Keith Richards: Drugs Today Are 'Very Institutionalized and Bland'

By Paul Gaita 03/02/18

Richards says that the reason he's not interested in 21st century drugs is simple: "I've done 'em all."

Keith Richards

Rolling Stones co-founder Keith Richards, whose history with narcotics and wild living has become the stuff of rock and roll infamy, said in a recent interview that he finds drugs "not interesting these days."

The 74-year-old, who will embark on another global tour with bandmates Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood in the spring of 2018, described drugs these days, such as Xanax or Percocet, "very institutionalized and bland." In addition to maintaining an on-again, off-again sobriety, Richards added that the reason he's not interested in 21st century drugs is simple: "I've done 'em all."

Speaking with The Daily Telegraph in the UK, Richards claimed that he had been abstinent for "a couple of months," and that his most consistent vices of late were coffee and cigarettes. But he quickly added, "I'm not saying I'm definitely off all of this stuff. In six months' time, I might be on it again. But at the moment, for a couple of months, I haven't touched it." When asked how sobriety sat with him, Richards noted with a laugh, "It's novel."

Richards has been fairly sanguine about a perceived lack of quality in modern-day drugs in comparison to the substances he ingested at a seemingly superhuman rate during the height of the Rolling Stones' success in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 2015, he told Billboard that "the state of good drugs has gone down. In the '60s and '70s, you had barbiturates, which were great downers. And Quaaludes. These drugs were fairly simple. You took them, you pissed them out. But these new ones, the Xanax? I'm not there with that." 

In the past, Richards has dismissed notions that his drug use, including heroin, fueled some of the Stones' best efforts, including the landmark albums Let It Bleed (1969) and Exile on Main St. (1972).

"I have never felt it did anything for my creativity," he told BBC Radio 4 in 2015. "It was something that I had to stop because I realized there are experiments that go on too long. Some people can handle things and other people can’t. If the drugs become more important than the music, then you've lost the battle."

However, Richards appeared to walk back on such statements in his conversation with The Telegraph, when asked if sobriety had improved his musicianship. "Well… all things are relative!" he laughed. "Insobriety produced some amazing stuff, too."

His impish attitude towards stories of his substance use took a somber note when asked about model and actress Anita Pallenberg, who passed away in 2017 due to complications from hepatitis C. Pallenberg exited a chaotic relationship with Rolling Stones guitarist and co-founder, Brian Jones, to forge what would become a 10-year romance with Richards that produced three children.

According to Richards, the pair also used heroin together, and Pallenberg would contend with problem drug use well into the 1980s. "Miss her dearly," said Richards, who has been married to former model Patti Hansen since 1983. "Long may she not rest in peace, because she [hated] peace!"

Issues of finality and mortality are inevitably part of the conversation when Keith Richards is the subject. To the surprise of many, the musician has outlived many of his contemporaries, and at 74, the debate as to how much longer he and the Rolling Stones can continue to tour and record remains a constant.

For Richards, however, it remains outside chatter to be ignored. "There's never been a word about it muttered among ourselves," he said to The Telegraph. "I guess the day's obviously going to come, some day. But not in the near future."

He continued, "It's always a pleasure to get up there again, especially with this band. I think the boys are playing better than ever. Maybe it's experience—we seem to be able to pace ourselves right. I'm blessed to work with some of the best players ever. That never gets old."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.