“A wicked fate, but the sick gets strong”
Illnesses and Accidents:
A weird topic but something I’ve been asked about several times; not an exhaustive list but just some things I’ve found along the way…
Kiedis rubs his torso reflectively. “The sign of a good show is usually injury, which I got last night, a bruise on the rib from freaking out in the middle of a song. So it’s beautiful and I feel completely fortunate and lucky to be able to do this with my life, but it’s also a small mobile torture chamber.”
Vox April 1992
“I had suddenly lost all of my strength, and even getting out of bed was an effort. When I finally went to the doctor, he told me that I had hepatitis. Ironically, it wasn’t the type you get from needles, it was the type you get from eating bad shellfish. After a week in bed, I was pretty good to go.”
Scar Tissue; page 130.
Anthony describes how he developed shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome caused by exercise such as running, jumping or dancing), before Australia’s Big Day Out (January 2000):
“The only downside to this was my shin splints. Even with the week off, the pain would not subside. My shinbones were getting hairline fractures because my muscles and tendons were so swollen, they were pulling off the bone mass.”
Scar Tissue; page 432.
“That night was the beginning of my ongoing battle with tinnitus. Chad and I both came offstage* and hugged backstage and realised that our ears were perceptibly ringing. By the end of that tour, I’d have permanent ear damage, which, unfortunately, is one of the hardest things to cure.”
Scar Tissue; page 288
*The description says they were playing Del Mar with Nirvana which would put this in December 1991 I think.
1977? Back Injury
Kiedis and Flea began jumping into swimming pools from buildings as a hobby. One one attempt, Anthony misjudged and smacked into the surrounding concrete rather than the pool itself:
Mike was my constant companion. On those long walks, we’d pass all of these one-, two-, three-, and sometimes four- and five-story apartment buildings that were built around a central pool. One day an amazing idea was triggered. I looked at the building and said, “That’s a diving board, my friend.”
I had gotten some experience in Michigan with jumping off of railroad trestles into bodies of water. Sometimes we would wait until right before the train came, and it was an amazing rush. Mike was game for anything, so we started out by jumping off second-story buildings into the pools. It didn’t matter if people were sitting around the pool sunbathing; that made it all the more fun, to be that guy who flew out of the sky and landed next to an unsuspecting sunbather.
If there was any chance of getting caught, we’d make the jump and then take off like bats out of hell and cut through some backyards and get away. But there were other times where we’d me out of the water and recognize that we weren’t in any danger of getting busted, so it was yet another opportunity to freak somebody out by yelling or dancing around or mooning.
We finally worked our way up to five-story buildings. Our favorite was on King’s Road. We’d get up on the roof and look down and see a postage stamp of water, and we would go for it. Then I started experimenting with different styles of jumping. I wasn’t about to dive into a pool, but I started jumping off the building backward, doing superman things. I would run out, and instead of jumping far ahead, I’d jump straight up and go into an arch and lie down and then go back straight into the pool. It didn’t matter how deep the pools were. You don’t need much water to land in.
If it’s a shallow pool, as you hit the water, you let your body go sideways, so you’re using the width of the water as well as the depth. My dad knew about the jumping, and he wasn’t a fan. He didn’t try to put a stop to it, but he’d lecture me from time to time: “Don’t you go jumping. I know you’re smoking pot all the time. It’s not a good combination.” At that point we didn’t communicate about a lot of things. He’d complain, and I’d ignore him and say, “Whatever. Fuck you.”
One day in June of that year, Mike and I had been eyeing this apartment building just down the block from my house. The pool was small and teardrop-shaped, and the deep end was the smallest section of the teardrop. To get to the top of the building, we had to climb over railings, and we made enough of a commotion climbing up that somebody started yelling at us to get down.
We never even thought of aborting. I told Mike to go, and he jumped, and I heard the splash. Then I got up on the railing. I didn’t even look down to see my angle: I was more concerned with the people who were yelling.
I jumped, and as I was in the air, I realized that I had put too much into the leap and I was going to overshoot the pool, but there was nothing I could do about it. The concrete was coming up at me, and I landed smack on my heels and missed the pool by about ten inches. I was dazed and fell back into the pool and started to sink. Somehow, despite being in paralytic shock, I managed to push myself up out of the pool, roll over onto the lip of the concrete, and emit this inhuman sound that sounded like it came from the depths of Hades.
I looked over and saw Mike, but I couldn’t move. Somebody called an ambulance, and the paramedics clumsily rolled me onto a gurney, almost dropping me in the process. They didn’t stabilize the stretcher in the back of the ambulance, so I was bumping around in agony the whole ride to the hospital. It was pain and shock and horror, and I knew something was seriously wrong, be-cause I still couldn’t move. They took me to Cedars Sinai and did an X ray, and after a while, the doctor came into the room and said, “You broke your back, and it doesn’t look so good.” I had been keeping a pretty optimistic stiff-upper-lip outlook on the whole thing, but when he gave me the prognosis, I started weeping. “There goes my summer. There goes my athleticism. There goes my life.”
I started hitting on every nurse who came by, desperate for painkillers, but they wouldn’t give me anything until the doctor had okayed it. Then Blackie came rushing in, screaming, “What did I tell you? Now who’s right? Did I not tell you this would happen? You smoke pot. You jump off the thing. This was bound to happen.” I just looked at the nurse and said, “Somebody take him away from here. He’s not allowed in here.” At last they got me medicated, and rigged up a pulley system with a harness and a medical bustier girdle. I was told that my vertebrae were flattened like pancakes and that a month in traction would help stretch them back.
During the first week in the hospital, I got visits from Mike and Hillel and a few other friends. By now I had won Haya over, and she was kind of my girlfriend. Once she came to visit and lay down on the bed with me and let me feel her up, which was a real treat. “Okay, broke the back, but at least I’ve got my hands on the breasts of the girl I’ve been in love with since the first day of Spanish class.” After two weeks of traction, I started getting stir-crazy. One day Hillel came to visit, and I told him, “I can’t stay here for a day longer. You have to get me out of here.” He went downstairs to get the car ready, and I unstrapped the girdle, rolled over, and tilted myself up on my two feeble legs. With my bare ass flashing out of my hospital gown, I started lurching like Frankenstein down that hallway. All the nurses went crazy, screaming that I couldn’t go anywhere for two more weeks, but I didn’t care. Somehow I made it down the steps, and Hillel helped me into the car. Before I went home, I made him drive me to the building where I had messed up so I could try to figure out what I’d done wrong.
I spent the next few weeks horizontal in my own bed. I got some lovely visitations from a friend of my father’s, who was a beautiful, relatively successful twenty-something actress. She came by at all hours, during the day, late at night, whenever, just to fix me up sexually. I had gotten my girdle back, and I had to keep telling her to be real careful, but I was getting absolutely ridden by a wild nymphomaniac banshee. That made the convalescing time a little more pleasant.
That summer I went back to Michigan, but I was still struggling with my back. Every time I’d get an X ray, the doctors always said it didn’t look right—it was crooked, the vertebrae were still smushed. It was never good news. But over time, my back progressively got better.
Scar Tissue; pages 67-6
1984* Car Crash
*In the context of the narrative of Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis discusses the album being released just before details of the crash and afterwards he mentions that they were due to play CJM (CMJ New Music Seminar, Irving Plaza) which was on August 4th 1984.
Anthony had an accident in his mother’s car during a summer vacation while staying with her in Michigan. He had gone to a bar, got drunk and then decided to drive home anyway. During the journey back, he kept nodding off at the wheel and ending up veering off the road and crashing into some trees. It was a serious crash. Fortunately, a passing motorist happened to be a paramedic and went to rescue him.
The accident caused a broken eye socket, shattered orbital floor and a broken skull. He had to have reconstructive surgery with a photograph provided by his mother used as guidance by the surgeon during the reconstruction. However, a week later he still managed to play a show with the Red Hot Chili Peppers wearing a special face cast.
One night I was feeling ill because I had run out of the tiny amount of dope I had brought with me. I intuitively knew that I needed some medicine to take away the pain, so I left Jennifer [he was dating Jennifer Bruce at the time] at home with my mom and went to go meet my friend Nate, who was at a bar with a bunch of straight, sheltered midwesterners. They all dressed the same, they all drank the same, they all drove the same cars and had the same kind of jobs and lived in the same kind of houses. And they drank a lot. Alcohol was never my first or even second or third drug of choice. I drank regularly, I just never got the tolerance thing happening. But I was feeling sick and going with the flow of this bar scene in Grand Rapids, which was kooky and lame and without much spirit. So I started drinking beer out of what seemed like giant popcorn containers. I was matching bucket for bucket with everybody there, and we were getting drunk and this was working for me, taking the place of all that stuff I’d run out of. I thought I was fine, but I had no idea how high I was.
It was about a twenty-mile drive down a straight country road to get back to my mom’s house. I never wear a seat belt, even to this day, but when I was saying good-bye to Nate, as a joke, I made a big deal out of strapping on the belt. So I put the pedal to the metal on my mom’s Subaru station wagon, which probably put me between eighty and ninety miles an hour. I was getting really tired, and I’d start to nod off and then jerk up sharply. I did this a few times, and then I decided that I was just going to close my eyes for a second. There was so much booze in me that my lights went out.
I blacked out, and the car veered into the oncoming lane, jumped the edge of the road, and hit a bump, at which point I woke up and saw a huge clump of trees in front of me. “Trees? What the . . .” Boom—the car accordioned into an elm tree face-on, and the engine was now next to me in the driver’s seat, and the steering wheel had broken on impact with my face. I would have stayed there, unconscious and bleeding, for who knows how long if not for the fact that off in the distance, a person had heard the crash. By luck, that person was a paramedic who happened to have his ambulance in the driveway.
Within a matter of minutes, he had called some firemen, and they came and got the jaws of life and pried me out of the car. The paramedics were hovering over me, asking me who the president was. I answered each question perfectly, though I couldn’t understand why they were testing me for brain damage. I didn’t realize that my entire head had split wide open and I resembled a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
I was rushed to the nearest hospital, and my poor mom was notified. She was home helping her husband, Steve, recover from his recent quadruple bypass surgery. But within minutes, my mother and my sister, Jenny, came marching into the operating room. They looked at me like a ghost. I asked if I could use the bathroom, and the nurses reluctantly let me. I went straight for the mirror, and looking back at me was the Elephant Man. My upper lip was so fat that it actually covered my nose. My nose looked like a bowl of cauliflower splayed across my whole face. My left eye was completely shut, but it looked like it had swallowed a pool ball before it closed. And there was blood everywhere. I instantly thought, “Oh my God, I will never look like a human being again.” I could see out of only one eye, but I saw enough to know that was the end of my face as I knew it.
I stayed in the hospital for a week, taking Percodans every day and filling the script up faster than I could down them, loving this new supply of heroin. The doctor finally saw through my game and cut me off cold. After a few days, the swelling went down, and they repaired the broken bones. I had a broken skull, a broken eye socket, and a shattered orbital floor, which is the wafer-thin bone that supports your eyeball. The plastic surgeon had to work from a photo that my mom supplied, but with a little titanium and a little Teflon, he got me back to a reasonable facsimile of myself.
I called Lindy and apologized and told him I didn’t think I’d be able to make it to the CMJ show. But Flea asked if I could show up. By then I had been fitted with a face cast that looked kind of cool, so we decided that I’d play with it on. Jennifer had made me a purple atomic-age angular cowboy hat, so I got on a plane with my face cast and my purple cowboy hat and my leather jacket with the cups, and the band did our best job at playing this huge show-case.
Scar Tissue; pages 148-150
1992: Dengue Fever
In 1992, Anthony travelled to the island of Borneo with Henk Schiffmacher, aka Hanky Panky, a famous Dutch tattoo artist (responsible for Anthony’s tribal back tattoo) to search out primitive tattooing techniques and to copy the crossing of the Borneo rainforest by a nineteenth century Dutch explorer.
The trip turned out to be a disaster leaving Anthony suffering from Dengue Fever. Schiffmacher recorded the experience in his book, “De grote expeditie Borneo” which unfortunately only seems to be available in Dutch; however, Anthony discussed the trip in some detail in Scar Tissue (pages 303-308) and also in interviews- especially in Rolling Stone from 1994:
Well, I had these great images of myself swinging from vines and playing in the jungle and finding orangutans and dancing among exotic flowers. But it turned into more of a Vietnam experience. Everyone got brutally ill. At night, we would sleep in these incredibly uncomfortable, wet, seething-with-jungle-life conditions. The first night in the jungle, we weren’t using our mosquito netting, and I woke up with this incredibly painful buzzing and humming inside my brain. I woke up Hank and said, “Please, look in my ear, my head is vibrating, and I’m going insane.” He’s got this flashlight, and he’s looking in my ear: “No, I see nothing, I see nothing.” And then he drops the flashlight and screams, and I feel this animal crawl out of my ear. He said it looked like an oversize jungle roach that had somehow collapsed its body and worked its way into my ear canal and gotten stuck.
Yeah. So I wasn’t having the greatest time. And halfway through, we got lost in these mountains in the middle of Borneo. And when you’re a white guy from California, and you’ve run out of food, and you can’t fluidly communicate with your guides, it becomes a source of concern.
How long were you lost?
We were lost for a week. I finally get back to L.A., and it turns out that I’m stricken with dengue fever. It’s a very rare fever – like a distant cousin of malaria – and I had to go into the hospital for a week. Rolling Stone 1994
1996 Pittsburg- Leg Injury
In March 1996, Kiedis fell off stage during a concert at Pittsburg after tripping over a monitor; he hit the concrete floor and initially thought he had just a head injury as he’d blacked out but then released he’d badly damaged his leg:
Early on in that tour, I fell off the stage. We were playing new One Hot Minute songs that hadn’t seen too much stage time, and I was in the midst of my eyes-closed robotic dancing when I tripped over one of my monitors. I went plummeting right the stage and dropped eight feet, hit my head on the concrete floor, and passed out. I came right to and was grateful to be conscious, but my head was the least of my problems. Before I tripped, leg had gotten tangled up in my mike cord, so when I fell, the cord acted like a hangman’s noose and ripped my calf muscle right off the bone. I was hanging upside down thinking I could deal with the head injury, but when I pushed myself back up onstage, my leg wouldn’t work. I finished the show on one leg and went to hospital. I got some stitches in my head, but my leg had become black and blue and green and wildly disfigured-looking. They rigged me up with a Frankenfoot-looking cast complete with vast array of straps. I had to finish the rest of the tour with this Frankenfoot, which was not fun to perform in.
Scar Tissue; page 355
He talks about it in this video (from about 0.33- 1.01)
1996 Prague: Back Injury
In June of the same year as his foot injury, Anthony suffered a further accident which resulted in a back injury:
“But as I sit here on the phone with you right now, I feel like I have a broken back and as soon as I hang up, I’m going to get a dose of acupuncture. Last night we played in Prague, a sold-out indoor show, and the kids were just intense. The audience was so intense that we had to give it everything we had.
“And somewhere, performing ‘One Big Mob,’ I think I landed upside down on my back, on a monitor or something. And I became paralyzed with pain. We managed to finish the show, but I take a beating. I take a total beating. I went on our last tour with a hairline fracture in my tibia. I figured out a way to play with that. And I fell off a stage in Pittsburgh and ripped my calf muscles off of my leg.
“I had to go to the hospital and finish that tour with a cast around my calf- which happened to be my one good leg. So it’s definitely a traumatizing experience. But it’s also the sign of a good show. When you come off bleeding with bones poking out of you, you know that you put on a good show.”
Goldmine November 1996
1997 Motorbike Accident
Dates on the 1997 RHCP tour had to be cancelled after Anthony’s arm was badly injured in a motorbike accident resulting in 5 hour reconstructive surgery and a special cast:
One Sunday morning that spring, I was on my motorcycle, going to my favorite meeting, which was in a rec room in a park at Third and Gardner. I was moving at a good clip, as I was prone to do, but I’d never had any real mishaps on my bike. I’d studied the road conditions and exercised caution at intersections and assumed that cars would pull out at inopportune moments from driveways or parking spots. I was always alert and prepared to deal with those scenarios.
All this was going through my mind as I flew down Gardner, which was a narrow side street with cars parked on both sides, In a split hair of a moment, this car pulled out of a parking spot and started to make a U-turn, effectively cutting off the entire street. Normally, you’d have a back-door exit, even if it meant cutting onto the sidewalk, but now there was no way out; this idiot had blocked the whole street, and there were no driveways accessible. I used both my brakes, but the car was too close. There was an incredibly fast and violent collision, so strong that the bike pierced the vehicle. I flew off the bike and jackknifed right into the point where the driver’s door met the engine compartment.
Amazingly enough, I hit the car and proceeded to somersault forward, landing square on my feet on the other side of the car. I kept my balance and started running, so I assumed that by some miracle, I was okay. Except when I looked down at my arm, it wasn’t an arm anymore. My hand had been shoved up into my fore-arm, so I now had a double-decker, big, bulbous club of a forearm and no hand.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “This is really, really wrong-looking.”
Without stopping to consider how badly I was injured, I ran into the closest house without knocking. I took a few steps into the living room, thinking I’d grab the phone and call an ambulance, but then the initial shock wore off, and the worst pain of my life jolted my body. There was no time to call for help, so I turned round and ran back outside and flagged down a convertible that happened to be occupied by two women I knew who were on their way to the same meeting as I had been.
I ignored the driver of the car I had hit, who wanted to trade insurance information, and jumped into the backseat. We made a beeline for Cedars-Sinai. Later I would learn that the hand has more nerve cells than any other part of the body, which explained the intense pain, but at that point it just felt like my hand had been immersed in a hot bottle of lava. I was convinced I’d never have a hand again.
Within five minutes, I was at the hospital, being wheeled into emergency surgery. Just my luck, an amazing hand specialist, Dr. Kulber, was on duty. But first they had to prep me for surgery, which entailed giving me a healthy dose of morphine. I felt nothing. I turned to the nurse and said, “Unfortunately, over a lifetime of misbehavior, I’ve attained a rather enormous resistance to the opiate family of drugs. You’re probably going to have to go ahead and double that dose right away.” Another shot. Nothing. It wasn’t even putting a dent in the pain. This process went on and on. They wound up giving me seven doses of morphine before I got some relief.
The pain was gone, and the nurses started looking mighty attractive, and the next thing I knew, I had my hand up the nurse’s skirt and was flirting with a female doctor. I was the fucking patient from hell who had gotten the most morphine in Cedars-Sinai history.
It took Dr. Kulber five hours to reconstruct my hand from hat pulverized mass of bone and matter. After a few days in the hospital, they fixed me up with a specialty cast that went all the way up to my shoulder. It wasn’t until I got home that I recognized how dependent we are on our hands. Even something as mundane as wiping your ass became a big issue. I had to train my left hand to do things it had never done before. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t open a door or a window; getting dressed and tying my shoes were nearly impossible.
Scar Tissue; pages 382-383
2012 Foot Operation
In January 2012, the Chili Peppers announced that they were going to have to postpone the U.S. leg of their ‘I’m with You‘ tour due to multiple foot injuries suffered by Kiedis. Kiedis had surgery during which a crushed sesamoid bone was removed and a detached flexor tendon repaired. Source: redhotchilipeppers.com
Kiedis was seen many times after the operation wearing using crutches and then wearing a special foot brace.
2013 Surf Accident
A minor injury from surfing while in New Zealand:
But getting my pubic bone separated by a giant rock was a whole new level of pain and discomfort that could really mess up the first couple of shows on the tour. I literally got rolled over the rocks and probably did ten flips bouncing off the rocks which were covered in mussels. Like the worst kind of car crash over reef that you could imagine, and for a moment there I wasn’t even going to take my board, as I stood up and realised that my pubic patch was full of blood and my suit was torn, my head was bleeding, and I was like – I don’t even wanna see that surfboard again. I’m gonna walk away, whoever wants that board can rescue it off the beach someday, and then I got five steps away and looked back and realised the board wasn’t that badly damaged and ran down and got my board. I was thinking I don’t care if I ever surf again, went to the hospital, got the X-rays and then a thought came over me, when I realised that it’s really gonna suck if tomorrows a great glassy day. So yeah, it took me about three hours to start regretting that I couldn’t surf the next day.
N Z Surf Magazine 2013
Note: ‘Scar Tissue’ by Anthony Kiedis with Larry Sloman (page references correct according to my edition)