Richards can't resist making an ash of himself

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My father died in 1993, and I can declare with pride that I never snorted any of his remains. Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

It seems a good time to come clean, given how craggy Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards made that disclosure last week to Britain's New Musical Express about how he had mixed his deceased father's cremated ashes with some "blow" (cocaine) and snorted them up his nose. As a result, the first Tuesday in April could well come to be celebrated annually as Ash Tuesday.

Let's try to imagine the horror this disclosure inspired in the Walt Disney Co., whose summer family tentpole "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" features Richards in a cameo as the father of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). It was probably a little bit like discovering you'd unwittingly done business with Hannibal Lechter's nasally brother. Is there even a term for inhaling deceased relatives?

And I mean, poor Disney. It isn't enough that these guys weather the Mel Gibson fiasco and navigate the daily verbal land mine known as Rosie O'Donnell on "The View." Now, there's Ashgate -- though both Richards' manager and Disney did an impressive job in instantly refuting the snort remark as having been "said in jest" and spinning it as the sardonic ramblings of a twisted kidder.

The problem here, as I see it, was twofold:

1. The cat already was out of the bag, with wire services and major news organizations on both sides of the Atlantic reporting the macabre, ghoulish claim as fact. It's tough to put the genie back inside the bottle, or, in this case, remove the father from the son's nose.

2. As something of a poster boy for rock 'n' roll substance-abuse excess, Richards was at one time seen as a pharmaceutical lab with legs. While the reaction to the dad-snorting disclosure was shock and revulsion, no one believed it was false. It seemed perfectly in keeping with Richards' persona. Heroin, weed, coke, acid, dad -- it fit the narcotic profile like a glove.

There's one other thing worth mentioning. From what I've seen, Richards hasn't expressly denied that he did it. As the spin went into motion, all he would say is, "The complete story is lost in the usual slanting." Oh? And this would mean ... what? That he was quoted out of context? That he didn't snort dad but smoked him?

Richards said to MTV News, "The truth of the matter is that I planted a sturdy English Oak. I took the ... ashes (and sprinkled them beneath the tree), and he is now growing oak trees and he would love me for it." Of his original ashes-cocaine snorting story, he explained, "I was trying to say how tight (my father) and I were -- that tight!"

Yeah, well, if I were searching for just the right metaphor to describe the loving bond enjoyed with my now-deceased pop, I'm not sure that "I sucked his ashen remains into my head!" is the first place I'd go. But that's the difference between Keith Richards and your typical son. Good thing he isn't running for political office or he'd have needed to add, "... but I didn't inhale."

Disney publicity honcho Dennis Rice observed on Wednesday that "Keith won't be doing a lot of publicity" for the "Pirates" film. Which is really too bad. Public figures who will say anything are one of life's rare pleasures. And I mean, what speaks to family values more eloquently than holding a beloved parent close to one's heart?
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