Rick Parfitt: "It'll take more than death to kill me"

A photograph of Rick Parfitt sat in a cafe
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon\/TeamRock)

On June 14, 2016, following a Status Quo show in Turkey, Rick Parfitt suffered a heart attack and was pronounced clinically dead for several minutes. Back among the living, the singer/guitarist was ordered by doctors to rest “for the remainder of the year at the very least”, ruling out of the band’s final batch of ‘electric’ concerts. Worse still, manager Simon Porter admitted: “Rick may well have performed his last show with Quo, though no final decision will be made until next year”, when the group unplug and become an acoustic band.

In the aftermath of his ordeal, Parfitt told Sky News: “I don’t want to get out on stage and drop dead in front of the fans.” He was left with mild cognitive impairments, for which he’s receiving neuropsychological support. Fans were told that apart from the physical exertion involved, the anxiousness Parfitt feels for full-length concerts, or even just a brief cameo appearance, could be a life-threatening complication.

Parfitt is convalescing and enjoying some Mediterranean sunshine in the company of his son Harry when he gives Classic Rock an exclusive interview. “I’m opting out of the final electric tour on doctor’s advice,” he begins, sounding relaxed, happy and calm. “I must rest up till Christmas. And I take that very seriously, so I’m out here in Spain, sitting around and writing songs, having a lovely time.”

How is your health now?

I would say I’m fully recovered. As the weeks pass I’m better and better. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to improve on that, because I feel as well as I did when I fell over. So I can’t complain. I’ve just passed my driving test – which was incredibly stressful at my age [68] – but I’m mobile again now, so that’s a big difference.

How much do you recall of the events in Turkey?

Absolutely nothing at all. Prior to Turkey we did the Isle of Wight Festival [on June 9], and the last thing I remember is being in my room on the bus, looking out over the bow of the ship towards the Isle of Wight in the distance. I don’t recall the Isle of Wight gig, or going to Turkey, or the gig there. And I don’t have a clue how I ended up on the floor. And more unbelievable still, after that the entire next month is a blank.

You lost an entire month?

I don’t recall anything of how I got back [to England]. I was in intensive care for a couple of weeks in Turkey, I think. But I don’t remember being there. I’m told the doctors were very supportive but didn’t hold out much hope [of my survival]. My family came over. My second-eldest son, Harry, later showed me some footage of me in bed the day after it happened. I’ve got a pair of sunglasses on, I’m wearing a hat and I’m playing Imagine on the guitar – and I’ve no memory of that.

You were airlifted back to the UK.

Apparently I caused a scene in the air ambulance by trying to fly the plane. They had to strap me down – or so I’m told. I don’t remember anything. My first recollection of being back in London is my heart surgeon, Jonathan Craig, asking whether I knew where I was. I told him: “Of course, I do. I’m in Marbella.”

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Had there been any warning signs before Turkey?

A friend says that before we left for Turkey I told her that I didn’t feel well and didn’t want to go on that trip. But I didn’t exactly feel unwell. Rhino [Quo’s bassist John Edwards] says I did both gigs perfectly – they were stonking gigs. I wish I could remember them. It’s the first time ever that I’ve lost five weeks of my life.

You’ve often claimed to have been looking after yourself in recent years. Was that really true?

[Slightly testily] Of course it is. I’ve been to a couple of house parties at friends’ places and used to get highly pissed off drinking water all night while everyone else had a nice glass of red wine. My heart surgeon told me I can have one or two glasses of wine but not to drink the bottle, and I’ve taken that on board. I’ll have two, possibly three glasses of wine. That’s enough to get me giggling and make me relax.

We ask because Francis Rossi told Classic Rock that when he came to see you in hospital following a triple heart bypass operation in 1997, you were “drinking and having a crafty smoke out the back”.

That was after the very first operation. I was still going hell for leather then, still rocking and rolling.

But you can see where we’re going with this – the story of the boy who cried wolf?

Well, like I said, the second one [in 2014] was a reality check for me. I couldn’t continue the way I’d been going.

You’ve said that you’re now paying the price for a lifetime of rock’n’roll excess.

I guess that’s true. There’s no other way of looking at it.

It’s an admission of guilt?

I’ve been somewhat selfish for most of my life. I’ve lived how I wanted to live, done what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and nothing or nobody has stood in my way. I do things to excess, and through my forties and fifties I paid no thought to anything except having a good time. But it catches up with you. For the last ten years I’ve joked: “It’ll take more than death to kill me.” And now it’s fucking true. I did actually die. So I must be responsible – another heart attack will kill me.

And you feel bad about letting down the fans.

Obviously there’s guilt. This is nobody’s fault but my own. I know that people want to see Status Quo as they know Status Quo, which is Frame [Rossi] and me. I also really miss the camaraderie of the band, the roar of the crowd, the lights going down… But my life is more important. It’s a miracle I’m still here, and I’ve got to make the best of it.

How does it feel to be missing the shows?

I try not to think about it. I don’t look at the tour dates. I don’t go to the Quo site or the message boards because I know some people will have good things to say and others will be unhappy. I’d rather not know. But at around eight or nine o’clock it dawns that they [Quo] will be going on stage somewhere, and it’s something I’d rather not think about.

It sounds as though your heart’s broken.

Yeah. But I’ve got to learn to cope with it. I’m living a different life now. After Christmas, if I get the all‑clear – and I’m pretty sure I will – I’ll get on with making a solo album, maybe some shows midway through next year. There’s some material I’m very pleased with. I’m also going to do a book, because I’ve got one hell of a tale to tell. There’s still lots to look forward to, providing I look after myself.

It doesn’t sound like you’re going to return to Quo.

No. [I don’t think I really want to](http://teamrock.com/news/2016-10-26/parfitt-cant-bear-thought-of-seeing-status-quo-farewell-shows). In my heart I’m a rocker. I’ve always been. If I’m going to make music it’s got to rock. There would probably have been room for me if I decided I wanted to [carry on as a band member], but I’m not a great fan of the whole acoustic malarkey. What I am disappointed in is missing the last of the band’s electric shows.

Parfitt and Rossi: the heart and soul of Status Quo

Parfitt and Rossi: the heart and soul of Status Quo (Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s not exactly how you’d want to wrap up such a glorious era for the band.

No, it isn’t. Francis wanted to stop [touring electrically] anyway, which I didn’t agree with. Next year is fifty years of hits. That’s when we should have stopped. But once he digs his heels in, nobody can do anything about it. We could have rocked on a bit more, but this is nature’s way of telling me to take a breather – for now.

Will you be attending any of the electric shows?

That wouldn’t be a good move. Some fans would think: “If you’re well enough to be here, then you’re well enough to play.” Plus, standing there in the audience… No, I don’t think I could do that.

Francis recently told Classic Rock that he was uncertain whether there could be a Parfitt-less Quo, but it sounded like he’s going to give it a go.

Francis will do what Francis will do. I shan’t say anything to the contrary because I don’t want any bad feeling. After fifty years of travelling the world together, that’s the very last thing I want.

In 2016 we lost Lemmy and David Bowie, among others. You knew Lemmy.

Lemmy was a good friend of mine, yeah. We had many, many good times together [chuckles].

Those tales could be a book in themselves?

That’s very true [laughs]. I knew David too, because we spent time with him when we were recording in Nassau. He was a lovely guy and such a great talent. And I joined them both – I was gone for three-and-a‑half minutes. But, like I said earlier, it’ll take more than death to kill me.

The Quo Army certainly send their best wishes for a good recovery.

That’s my priority. After Christmas I’ll be itching to do something – in the studio and on stage. I really do miss the stage.

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Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.