Richards coming right after coco-nutty exploits

By David Eames

CP Patel's New World supermarket in Suva sells coconuts for 50c each, a price hellraiser Keith Richards could ponder as he recuperates after a 5m fall from a coconut palm.

The rock'n'roll wildman could have bought 1000 coconuts for every night he spent in a $500-a-night room in the Ascot Hospital in Auckland.

Richards, 62, was holidaying at Fiji's exclusive Wakaya Island resort with wife Patti Hansen and old pal and bandmate Ronnie Wood and his wife Jo when the accident happened late last month.

The $2500-a-night resort boasts numerous activities - including scuba diving and snorkelling - but "Keef" and Ronnie decided on more altitudinous pursuits, witnesses said.

He and Woods, 58, are understood to have been about 5m up, picking coconuts, when Richards fell.

"Picking coconuts is quite common on the island, it's just that Keith had a bit of an accident coming down," one resident said. Other guests said the men had "shared bottles of vodka during the day and switched to rum drinks at night".

Dr Uzzal Kanti Dhar of Suva Private Hospital got himself in trouble when he revealed Richards had "climbed a coconut tree ...

and got injured". That comment constituted a breach of medical ethics, according to hospital chief executive Tim Smart, who said he would be fired. Dr Dhar yesterday denied having commented on Richards' condition and continues to practise out of the hospital.

Stones publicists said Richards was suffering a mild concussion, but it was decided to fly him to Auckland "as a precautionary measure".

An air ambulance spokesman could not give a specific cost for such an airlift. "All I can say is it is expensive. I suggest everybody take travel insurance."

Richards was taken to the Ascot in Ellerslie, where a small group of fans appeared to lend support and Hansen was seen carrying in guitar cases.

British papers claimed she had been smuggling vodka to her ailing husband.

Richards was discharged about May 2, but was back a few days later, and last Monday had an operation to drain blood from inside his skull.

Reports of an earlier operation have been denied by Ascot chairman Dr Richard Fisher, though they still have some currency with London's Sun newspaper. An operation at the Ascot costs $21 a minute, a night in intensive care, $929.

Publicists who previously had insisted the star was suffering only mild concussion confirmed the Monday procedure, but said the patient was "up and talking" with family soon after.

Six family members attended at the rocker's bedside following the surgery, including Hansen, eldest son Marlon and his wife, and daughters Angela, Theodora and Alexandra, prompting further speculation.

A crescendo of minor revelations, mostly from the Northern Hemisphere, culminated on Wednesday with reports out of London that Richards might never play guitar live again, was possibly brain damaged and partially paralysed.

The next morning, Richards walked out of the Ascot under his own steam. With a brief statement of thanks to hospital staff, he disappeared to an undisclosed suburban Auckland location to await the all-clear to fly out of the country.

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