Led Zeppelin rewrote the book on rock ‘n’ roll excess and extremes.
Constantly trumping one another with drink, drugs, sexual conquests and unspeakable acts of debauchery, they made even the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards look like Cliff Richard.
By their side through their debauched heyday, and arguably even more hard-living, was their hellraising tour manager Richard Cole, who has died of cancer aged 75.
As well as arranging the band’s security and transportation on the road, he was also tasked with escorting women and girls to the band’s hotel rooms and keeping the band ‘nourished with drugs’, he later said in his explosive memoir.
Their behaviour is enough to shock in today’s #MeToo era, but Cole insisted the women always wanted to join in.
‘We were hot and on our way up and nobody was watching too closely,’ he later recalled.
‘All the Led Zeppelin depravity took place in an alcoholic fog. We found ourselves in a position to do almost anything we wanted and there seemed to be a tidal wave of free-spirited groupies who were always co-operative.’
Rock ‘n’ roll king: Led Zeppelin’s hellraising tour manager Richard Cole has died of cancer, aged 75. Pictured, at his wedding to former bunny girl Marilyn Woolhead in London in 1974
Friends to the end: Jimmy Page with Richard Cole at an event in 2018. Cole came under fire for sharing the band’s secrets, and some ‘tall tales’, but ultimately they reconciled
On a record-breaking monthlong tour of America in 1978, Cole was asked to hire a motorbike and a 10ft python.
The bike, it turned out, was for racing up and down the corridor of the group’s hotel in Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.
The python never materialised but he was able to make plenty of other unusual acquisitions during his 12-year stint with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham.
On a stop in Japan, Cole bought two Samurai swords which he and Bonham used to chop down the door of bassist Jones at the Tokyo Hotel. Once inside, they continued the rampage and reduced the furniture to splinters.
But possibly the most notorious incident – which earned Led Zep the top slot in the 100 Sleaziest Moments Of Rock in 2000 – took place in the early days, 1969, at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle.
Although widely disputed, it reportedly started with Bonham and Cole fishing for sand sharks, which they hung in their hotel bedroom wardrobes.
And then, as tour photographer Robert Zagaris recalled, the orgy began: ‘Everyone was smoking joints and hash. A blonde groupie was stripped naked.’
Next, a party guest tipped a bag of fish entrails all over the girl, who was writhing about with Cole and Bonham. Cole later claimed it was red snappers, not sharks.
On the road: Born in London, Cole moved to Los Angeles where he was contacted by Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, ahead of the band’s first American tour in 1968-69. Pictured, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and Richard Cole at Honolulu Airport in May 1969
Flying high: Robert Plant and Richard Cole recline on a fur-covered bed ahead of a concert in New York in 1973. Cole was eventually fired in 1980 after succumbing to a heroin addiction
Born in 1946 in north London, Cole, the son of a Rolls-Royce engineer, left school at 15 to work in a dairy, followed by jobs as a sheet-metal worker and a scaffolder, according to The Times.
After a chance meeting at a club in 1965, Cole became road manager for Unit 4+2 and went on to work with the New Vaudeville Band and the Who.
Cole moved to Los Angeles where he was contacted by Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, ahead of the band’s first American tour in 1968. Their off stage antics became the stuff of legend.
‘Chairs crashed against the walls. Couches soared out of shattered windows. A television set followed close behind, exploding on an air conditioning unit more than a dozen storeys below,’ Cole wrote in his memoir of one hotel stay.
Like any self-respecting band, Led Zeppelin had their own plane. Only there’s wasn’t a small, private jet, but a repurposed Boeing 720B called the Starship which was fitted out with a queen-sized bed, shower and faux fur throw.
On stage, Led Zeppelin matched their excesses with sell-out tours and prodigious sales, becoming one of the most successful bands of all time.
But rampant drink and drug use meant the mayhem only escalated.
Exploring the world: Robert Plant and Richard Cole on a surf board in Hawaii in May 1969
Wedding day: Unlike his famous antics, Cole kept his private life out of the spotlight. He is thought to have married at least twice – once to former bunny girl Marilyn, above – and is survived by a daughter. Pictured, Cole, Marilyn, Lionel Bart, Page, John Paul Jones and Plant
‘Drugs were seen as something innocent,’ Cole later explained. ‘They were very easy to obtain. Fans used to give them to us. I don’t think we even thought about it.’
In 1977, Grant, Cole, Bonham and a security man were arrested for assaulting a staff member at a show in San Francisco. All were fined and given suspended sentences.
By 1980, Cole had developed a devastating heroin habit and was fired following the band’s final European tour.
Grant sent him to a rehabilitation centre in Italy. The day after he arrived, Cole was arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up Bologna train station and spent long weeks in prison before police accepted he was innocent.
He was still in prison when he learned Bonham, then 32, had died after consuming around 40 shots of vodka in a 24-hour period.
According to Rolling Stone, Bonham had recently overcome a heroin problem and was taking an unspecified medication for anxiety and depression at the time of his death.
Cole stopped using hard drugs in the 1980s and reportedly gave up drinking in 1986. After leaving behind his hard-partying ways, Cole went on to work for acts including The Gipsy Kings, Black Sabbath and Eric Clapton before quitting the music industry in 2003.
Remembered: Jimmy Page paid tribute to his ‘brother and friend to the end’ in a statement
Although he was a trusted member of the Zeppelin family, Cole shared the band’s secrets to Stephen Davis for his controversial 1985 biography Hammer of the Gods, before following up with his own book, Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored, which was met with public criticism by the band, who claimed he had exaggerated their debauched antics.
‘These stories would filter out from girls who’d supposedly been in my room when in fact they’d been in his,’ Plant said in an interview in 1985. ‘He got paid a lot of money for talking c**p.’
Plant even alluded to Cole’s ‘tall tales’ in his Twitter tribute, writing: ‘Farewell Ricardo… Sadly no more tall tales… Brave to the end.’
Unlike his famous antics, Cole kept his private life out of the spotlight.
He is thought to have married at least twice – once to former bunny girl Marilyn Woolhead – and is survived by a daughter, Claire. Led Zeppelin fan accounts describe Cole as being a ‘solid family man’ who split his time between homes in London and California.
Cole was also able to overcome any rifts with Zeppelin. He was invited as a VIP guest to official Led Zeppelin film and book launches and to the 2007 reunion concert. Plant visited him in hospital in the final part of his life, The Times reported.
Remembering his friend in a statement, Page said: ‘Richard and I went back a long way and he had been recruited by Peter Grant to be tour manager with the Yardbirds Keith Relf, Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja, and myself during our American touring schedule of underground venues. He was with me at the time that band folded and when I formed Led Zeppelin.
‘From the time of the rehearsals at my home at Pangbourne through to the touring of the USA, we witnessed the phenomena that was Led Zeppelin. He was there for the first and last concerts of the band.
‘He was a brother and a friend to the end. Goodbye my dear friend. They were special times and so were you.’