1977, during a raid of Richards’ room at the Harbour Castle Hilton (now Westin Harbour Castle), while he was sleeping.
“They couldn’t wake me. By law you have to be conscious to be arrested,’’ Richards dryly recollects in his 2010 autobiography, Life.
“My memory of it is waking up and them going slap, slap, two Mounties dragging me about the room, slapping me. Trying to get me conscious…’’
Richards wrote he’d been up for “five days” before the RCMP arrested him at the Queens Quay hotel.
They had a search warrant under the name of Richards’ then-common-law wife, German actress Anita Pallenberg. She was not charged at the hotel — Richards admitted the heroin was his.
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Three days earlier, while travelling with Richards, Pallenberg was arrested at Pearson International Airport after a spoon with traces of heroin on it and 10 grams of hashish were discovered in her luggage. The couple had flown from London, England, to Toronto to meet the other members of the Stones, who were preparing to record their Love You Live album at the El Mocambo nightclub.
Pallenberg was charged with possession of heroin and cannabis, booked in Brampton and released on a promise to appear later in provincial court. (She pled guilty the following month to possession of cannabis and was fined $400, after the judge ruled there were only traces of heroin detected.)
According to a 2012 Rolling Stone magazine article, because the search warrant had Pallenberg’s name on it, a justice of the peace at a Brampton court released Richards on a $1,000 no-deposit bail. So he didn’t have to pay anything.
But this sliver of good fortune didn’t last. On March 8, 1977, Richards, looking “pale and nervous,’’ the Star reported, appeared at Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse to face a second charge and a bail hearing for possession of cocaine.
During the hotel raid police had taken a substance from his room (in addition to the heroin). It was tested and identified as cocaine. At this hearing Richards’ bail was set at $25,000 cash and he was allowed to keep his passport. (In some of its initial reporting, the Star referred to the Stones’ lead guitarist’s last name as Richard but later advised that he had “recently added an ‘s’ to his name.” Richards went back to his original surname in the late 1970s, after dropping the “s” in 1963, at the advice of then-manager Andrew Loog Oldham who felt it was “more pop.”)
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Between court appearances, Richards performed at two live Stones sessions at the El Mocambo, on March 4 and March 5. Both shows were packed with 300-plus fans.
Richards’ drug problems added to the usual buzz surrounding any Stones appearance but this time there was an additional bizarre element: Margaret Trudeau, wife of Canada’s prime minister Pierre Trudeau (and mother of the current prime minister), arrived in a limousine with lead singer Mick Jagger for the first El Mocambo performance. A long-time Stones fan, she stayed for the entire session and also went afterward to the Harbour Castle, where she had booked a room.
Richards wasn’t happy about the extra publicity that came with the wife of the prime minister hanging around the Stones. It was, he wrote in his book, the “worst combination of circumstances … Trudeau’s bride … was seen walking in our corridors in a bathrobe.’’ There was innuendo that Margaret was having an affair with Jagger. But in his memoir, Richards hints it was actually Stones guitarist Ron Wood who was “hitting it off really well” with Margaret Trudeau.
The other Stones left Toronto after the El Mocambo shows, but Richards stayed behind. Speculation swirled about the band’s future. A Rolling Stone magazine article at the time wondered if Richards’ troubles meant “the end of the Rolling Stones.’’
Richards decided to get treatment for his drug use. With permission from Canadian authorities and a medical visa from the United States, he left April 1 to enter a withdrawal program at a facility near Philadelphia, and then ongoing treatment at the Stevens Psychiatric Center in New York City.
He was back in Toronto in early December 1977 for a preliminary hearing and the Star reported he elected trial by judge and jury. But this would change.
On Oct. 23, 1978, after slipping into the University Ave. County Court building “via a back entrance,” Richards stood before Judge Lloyd Graburn and elected trial by judge alone and then pled guilty to possession of heroin. The charges of trafficking and possession of cocaine were dropped.
The next day Richards, wearing a tie and three-piece tan suit, appeared for sentencing in a packed courtroom. Richards did not speak but his lawyer told the court that he had started using heroin in 1969. He was soon taking large amounts “as much as 21/2 grams a day,” Austin Cooper told the judge. He said Richards, a “creative tortured person,’’ had tried several times before to quit but he always “fell back into the cauldron.’’ The most recent treatment, in which he was still involved, appeared to be succeeding, he told the court.
Crown attorney Paul Kennedy asked for a jail term of six to 12 months. Richards’ lawyer, Cooper, argued that the only reasons for a jail term would be to break Richards’ heroin habit or to prevent him from resorting to crime. Since Richards was already getting treatment and had enough money that he didn’t need to turn to crime, there was no need for jail, he said.
The judge agreed: “No incarceration or fine would be appropriate because of Mr. Richards’ continuing treatment for drug addiction and his long-term benefit to the community.” He gave Richards a one-year suspended sentence and put him on a year’s probation. He also ordered him to continue his addiction treatment and to “give a special performance at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’’ within six months.
The next day, in media interviews from his hotel room, Richards said: “I feel good about it obviously … I am quite happy.’’ He also joked that the other Stones, who he’d told not to attend the trial, “were pissed off I was not put away for a couple of years.’’
About heroin addiction, he commented, “It’s easier to get on it than off it.’’
Richards fulfilled his sentence terms. The benefit concert for the CNIB took place on April 22, 1979 at the Oshawa Civic Auditorium (the CNIB auditorium was too small).
In his book Richards wrote that a blind fan of the Stones, who hitchhiked to many of their concerts and who he befriended, fed and looked out for, had gone to the judge before sentencing and spoken up for him.
“And this is how he arrived at the concert for the blind …. the most Solomon-like judgment that had been handed down in many a year.’’
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