Special report - Star’s quiet life in Tauranga unravels as rock lifestyle catches up with him, writes Jared Savage.

There are a few stories about rocker Phil Rudd floating around Tauranga. A few years ago, a woman vanished from a party on a launch in the Tauranga Bridge marina and was feared drowned. Her disappearance overnight sparked a search of the harbour and the police dive squad were about to be flown in.

Then the search was called off - the missing woman turned up the next day on "another boat". The other boat was Barchetta, according to local gossip, a multimillion-dollar launch owned by the AC/DC drummer. It might be a tall tale but rings true enough to feed into the legend of Rudd - sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

For a big fish in a small pond, Rudd's kept a low profile in Tauranga. The Aussie has lived in the seaside town since leaving the band in 1983, buying a lifestyle block in Pahoia with his Kiwi wife Lisa O'Brien where he built a private recording studio, as well as a helicopter company.

"I raced cars, flew helicopters, became a farmer and planted some crops. I lived in New Zealand which was great; nice and quiet with nobody bothering me," Rudd has said on his years away from the AC/DC limelight.


Ten years later, he was welcomed back into the fold but, touring and recording with one of the biggest rock bands aside, continued to lead a quiet existence on the outskirts of town until separating from his wife in 2006.

He's considered a loving father to his children, who went to local colleges in Katikati and Otumoetai, not expensive private schools.

In those days, the only newspaper stories about their famous resident were about his racing cars, induction into the rock Hall of Fame and a bird which had flown the coop.

His pet cockatoo escaped and Rudd called the Omokoroa fire brigade - to which he recently donated $500 - for help.

"We had to return the favour when his bird got out. By the time it was caught I could have quite happily wrung its neck," volunteer Ian Blunt, who climbed a tree to recapture the bird, told the Bay of Plenty Times.

Several brushes with the law have led to different stories since then.

"AC/DC drummer beats assault conviction" was the headline after he pleaded guilty to common assault in 2007 following an incident on his luxury launch at the marina.

An argument with his former wife became heated, at which point Rudd - born Phillip Hugh Norman Witschke Rudzevecuis - pushed his chest into her and held a clenched fist to her face, before grabbing her arms and pretending to push her overboard.


His actions were "threatening rather than violent", according to the judge, who discharged him without conviction given the impact it would have on his ability to travel with AC/DC.

In 2011, the same travel ban argument was successfully used to quash a conviction after Rudd pleaded guilty to possession of 25g of cannabis found on Barchetta.

The once-private Rudd started using his profile more in his home town.

He offered rides in his $9 million super-car collection - which includes Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys - as an auction fundraiser for the Christchurch earthquake appeal.

"I was just thinking the same as everybody else. It was just devastation, really," Rudd said of the gesture.

There was also genuine excitement when Rudd announced a few months later he was buying the restaurant in the marina, which he refurbished and renamed Phil's Place.

A boat owned by Phil Rudd located at the Tauranga Bridge Marina in Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson
A boat owned by Phil Rudd located at the Tauranga Bridge Marina in Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson

"I do want to give back to the community and have plans which I think will really give a boost to the local economy. The restaurant is just the first step," Rudd said at the time.

"Plan B, well that's going to blow your mind even more."

He also explained the attraction of a seaside city to a rock god.

"Tauranga is my home now. I still go on tour and do what I do but the truth is I hate all forms of travel. I love Tauranga because it's got everything you need within reach," Rudd said when promoting Phil's Place.

"I can go out on my launch, moor it, have a shower, drive home and my hair is still wet. I can drive back out to the hangar to take my helicopter, to run the Lambo on the track. The sun shines. The people here accept you. People are not overawed by success. I like that, it's cool here."

But "Plan B" - understood to be a proposal to use Rudd's connections to attract famous musicians and bands for recording sessions at his studio, then show them a good time in New Zealand with his collection of toys - has yet to eventuate.

The business model also hit a snag when Phil's Place closed in July 2012 for nearly a year when Rudd became embroiled in an employment dispute with three staff members he sacked.

According to the Employment Relations Authority, Rudd went to the restaurant and asked for an antipasto platter to be delivered to his boat. But Rudd's security guard told a restaurant staffer the meal should go to Rudd's aircraft hangar.

Rudd returned to the restaurant, kicked the back door in, and said "Where is my f****** meal?" He then yelled at staff, saying: "You are all f****** useless" and "you're all f****** fired."

He added: "Drop what you are doing" and "I'll get the cleaners in tomorrow and a whole new team."

The ERA heard Rudd then kicked a rubbish tin and left the restaurant, slamming the door. Rudd did not dispute this version of events.

"Mr Rudd's behaviour ... was scary and intimidating," authority member Tania Tetitaha said. The restaurant was soon closed and Hayden Clark, Janelle Kiwa, and Alice Kiwa were sacked.

In March, the ERA ruled the trio were unjustifiably fired and awarded them $72,000 in a decision which Rudd has appealed against.

These erratic acts were largely ignored as blips in a low-key existence. He's also fostered his bad boy image with friendships with members of the Filthy Few motorcycle gang and sessions with escorts.

But his appearance in interviews to promote his first solo album, Head Job, launched in August, gave the first clue that his rock'n'roll lifestyle was catching up with him.

"To anyone who has followed the band, it seemed like he had aged 20 years in the last three years," AC/DC biographer Jesse Fink was reported as saying. "The fans I spoke to said, 'Oh my god, I can't believe that's Phil'."

But any notion that Rudd could enjoy his life out of the spotlight was extinguished in November when Tauranga detectives arrested the 60-year-old and charged him with attempting to procure the murder of two men. The "hiring a hitman" allegation was perfect tabloid fodder but in a dramatic u-turn, the serious charge was dropped the next day.

His Queen's Counsel, Paul Mabey, said the damage to his client was "incalculable".

Last December, the "hitman" told the Herald that Rudd offered him $200,000 and "the pick" of any of his expensive cars, but claimed the offer was to be his bodyguard - not a payment for what police allege Rudd "wanted done".

The restaurant owned by Phil Rudd located at the Tauranga Bridge Marina in Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson
The restaurant owned by Phil Rudd located at the Tauranga Bridge Marina in Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson

The man - who said he was a family man not a hit man - said the matter had been blown out of proportion as the ageing rocker may have been blowing "hot air".

But the details of the offer for someone to be "taken out" were confirmed in the Tauranga District Court, when Rudd pleaded guilty to a threatening to kill charge, as well as possession of 91g of cannabis and 0.478g of methamphetamine.

Rudd's arrest dominated publicity for the new AC/DC album Rock or Bust and ended his chances of going on the world tour.

Guitarist Angus Young told British media the drummer had been unreliable during the recording of the album and failed to turn up to promotional and video shoots.

"We were resolved for us to go forward and I think Phil's got - it's something he's got to do himself. He's got to sort himself out I think," the guitarist said. As for the man himself, Rudd's not talking.

But a glimpse of his philosophy can be seen in a recent television interview where he boasts of returning from the last AC/DC tour richer than ever.

"I'll settle down when I die ... until then I'll have a good time, all the way."

- Additional reporting: Jamie Morton