As a man who once admitted treating his body as a "human chemical laboratory", the veteran rocker Keith Richards has grown accustomed to the occasional unscheduled hospital visit. But in the latest scrape, spectacular even by his standards, he needed a brain scan after falling out of a coconut tree.
"Keef", as the Rolling Stone guitarist is lovingly known, was holidaying at the luxurious Club Resort on Wakaya, Fiji, when he and fellow Stone Ronnie Wood decided to explore the same tree. The consequences were spectacular. Half-way up Richards - reformed heroin addict and one-time hellraiser - slipped and fell to the ground, severely banging his head in the process.
The concussed musician, who will need no reminding that his band's hits have included "Tumbling Dice" and "Fool to Cry", seems to have made light of the scrape and, according to some reports, proceeded to engage in a high-speed session on his jet-ski. But two days later, still feeling the effects, he was flown from the resort to Nausori airport near Suva, the capital of Fiji, where he was treated at a private hospital.
He was transferred to Ascot hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, where he has remained with his wife. According to some reports yesterday, he was still there, awaiting test results.
The accident happened last week, shortly after the Stones had played Wellington as part of their Bigger Bang world tour, which moves to Europe next month. He and his wife, Patti Hansen, had retreated to the Fijian island with their close friends Wood and his wife, Jo.
The Stones' management was reluctant to discuss details of the incident. "Following treatment locally and as a precautionary measure he flew to a hospital accompanied by his wife, Patti, for observation," said a spokeswoman for the musician, who added that she did not know how the accident happened.
New Zealand's Sunday Star Times reported that Richards was being treated in a hospital in Auckland and that he was conscious, mobile and had not undergone surgery. "I've been told it is probably just something mild but we can't yet rule out that it is not something more serious," a friend reportedly said. "It all depends on the outcome of the tests."
Richards' fellow residents had sympathy for him. "Picking coconuts is quite common on the island," said one. "It's just that Keith had a bit of an accident coming down."
Richards, 62, is no stranger to unexpected injuries. In 1998, the band had to delay a tour after he fell off a ladder while trying to retrieve a book in the library of his Connecticut mansion. He damaged his ribs and chest and there were even fears he had punctured a lung when he fell while stretching amid the library's floor-to-ceiling shelves. His agent said he "had not been drinking".
Wood, who appears to have escaped without injury from their tree adventure, will sympathise. He had to be rescued at sea off Brazil last month after a fire broke out on a motor cruiser which was taking him sightseeing. The American leg of the band's Bridges To Babylon tour was similarly disrupted after Jagger suffered a throat infection.
Stones fans must wait to hear whether Richards' injury will affect the European leg of the tour, which opens at Barcelona's Olympic stadium and will take in 34 dates. The tour is on course to break box-office records and has taken Richards' estimated annual earnings up to £180m on the back of the exceptional receipts.
The accompanying album has won a Grammy. The Stones will be playing four concerts in the UK including Twickenham in west London on 20 August. They will also play in Sheffield and Glasgow, finishing off at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. There are plans to insert hundreds of seats into the stadium set so fans can be on stage during the performance.
Recent comments from Richards suggested that the band will continue to live exuberantly on tour. "Retire? I can't spell the word," the guitar legend said recently. "I'd play on in a wheelchair. This is what we do. Otherwise, what's life all about?"
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