Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Brian Jones: Death of a Rolling Stone

"Death by Misadventure"

Brian Jones (Corbis)

At the funeral service for Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, the stiff-backed English preacher was caustic.  Speaking of the deceased in the eulogy, Canon Hugh Evan Hopkins said, "He had little patience with authority, convention and tradition. In this he was typical of many of his generation who have come to see in the Stones an expression of their whole attitude to life. Much that this ancient church has stood for in 900 years seems totally irrelevant to them." The canon was indicting the young man in the solid bronze casket for all the sins and excesses of his generation. But this was 1969, and the youth culture had plenty of excesses to cluck at — marijuana, hallucinogens, free sex, loud music, colorful and outlandish fashion, "flower power," the automatic rejection of the status quo and a compulsive need for change.

"Sex, drugs, and rock and roll" was the mantra of the era, and the late Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, had indulged — and overindulged — in all three.

The funeral took place in Jones' hometown of Cheltenham, 80 miles northwest of London. It was a hot, sunny day — July 10, 1969. Fans and friends had provided a field's worth of flower arrangements. His parents and sister ordered a floral grave marker in the shape of a guitar. The Rolling Stones sent a spectacular eight-foot arrangement with hundreds of red and yellow roses, and the words "The Gates of Heaven" written out in flowers.

Cotchford Farm, Brian Jones' residence

The town was mobbed with tearful fans and curious onlookers. Local school children were let out of class to see the spectacle. Press photographers swarmed like bees, aggressively snapping pictures at family and friends without regard for the solemnity of the occasion. The 14-car funeral procession crawled to the cemetery, its progress frequently blocked by the surging crowds. At the grave site, photographers lunged over the mourners to point their lens into the empty hole. As the casket was lowered into the ground, teenagers shoved and jostled to toss their flowers onto Brian Jones' remains.

The Rolling Stones former lead guitarist had died the week before on the night of July 2. He drowned in the pool at his home near Hartfield in Sussex, 50 miles southeast of London. The house was called Cotchford Farm and had once been owned by A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh. The garden was decorated with statues of the characters from the book.

On the night of his death, Jones had been drinking wine and taking downers. Some suggested that he might have taken his own life, but those closest to him said he had no reason to commit suicide. Even though he had been officially ejected from the Stones several months earlier, Jones was reportedly getting over it and was planning new musical projects on his own. According to the coroner's report, Jones was the victim of "death by misadventure," an accidental drowning precipitated by drug and alcohol abuse. But as time passed, rumors gained momentum that Jones had been murdered. Inconsistencies in the accounts of that evening were gradually uncovered. A deathbed confession by the alleged killer was squelched by a loyal Stones' retainer. More than 30 years later, suspicions persist.

Anita Pallenberg with Brian
Jones (Courtesy Anita
Pallenberg Community)

But on the day of Brian Jones' funeral, no one was talking about murder. Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts was too shaken to sort out the details as he stood by the grave, and bassist Bill Wyman was annoyed that the whole band hadn't shown up for the man who had initially brought them all together. Jones' replacement, Mick Taylor, had never met Jones, so his presence wasn't expected, but the others, Wyman felt, should have been there.

Notably absent that day were lead singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, and Richards' girlfriend, model and actress Anita Pallenberg. Two years earlier the pretty blonde had been Brian Jones' companion before Richards "rescued" her from Jones. The emotional scars of that breakup would never fade completely, but Jones had finally accepted Pallenberg's defection and found other girlfriends. And though relations were often tense in the last years of Jones' life, he was still on speaking terms with Pallenberg and his old bandmates. Professionally the Stones were doing well, and Richards and Pallenberg were in love. Jones had been a mess personally, but he was getting back on track, settling in with a new woman and exploring new musical opportunities. So why did Jagger, Richards and Pallenberg stay away from their poor old friend's funeral?

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