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When Keith Got Richards Electrocuted During a Rolling Stones Concert

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Keith Richards has played thousands of shows during his career, both with and without the Rolling Stones, but the one he later referred to as his “most spectacular” took place in Sacramento, Calilf., on Dec. 3, 1965.

It really was pretty spectacular, but not for the reasons you’d suspect. As the Stones launched into “The Last Time” onstage at the Memorial Auditorium, Richards bumped his guitar into a mic stand — ordinarily not a big deal, except this particular stand happened to be ungrounded, creating an electrical surge that unleashed a shower of sparks and left Richards unconscious on the floor. As the Huffington Post recalls, the surge sounded so much like a gun that concert promoter Jeff Hughson believed Richards was the victim of an assassination attempt.

“I was right there in the front row, in front of Keith,” journalist Mick Martin told HuffPo. “I saw the blue light. I literally saw Keith fly into the air backward. I thought he was dead. I was horrified. We all were. Silence fell over the crowd. They carried him out with oxygen tubes, and he was semiconscious. I patted him on the shoulders and said, ‘I hope you’re going to be OK.'”

Richards ultimately pulled out of his ordeal, reportedly thanks to the fact he’d been wearing a pair of new rubber-soled boots, but things looked dicey for a bit. In fact, the HuffPo piece quotes him as saying he regained consciousness while a nearby doctor said, “Well, they either wake up or they don’t.” It proved a frightening early lesson in the dangers of wielding all that combined wattage for a rock show, and although Richards was one of the first rock stars to narrowly avoid death by onstage electrocution, he was hardly the last — just ask Ace Frehley, who nearly met the same fate during a Kiss show 11 years later.

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