I have long thought that the reason so many rock and movie stars drink and take drugs is that they’ve discovered that great success and happiness actually remain hand in hand for maybe a couple of months, after which the inner emptiness that drove them to yearn for mass adoration remains just as cavernous as before.
Behold my newly late one-time friend Rick Parfitt. We met as neighbours in a big riverside block of flats (that is, apartment building) in suburban southwest London. He and his long-suffering childhood sweetheart turned second wife, whom he was forever abandoning, and then reconciling with, were in the restaurant adjoining our building. Though I didn’t look especially rock anymore, he seemed to sense that we were kindred spirits, and did the approaching. He was flatteringly solicitous, and the four of us (we two chaps, his P—, and my wife) took to meeting fairly regularly. He would always insist on buying the drinks, of which he downed a great many. We talked a great deal about him and his band, and very little about us, but that's the way it is with big stars.
It emerged that he was haunted. His toddler daughter had drowned in his swimming pool with him and his first, German, wife a mere few feet away several years before. Being a member of a group that had been enormously popular (to the tune of 128 million album sales) in a great many countries didn’t dull the awful memory of the tragedy. He was by far the better of the two singers in his band, but the other guy had claimed the spotlight with the group’s first (and only American) hit, and Rick had never been able to yank it away from him. He’d made a solo album of which he was very proud, but his record company had decided in the end not even to release it. Quo toured the same countries annually, playing in the same venues to the same fans, who were a little greyer and a little paunchier at every year’s show, but no less insistent on hearing the group’s many hits, which Rick was sick to death of playing. And so he drank — and, in spite of major problems with his heart, smoked. A great deal. It emerged that when he wasn’t on the road, he was commonly too depressed to get out of bed almost until it was time to go down to the restaurant and get legless again.
He and P— invited us up to their flat one evening. Rick asked me to come into the kitchen with him, threw his arms around me and told me he loved me. No sexual element was involved. Back out in the living room, with its gold records on the walls and the Thames glittering beneath us, we listened to a couple of the songs from the album I’d made with my wife. He dismissed them as New Romantic rubbish. I took some small consolation in his not having cleared his throat, squirmed for a moment, and pronounced them..interesting.
He could be cruel. One evening, it came out that it was P—‘s birthday. He made clear that he couldn’t be less interested, and her pain was unmistakable. I got the impression her unconditional devotion to him might have made him contemptuous. It was Groucho Marx’s joke about not wanting to belong to a country club that would have him as a member writ large. He later left her again, and married a woman who bore him twins. P— must have died a little bit more, but not so much that they didn’t get back together yet again.
I was lucky to have known him.