As the face of the biggest rock groups of all time, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger has led quite a life. Drugs, sex, and rock ’n’ roll have all been part and parcel of his much-publicized career – not to mention some of the greatest records ever made. In fact, with his commanding stage presence and rebellious attitude, Jagger is practically the blueprint for all other lead singers. However, while much of the rock star’s journey has been chronicled in print and online, there remain plenty of obscure and shocking facts surrounding the vocalist.
A horse ride almost cost him his life
Don’t try to man a horse if you’ve never done so before. Jagger found this out first-hand when he apparently attempted to take one for a ride. Speaking of the incident, publisher John Blake, who claims to possess a 75,000-page memoir written by the star, said in 2017, “Having never ridden a horse before, [Jagger] leaped on to a stallion, whereupon it reared and roared off like a Ferrari.” Luckily, though, the frontman managed to bring the animal to a halt by punching it between the eyes. Poor horse!
There was no room at the inn for him
As notorious troublemakers, it’s probably no surprise that Jagger and Keith Richards have been turned away from numerous hotels in their 50-odd years of making music together. However, in the space of just two months in 1966, 14 hotels in New York alone refused to let them stay at their facilities. Talk about bad boys!
He started out as a choirboy
It’s hard to maintain a cool image in rock ’n’ roll when you’ve been in the church choir, but Jagger somehow overcame the stigma. Yes, who knew that the singer of “Sympathy for the Devil” was just an innocent choir boy when he was younger? It seems that no matter your religious leanings, you can't deny he's got a serious set of pipes.
He auditioned for The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Not content with just being a rock star, Jagger thought that he would further his career in acting when he auditioned for the movie adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But despite reading for the part of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, he lost out to the fantastic Tim Curry.
The mayor of Boston had to bail him out of prison
Because of a violent altercation with some journalists, Jagger and Richards found themselves behind bars back in 1972. However, they also had a show to play in Boston. This prompted city Mayor Kevin Hagan White to bail them out of jail for fear of a riot if the gig didn’t go ahead as planned.
He was an aspiring journalist and politician
Things could have turned out much differently if Jagger had followed through on his initial aspirations. That’s because the energetic performer took a course in business. What’s more, the Rolling Stone once contemplated going into the fields of journalism and politics. It’s fair to say that he would’ve definitely shaken things up in the Houses of Parliament...
He called some of his band’s material “rubbish”
While much of the Rolling Stones’ work has received critical acclaim, their 1967 record Their Satanic Majesties Request tends to divide opinion among fans and critics. Jagger also concurred with the criticism, calling the psychedelic LP “a lot of rubbish,” as revealed in the 2001 book According to the Rolling Stones.
He’s used to biting his tongue – quite literally
You may think that Jagger’s singing voice is all down to natural talent. However, there may be another factor at play. In an article for New York magazine in 1981, it was asserted that Jagger had bitten off a segment of his tongue in a fall. The writer then attributed the rock star’s rough singing qualities to this accident.
Death of a founding member
Jagger's personal life wasn't the only source of strife for his bandmates. The musicians had to fire Brian Jones, an original Rolling Stone and a close friend, when his substance use made it impossible for him to play. Jones drowned in his swimming pool a month later. He was only 27 years old.
He claimed he would retire before he turned 40
Never believe a musician when they say they’re retiring at a certain age because chances are that they probably won’t. And Jagger is a case in point. According to some sources, the wild singer said he was going to stop when he hit 33. Well, he was a tad off with that estimate, considering that he’s now in his seventies and still going strong.
He bought a house while living the high life
Jagger never shied away from drugs, but buying a mansion while under the influence of LSD? Now, that’s quite a story. The mind-boggling tale comes by way of the alleged autobiographical memoir written by Jagger. The tome reportedly states that the Stones star bought a large estate in Hampshire, England, and that he was indulging in the drug at the time of the purchase.
Forced into songwriting
The Stones' controlling manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, understood that performers writing their own songs would define the future of pop music. Banking on the natural chemistry of Jagger and Richards, he locked them in a kitchen one night and wouldn't let them out until they penned a single.
Keith Richards called Jagger “unbearable” in his autobiography
Richards and Jagger have been by each other’s sides for so long that they may as well be brothers. And like siblings, while they may have quarreled over the years, they still seem to have love for one another. In his autobiography Life, for example, Richards labels Jagger as “unbearable,” but he also quite touchingly writes, “Sometimes I think, ‘I miss my friend.’ I wonder, ‘Where did he go?’”
There was no expense spared on his first solo album
Jagger went all out for his debut solo LP She’s the Boss by not only releasing the album, but also creating an hour-long video to accompany the record. Said promo depicts the crooner in drag – but that’s not the most eyebrow-raising thing about it. No, it’s the fact that his ensemble alone cost a staggering $40,000. Yikes!
He’s faced accusations of cultural appropriation
As rock music’s biggest-ever attraction, the Rolling Stones are considered to be true pioneers of the genre. However, there are some that feel that the group ripped off the blues music that came before them. They’ve been accused of cultural appropriation – using the sound template created by black musicians and then making a lot of money by doing so.
Richards tried to sabotage his solo career
Richards was said to have been understandably irate when his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and Jagger took part in some steamy love scenes for the 1970 crime drama Performance. He was allegedly so annoyed, in fact, that he reportedly completely wrecked the recording of Jagger’s solo single “Memo from Turner” by delivering poor guitar parts.
He’s a fan of ballet
Thought singing in the choir was the least rock ’n’ roll thing about Jagger? Think again. Rumor has it that he’s a big fan of ballet, too. And since the singer is currently dating ballerina Melanie Hamrick, this bewildering tidbit does perhaps have some credence. The couple also had a child together back in 2016.
The Queen refused to give him his knighthood
For his contributions to music, Jagger received a knighthood from the Queen in 2003... Well, sort of. He did receive the honorary title, but it wasn’t actually the Queen who gave it to him in person. That fact has led many to believe that the monarch refused to carry out the honors herself due to Jagger’s anti-establishment opinions.
Origins of The Rolling Stones
Ever wonder how the band got its name? In 1962, a young Keith and Mick responded to a newspaper ad for rhythm and blues musicians. The final lineup brought in Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman, and the newly formed group took its name from the Muddy Waters' song, "Rollin' Stone."
Moving like Jagger
Some fans feared the worst in 2019 when The Rolling Stones canceled a slew of concert dates so that their vocalist could undergo heart surgery. However, Mick was back up and rehearsing in no time! He shared a video of himself practicing his dance moves to prove that he wouldn't leave the limelight until he was ready. Nobody else can quite move like Jagger.
Stalked by tragedy
Jagger, sadly, has seen far too many people close to him try to harm themselves. This seems to be most evident with his love interests, with at least three of his previous partners trying to end their own lives. Chrissie Shrimpton and Marianne Faithfull both almost overdosed on pills before his girlfriend L’Wren Scott heartbreakingly died by suicide in 2014.
Targeted by an infamous biker gang
The Hells Angels were going to kill Mick Jagger. They were armed, dangerous, and fueled by a burning need for revenge. Because nobody – not even a world-famous rock star – could make fools of the Hells Angels and get away with it. But Jagger had done just that – and now he was going to pay the ultimate price. The bikers had set out in the dead of night and were sailing, undetected, toward the rocker’s home. If all went to plan, Jagger would be dead by sun-up – and the Hells Angels would have gotten their satisfaction.
Hired for safety reasons
The bikers in that boat might have reflected on how things had turned out so badly. After all, the trouble between the Rolling Stones and the Hells Angels had started with a simple deal. In 1969, you see, the Stones mounted a comeback tour with the help of the Angels. Their first success was an iconic free concert in London’s Hyde Park – where the Angels provided security. Or so the Stones thought.
That’s because the biker security guards at the Hyde Park gig were not actually part of the real Hells Angels. They were just using the Angels name. So when the show made a massive splash, the band asked the proper Hells Angels to be security at an American concert. And then things started to go terribly wrong.
A dream lineup
It could have been so good, too. The band chose the Altamont Speedway in California for the U.S. gig. The concert would be completely free of charge, and other bands on the bill included the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Jefferson Airplane. So it was an incredibly big deal for the 1960s counterculture.
The whole thing was even called “Woodstock West.” But while Woodstock was the embodiment of the hippie peace and love philosophy, the Altamont gig would become its polar opposite. The event would be tarred with shocking violence, chaos, and even death. And the Hells Angels would be at the very heart of the trouble.
Out of control
That’s partly because there was a major difference between the Altamont security setup and the one at Hyde Park. In London, there had been a police presence, and the fake “Hells Angels” had had little to do. But in California, the cops were kept to a minimum – so the real Angels were off the leash.
It also didn’t help that the Altamont gig was put together in a total rush. This meant that the stage was a makeshift affair, there weren’t nearly enough bathroom facilities, and no one was really running things. So considering that 300,000 people turned up to see the bands play, the gig was an organizational nightmare.
Sympathy for the Devil
It was such an ordeal that the Grateful Dead backed out of the event altogether. And things had reached a fever pitch by the time the Rolling Stones took to the stage. During the signature track “Sympathy for the Devil,” Mick Jagger even had to tell the audience to chill out. But the crowd – and the Angels – didn’t listen.
Bursts of violence
The Angels showed no mercy to the audience either. They used pool cues to beat people up. They drove into the crowd on their motorbikes. They even knocked out the Jefferson Airplane frontman. A photographer named Bill Owens captured the fearful scene in a series of shocking images.
Owens had mounted a sound tower to capture the immense size of the event. But instead, he snapped the Angels performing many stunning acts of violence. In some of the shots, the Angels are using pool cues on members of the audience. And later Owens even felt the Angels’ wrath firsthand.
Coming down fast
That happened when a member of the Hells Angels scaled the tower to speak to Owens. Well, “speak to” is perhaps underplaying it. Owens claimed that the Angel told him to come down off the tower or face being beaten with a pipe wrench and thrown off the top. Owens didn’t think twice before getting down and getting out of there.
Picking up the pieces
Yet Owens did think twice about publishing his pictures. He was so scared of reprisals from the Angels that he actually used different names to sell the photos. Given the Angels’ actions against Mick Jagger, this was perhaps a wise decision. And the violence at Altamont escalated to a deadlier level after Owens went home.
A doomed concertgoer
Four Hells Angels guys assaulted a man named Meredith Hunter while the Stones were playing “Under My Thumb.” Hunter was 18 years old and at the gig with his girlfriend, Patty Bredehoft. He was probably just as spaced out as the rest of the crowd – but he was also hiding a weapon.
Armed and dangerous
And when the Hells Angels guys set upon him, Hunter pulled out his gun. The Angels weren’t put off by the weapon, though, and their attack only got worse. One member of the gang, Alan Passaro, stabbed the 18-year-old and left him to die. The Stones continued to play, apparently unaware of what was happening.
Just a shot away
This last point has been questioned, though. According to writer Joel Selvin, the Stones knew exactly what was going on. Selvin told RNZ in 2019 that members of the crowd actually had hauled Hunter onto the Stones’ stage. Selvin said he even had pictures of Hunter dying at the feet of Keith Richards. But the band has never admitted this.
Innocent lives lost
What can’t be denied is that Hunter died that night after the assault from the Hells Angels. And he wasn’t the only one to lose their life that day. When all was said and done, four people died at the concert. Two people were run over by a car, and someone else drowned on site.
Doling out the blame
The aftermath of the gig was just as chaotic. The Rolling Stones distanced themselves from the whole thing and have hardly talked about it since. Selvin has even said that the band has not shown “the slightest acceptance of responsibility.” He also claimed that the Stones skipped town before settling their bills. But there were bigger consequences for the Hells Angels.
The Angels speak out
The gang was quick to try to shift the blame, mind you. The top Angel, Ralph Barger, gave an interview to the KSAN radio station. “Personally, I was there to sit on the stage and listen,” he said. “I didn’t go there to fight.” He also seemed mad that Jagger had “put it all on the Angels.”
A guitarist shoots back
How Barger came to this conclusion is up for debate. The Stones didn’t say much in the aftermath of the concert – and Jagger seemingly said nothing to the press. In fact, guitarist Mick Taylor appears to have been the only one to speak up at the time. And all he said was that he’d found the whole thing scary.
Looking for revenge
Whatever the case, Barger had it in for Jagger – perhaps setting the stage for what was to come later. “Mick Jagger used us for dupes, man,” he said, according to Rolling Stone magazine. “We were the biggest suckers for that idiot that I ever can see.” Before the Angels sought their revenge, though, one gang member faced jail for murder.
Murder on film
Alan Passaro, a 21-year-old Angel at Altamont, was arrested and charged with Hunter’s killing. He went to trial for the crime in January 1971. But this was far from a run-of-the-mill murder trial. For one thing, the case against Passaro relied on documentary footage filmed during the gig.
The documentary is called Gimme Shelter and was actually playing in theaters when the trial took place. In the film, Hunter’s death is replayed many times over – and it’s these parts that the prosecutors used to identify Passaro. But while the Angel said that he had stabbed Hunter, he insisted, “I didn’t have no intention of killing.”
Dealing with death threats
The Hells Angels also apparently tried to stop the doc from being seen at all. But not through litigation or any legal means, of course. According to Gimme Shelter producer Porter Bibb, the motorcycle gang intimidated the moviemakers and burglarized their studio. “We had death threats,” Bibb told Deadline in 2019.
Immortalized on camera
Bibb said the film crew was not scared of the Angels, though. They were being looked after by the police and the FBI as they finished up the doc – and they made copies of the film for extra insurance. But in the end, the Gimme Shelter footage was not the final nail in Passaro’s coffin.
Dissing Mick Jagger
Passaro even managed to put in his two cents about Mick Jagger and Gimme Shelter during the trial. “I don’t know Jagger, but I think he’s a punk. A brat,” Passaro said, according to writer Daniel Cantagallo. “They used the club for publicity for this movie of theirs.” So there was still clearly bad blood between the two groups.
Off the hook
But the jury eventually saw things Passaro’s way. On January 14, 1971, the Hells Angel was deemed not guilty of murder. When Passaro heard the verdict, he screamed “Yeeow!” in celebration. His wife started crying too. Police officially closed the case in 2005 without charging another suspect.
A bloody plot
Yet this wasn’t the end of the story as far as the Hells Angels were concerned. Because, as the public found out decades later, the Angels then planned to take out Mick Jagger once and for all. This assassination plot first came to light in 2008, thanks to a BBC Radio 4 documentary about the FBI.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that the FBI was the one to uncover this plot. A report in the U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail claims that the Bureau had been keeping tabs on the Hells Angels since roughly 1948. Yet even the FBI was not aware of the bikers’ attempt on Jagger’s life until after it had happened.
The conspiracy unravels
So what actually went down – and how did Jagger escape with his life? Well, for the 2008 BBC documentary series The FBI at 100, host Tom Mangold interviewed ex-FBI agent Mark Young. And it was Young who revealed that he’d stumbled on the plot while investigating the Angels for other crimes.
Attack in the Hamptons
The actual date of the attack was never confirmed. But the plan itself sounds like the plot of an outlandish movie. According to the former FBI agent, the Angels sought to kill Jagger while the frontman was at a house he owned in the Hamptons in New York. The bikers needed a way to break into the property without being seen, though.
Avoiding the guards
So the group had the idea of approaching the house from the water. This, they seemingly reasoned, would give them a chance to slip past security and get to the vacation home through the yard. And once the bikers were in the house, all they had to do was take care of Jagger and escape on their boat.
Out for blood
The Hell Angels didn’t just talk about killing Jagger, though. They actually put their plan into action. “A group of them took a boat and were all tooled up,” Mangold told U.K. newspaper the Sunday Telegraph in 2008. There was just one problem. When the bikers got out on the water, the weather took a turn for the worse.
The perfect storm
A storm hit the Hamptons. This must have caused the sea to become dangerous – as all of the Hells Angels were dumped into the water. But it seems that the revenge-focused bikers managed to get themselves back to safety unharmed. They never went back to try to take care of Jagger, though.
As we mentioned earlier, the FBI didn’t know about this botched murder plot at the time. But “sometime after the fact,” according to Mangold, news reached the agents of the attempted assassination. This was down to the Bureau having an undercover agent in the ranks of the Hells Angels.
Man on the inside
Although the BBC documentary doesn’t confirm the name of the undercover agent, it’s possible that it was Jay Dobyns. The ex-ATF agent got on the inside of the Angels between 2001 and 2003. He then used all the info he gathered to help the Bureau take on the bikers in court. But anyway, back to Jagger.
No legal repercussions
Even after the FBI became aware of the assassination attempt, they didn’t make any arrests. As far as we know, the agent didn’t investigate the case all that much, either. Why? Well, it’s pretty obvious. “Because no actual crime had been committed, there was nothing that the FBI could do,” Mangold told the Sunday Telegraph.
In the dark
This is why Jagger probably wasn’t aware of the plot until 2008, either. It’s certainly not clear from the documentary series whether the FBI told the Stones’ frontman about it. And Jagger hasn’t talked about the attempt on his life in public. He did condemn the Hells Angels on one occasion, mind you.
All so wrong
In 1989 – 20 years after the Altamont gig – Rolling Stone asked the Rolling Stone how he felt about the whole thing. “I mean, just awful. You feel a responsibility. How could it all have been so silly and wrong?” Jagger said. And he saved his last line to take a dig at the Hells Angels.
Jagger's last word
“It was more how awful it was to have had this experience and how awful it was for someone to get killed and how sad it was for his family and how dreadfully the Hells Angels behaved,” Jagger said. So there is no love lost between these two groups. But the Altamont gig left a scar on Jagger.
End of free love
Selvin, for one, claimed the Stones weren’t “as fearless and fierce and unyielding” afterward. And others felt that that terrible night in 1969 was more than just an end to the 1960s. It was the end of the counterculture movement altogether. The end of free love and peaceful living. And the end of rock and roll as people knew it.