When Auckland brain surgeon Andrew Law was at university he had a poster of Rolling Stone Keith Richards on his wall. Now his photos of the Stones are more likely to have him in them.
Law, 41, is the neurosurgeon Richards credits with saving his life after the guitarist suffered a brain injury in a fall from a tree in Fiji in April, 2006.
Since then, the men have formed a close, if unlikely, friendship, with Law spending many weeks either on the road with the Stones, or living with Richards and his family in Europe and the United States.
Law has rejected big money offers from international magazines to speak about his relationship with the man he now regards as a good mate.
But he told the Sunday Star-Times the pair "just clicked" from the time they first met at Auckland's Ascot Hospital when Law was called in to assess his celebrity patient.
"I wasn't too impressed being up at this time - it was 2am - so I just said 'What the f**k have you been up to?' I think that broke the ice. He just laughed."
But Law said the surgery on Richards' brain was far from minor.
"He was really really unwell. I told him 'I might kill you today' - he was very aware of it. He had to put his life in my hands."
Law, too, admits he was nervous before operating on one of the world's most famous rockers.
Richards not only survived, but within six weeks was well enough to rejoin the Stones' two-year world tour. Insurers demanded Law go along as well and he travelled with the group through Italy, Austria and Germany.
"Everyone was on tenterhooks thinking he'd fall over. But he's just too good for that."
The weeks on the road gave Law a rare insight into the "bizarre" lifestyle of the superstars, including being mobbed by fans and paparazzi and having to be smuggled by bodyguards into cars at the back entrances of hotels.
"They know it's bizarre. They are funny, clever people. He is a very strong-willed, intelligent, very cool and clever guy and incredibly brave. And he made me laugh."
Though Richards has brought Law into a social circle he'd previously only read about - introducing him to stars including Johnny Depp and Sienna Miller - he's also become close to Richards' wife, Patti Hansen, and his children, who are closer in age than the rocker himself, who's 64.
"We go out and have fish and chips and a beer."
He says Richards has surrounded himself with good people. "They don't cross him, they don't harm him. They look after him and most people would do anything for him."
He admits his experiences with the Stones have been "a bit surreal".
"I don't get excited by it; the thing that excited me most was that he was such an interesting guy and we got on so well. We'd travel through Europe and he'd be telling me what was going on with the Hapsburgs (Austria's ruling house). I learned from him."
He said Richards' star quality was obvious. "He has style. Even when he just gets up to make some eggs and a piece of toast."
Richards might appreciate the chance to talk to someone outside his circle, said Law. "I don't think he's run into too many neurosurgeons and I haven't run into too many rock stars."
He last saw Richards in November but they keep in touch. "He'll ring or fax and ask what I'm up to."
At the Stones' LA concert at Dodger Stadium in November 2006, Richards found a unique way to thank Law, telling the crowd of 50,000 that he wouldn't have been there without him.
"He's from New Zealand and he's my head man, you know what I mean? He fixed the thing."
The crowd gave Law a standing ovation. "He said: 'Here's one for your scrapbook, Andy.' I was standing backstage with Patti. It was a completely unexpected compliment."
But the surgeon responded just as the star would have expected. "I just said, 'You cheeky bastard!'
- © Fairfax NZ News
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