46 Years Ago: Rolling Stones Guitarist Brian Jones Found Dead
At the time of his passing, Jones’ life was in the midst of a severe upheaval. The year before, he’d been arrested for the second time for possession of cannabis, which further exacerbated tensions he’d been having with his band mates. On top of that, it seemed to many that his heart just wasn’t in to being a Rolling Stone anymore.
While recording went on for the band’s next album, Let it Bleed, Jones’ contributions remained minimal, adding only percussion to “Midnight Rambler” and an autoharp section to “You Got the Silver.” Combined with his spiraling substance abuse problems as well as his overall erratic behavior, the group collectively decided it was time to show him the door.
“It had come to a head and Mick [Jagger] and I had been down to Winnie-the-Pooh’s house,” Keith Richards wrote in his autobiography, referring to Jones’ estate, which at one time belonged to Pooh author A.A. Milne. “Mick and I didn’t fancy the gig, but we drove down together and said, ‘Hey, Brian…It’s all over pal.’” Jones was subsequently replaced in the band by a former member of John Mayall‘s illustrious Bluesbreakers outfit, Mick Taylor.
Just a few weeks after his dismissal, Jones was found floating facedown in the pool by his Swedish lover, Anna Wohlin. She managed to pull him out, but it was too late to do anything. Brian Jones was gone, a member of rock’s notorious “27 Club.”
Given the turmoil in his life leading up to the event of July 3, speculation has raged over the years about whether the guitarist’s passing was an innocent accident, a calculated act or the result of foul play. The coroner’s report officially ruled it a “death by misadventure,” but others aren’t convinced.
One of those who suspect foul play was at hand was Wohlin, who discussed the tragic episode in a 2013 interview with the Mirror. “Brian is still portrayed as a bitter, worn-out and depressed man who was fired because of his drug habit…and who died because he was drunk or high,” she said. “But my Brian was a wonderful, charismatic man who was happier than ever, had given up drugs and was looking forward to pursuing the musical career he wanted.”
Wohlin went on to point the finger at handyman Frank Thorogood who had been hired to finish up some odd jobs around the musician’s home. “I don’t know if Frank meant to kill Brian – maybe it was horseplay in the pool that went wrong. But I knew all along he did not die a natural death. I’m still sure of it.”
When word of the terrible news got out, it sent the London scene and the world beyond into a period of deep mourning. His old band mates were in the studio recording when they got the news, and as Richards wrote, “There exists one minute and 30 seconds of us recording “I Don’t Know Why,” a Stevie Wonder song, interrupted by the phone call telling us of Brian’s death.”
Just two days later, the Stones carried on with a planned concert held at Hyde Park in London that was repositioned as a tribute to their fallen comrade. Jagger read a piece of the Percy Shelley poem Adonais before hundreds of white butterflies were released into the summer air. Days later, on July 10, 1969, Jones was laid to rest at a ceremony at Cheltenham Cemetery. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were the only members of the Rolling Stones in attendance.
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