If there’s anything stranger than the fact that Keith Richards has lived to be 70, it may be that his marriage has lived to be 30.
Both occasions are marked on December 18. The Rolling Stones’ guitarist used the occasion of his 40th birthday in 1983 to wed Patti Hansen. That’s one way to avoid forgetting your anniversary, no matter what substances you might have floating in your bloodstream, up to and including your father’s ashes.
Surprisingly, 30 years of apparent marital bliss is not a record for a Rolling Stone; Charlie Watts has been married for 49 years. But the three-record mark still astonishes anyone who likes to remember Richards as one of rock’s wildest-living unclean livers.
“Thank God for Mrs. Patti Hansen, who has finally got her way and put me on the straight and narrow,” Richards said in a recently published interview with Men’s Journal. “I mean the proof is in the pudding: great kids.” The couple have two daughters, Theodora, 28, and Alexandra, 27, both of whom are considered to inherited their ex-model mom’s looks. (Richards also has a son and a daughter from his earlier relationship with Anita Pallenberg, in addition to a son who passed away. Altogether, he has four grandkids.)
The “straight and narrow” part has been a function of Richards’ life since he hit his head in a fall and underwent brain surgery in 2009, though it’s not so narrow that he doesn’t still indulge in drink and weed, not being the all-or-nothing kind of recovery adherent.
It was Hansen’s 23rd birthday that proved fateful in 1979, when she went out to Studio 54 to celebrate her big day with friends and met Richards, about whose life and music she knew almost nothing. As he recounts in his autobiography, Life, Richards was a reluctant customer at the legendary disco, thinking that was more Mick’s thing, but he was entranced when he saw “this blonde beauty dancing with wild hair flying” and sent over a bottle of Dom Perignon. He didn’t run into her again until December of that year, but by January 1980, they were in love. He wrote in his diary that month: “I’ve (got access to sex) at the snap of a finger but I’ve met a woman!... She thinks this battered junkie is the guy she loves. I’m over the moon and peeing in my pants.”
He didn’t get off to a great start with his future in-laws. As he recounted in Life, Richards went to their house in Long Island bearing a bottle of booze and was “already pissed out of my brains.” Hansen was upstairs when things got bad and didn’t witness the brouhaha herself, but in a 2011 interview with Harpers Bazaar, she recounted the version of the story she got from relatives who were gathered around the dinner table. “Somebody at the table asked for Keith to play, which he did, and then the family went on talking. So he got a little angry,” she said. Richards’ version in the book is that one of her sisters said “I think you’ve drunk too much to play that.” “And then bang. I went berserk… and smashed my guitar on the table. Which takes some force… I could have been banished forever, but the amazing thing about this family is that they weren’t offended. A little startled maybe, but by then everybody had had a tipple.”
In ’83, he wrote, “I wanted to make this thing legitimate.” On location in Cabo San Lucas while shooting several Stones videos for songs from Undercover of the Night, he proposed: “Come on, let’s get married on my birthday. She said, do you mean it? I said yeah. Immediately she jumped on my back. I didn’t feel anything, but I just heard something go snap and I looked down and there’s two beautiful fountains of blood coming out from behind my toenail. Within five seconds of me saying, yeah, I mean it, she broke my toe…”