Fact Check

Keith Richards Pulled a Knife on Donald Trump

Claims about Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards' threatening Donald Trump with a knife back in 1989 are exaggerated.

Published Mar 18, 2016

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Keith Richards once pulled a knife on Donald Trump.
What's True

Michael Cohl claimed that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards pulled out a knife after being told that Donald Trump was at a Rolling Stones concert.

What's False

Keith Richards threatened Donald Trump with the knife.

What's Undetermined

Whether events unfolded the way Cohl explained them.

In February 2015, concert promoter Michael Cohl relayed a story from 1989 involving a Rolling Stones concert, guitarist Keith Richards, a knife, and business magnate Donald Trump during a keynote address Cohl delivered at Pollstar Live!:

The theme was his great decisions and others that weren't that hot, told in stories about his career as a concert promoter and Broadway producer. He went to the podium with four stories to tell involving Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones and Broadway's "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," but got sidetracked during the Stones yarn.

Cohl told the audience that when he set out to find a venue for a worldwide "pay-per-view" concert that would serve as the finale to the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels Tour in 1989, the only person who would agree to pay the expensive upfront site fee for the event was Donald Trump. Cohl claimed that band agreed to play at Atlantic City's Convention Center but that that they didn't want to be associated with the real estate mogul:

Unfortunately, the only person I could get to kind of agree to the site fee we needed and to work it through was Donald Trump. Now I had one of those, "Oh God, how am I going to do this?" moments.

And I opened my big mouth in the meeting with The Rolling Stones where they go, "This is all great, but we're not going to be affiliated with Donald Trump. At all. Screw you." And I go, "I will control Donald Trump! Don't you worry!"

So, we signed the contract. Donald agrees that he will not be in any of the promotion except in Atlantic City, and he will not show up at the gig! Holy shit! Well, the quick version is we go on sale. Eric Clapton was there, Axl Rose, Slash, John Lee Hooker — we had a fantastic show; sell out three shows.

When news outlets such as the Los Angeles TimesMediate, and Uproxx reported on Cohl's keynote speech in March 2016, their articles focused on the claim that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards had pulled out a knife at the event because he had learned Donald Trump was in the building. Some web sites distorted Cohl's version of events by publish it under misleading headlines such as "Keith Richards Once Pulled a Knife on Donald Trump."

Cohl's version of events, however, clearly states that the Rolling Stones guitarist was not in the same room as Donald Trump; that Richards pulled out a knife and threatened to "fire" Trump (who was elsewhere at the time) to compel him to leave the auditorium:

I get word that I have to come to the press room in the next building. I run to the press room in the next building and what do you think is happening? There's Donald Trump giving a press conference, in our room!

I give him the [come here gesture]. "Come on, Donald, what are you doing? A) You promised us you wouldn't even be here and, B) you promised you would never do this." He says, "But they begged me to go up, Michael! They begged me to go up!" I say, "Stop it. Stop it. This could be crazy. Do what you said you would. Don't make a liar of yourself."

I go back to the dressing room. Five minutes later, he's back up. They call me back over there. Holy shit. I call him out (again). Same thing happens. I say, "Donald. I don't know if I can control this. Stop it." I go back to the dressing room. And I leave my walkie-talkie on in the dressing room. Moronic, on my part.

They call me back, at which point Keith pulls out his knife and slams it on the table and says, "What the hell do I have you for? Do I have to go over there and fire him myself? One of us is leaving the building — either him, or us." I said, "No. I'll go do it. Don't you worry."

I run over. He's up there again! I go [gives the come here gesture]. We go into the hallway. I said, "Donald. You lied. You broke your promise. One of two things is going to happen. You're going to leave the building and, at 6:40, The Rolling Stones are going to speak on CBS News, or you're not going to leave the building and I'm going to go on and do an interview to explain to the world why the pay-per-view was canceled. I know it's your building and ..." — and in my head I'm going, this is so crazy, right? I'm trying to throw Donald Trump out of his own building.

But, anyway, the bottom line is I look at Donald and said, "You and Marla (Maples) have to go. You're fired." He looks at me and goes berserk.

"You don't know anything! Your guys suck! I promote Mike Tyson! I promote heavyweight fights!" And I notice the three shtarkers he's with, in trench coats, two of them are putting on gloves and the other one is putting on brass knuckles. I go on the walkie-talkie and I call for Jim Callahan, who was head of our security, and I go, "Jim, I think I'm in a bit of trouble." And he says, "Just turn around."

I turn around. He's got 40 of the crew with tire irons and hockey sticks and screwdrivers.

"And now, are you gonna go, Donald?"

And off he went.

And that was the night I fired Donald Trump.

While the story about Keith Richards, a Rolling Stones concert, a knife, and Donald Trump did come from a source that who was present at the Atlantic City Steel Wheels concert, contemporaneous accounts did report that Trump was in fact billed as a "presenter" of the pay-per-view shows. And while some reviewers criticized the concerts for being more about marketing than music, we found no record of anyone's reporting a confrontation between the band and Trump during the planning of the event (or in its immediate aftermath) — an especially puzzling absence given Trump's penchant for publicly deriding those whom he believes have dealt poorly with him.

Also, although Donald Trump has been a public figure for decades, he was not nearly as well known nor as divisive a personality back in 1989. While contemporary readers may sympathize with Keith Richards' alleged actions if they had taken place today, why Richards or the Rolling Stones would have borne such animosity towards Donald Trump back in 1989 isn't clear.

Finally, it should be noted that we were unable to unearth any version of this story between the time it allegedly occurred in December 1989 and when Cohl described it during his keynote address in February 2015 (the latter date being, coincidentally, around the time Trump began flirting with the idea of running for president in 2016).

Regardless, the claim that Keith Richards "pulled a knife on Donald Trump" is certainly false, as it doesn't even appear in Cohl's possibly questionable version of events.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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