On this Day in Music History: Keith Richards Undergoes Brain Surgery after Falling from Tree

Legendary rock band the Rolling Stones seems invincible with a six-decade-long career that’s still going strong. On this day (May 8) in 2006, their guitarist Keith Richards, especially, proved unbreakable.

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Richards was forced to undergo emergency brain surgery after a fall in Fiji left him with what was originally diagnosed as a “mild concussion,” the Washington Post reported. A few days prior on April 27, while vacationing on the South Pacific island following the Asia-Oceania stint of their A Bigger Bang World Tour, Richards fell from a tree.

Rumors circulated surrounding details of the fall, but the truth behind the incident was eventually revealed in Richard’s 2010 autobiography, Life. What many thought to be a palm or coconut tree was actually a “gnarled low tree” several feet off the ground.

The story goes that after a swim, Richards took a rest on a branch to dry off and when it was time to descend, things for the guitarist went sideways. “There was another branch in front of me,” he wrote in his autobiography, “and I thought, I’ll just grab hold of that and drop gently to the ground. But I forgot that my hands were still wet and there was sand and everything on them, and as I grabbed this branch, the grip didn’t take. And so I landed hard on my heels, and my head went back and hit the trunk of the tree. Hard. And that was it.”

After the incident, he was flown to a New Zealand hospital where a spokesperson for the band called the stay “a precautionary measure,” according to The Guardian. However, the guitarist had to be relieved of a subdural hematoma, or a blood clot on the brain, a procedure that involves drilling a hole in the cranium.

Richards’ recovery from surgery forced the band to delay the European leg of their tour for six weeks. Several shows had to be rescheduled. A complete recovery was announced on June 6 of that year with a revised tour schedule. It included a statement from Richards, saying “Excuse me, I fell off of my perch! Sorry to disrupt everyone’s plans but now – It’s FULL STEAM AHEAD! Ouch!!”

Ahead of the band’s return to New Zealand in 2013 as part of their On Fire Tour, Richards remarked on his memorable stay in the country. “Looking forward to coming back to New Zealand especially since I left half my brain there,” he joked in a video message. “It has a special place in my heart and my head.”

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for RS

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