Stupid Question ™
June 25, 1998
By John Ruch
Q: Is it true that Keith Richards had a blood transfusion to clean the drugs out of his body? If so, how does that work?
A: While he’s tried nearly every illicit drug available (even once hinting about sniffing Preparation H), Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has had his biggest problem with heroin.
Richards has never had trouble quitting smack—he’s just had trouble quitting it for good. In the ’70s and early ’80s, he attacked his habit with a mix of quack cures—including electroshocks administered by clips on his ears—and pragmatic insight. “If you want to get off it you will,” Richards said at his Canadian drug trial in 1977, later adding that the real problem is going back to a circle of junkie friends.
Wanting to be sober for the “Goats Head Soup” tour, Richards and Marshall Chess, head of Rolling Stones Records, went to a Switzerland clinic on Sept. 23, 1973. . There they paid a visiting Florida “doctor” $5,000.
The doctor put them through dialysis, the same process kidney-failure patients undergo to clean toxins from their blood. Over a period of two or three days (depending on which unreliable rock book you read), Richards’ and Chess’ blood was run through a pump and back into their bodies, with any impurities passing through a semipermeable membrane and into the dialysis fluid.
They were supposedly unconscious the entire time, which spooked Richards. According to one source, Chess had recommended the procedure, having already tried it in Mexico.
“From this cure sprang the myth that Keith regularly had the blood emptied out of his body and replaced with a fresh supply,” writes Victor Bockris in “Keith Richards: The Biography,” noting that Richards himself perpetuated the notion as a joke.
The myth was popularized by Tony Sanchez’s notorious 1979 tell-all “Up and Down with the Rolling Stones,” which incorrectly referred to the procedure as “having his blood changed.” By the early 1980s, the rumor was already in wide circulation (so to speak).
Paul Coleman, president of the Columbus, Ohio addiction recovery clinic Maryhaven, says that there’s no way dialysis will cure addiction, which is a complex mix of psychological and biological problems. In fact, he says, it wouldn’t even help you pass “a well-administered chemical test for drugs.”
Coleman seems to have a point, considering that in 1975, Richards went back and more dialysis to “cure” him again (though afterwards he did pass a US embassy drug test).
After simply going cold turkey in the late ’80s, Richards is now supposedly heroin-free—and, like most ex-junkies, a heavy drinker and a real looker.