The World’s Most Infamous Hotel Stay?

Forty-two years ago – on August 23, 1967, drummer Keith Moon spent his 21st birthday at the Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan following a concert by his band, The Who. The stage was set for one of the most legendary collisions between the hospitality industry and a touring rock ‘n roll band.  What started with a warm birthday greeting on the hotel’s sign eventually devolved into the world’s most infamous hotel stay.

Keith Moon in 1967. Seated behind his custom Premier 'Pictures of Lily' drum kit. Photo Credit: Iburiedpaul|Flickr

Keith Moon in 1967. Behind his custom Premier ‘Pictures of Lily’ drum kit.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Iburiedpaul|Flickr

A little background on the changes that occurred in 1967 for the young and/or uninitiated:

  1. The summer of 1967, was transitional for rock ‘n roll – The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 1 – a recording Rolling Stone Magazine called “the most important rock & roll album ever made…”
  2. The world’s first massively attended rock concert, the Monterey International Pop Festival ran from June 16-18, 1967 in Northern California, attracting 200,000 over three peaceful days. The event introduced American audiences not only to The Who, but Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding.  “The Summer of Love” followed with 100,000 hippies flocking to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.
  3. The Who have arguably been called the godfathers of hard rock, but were the undisputed pioneers of instrument destruction.  Their performance of “My Generation” on the prime time Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour – filmed three weeks after the incident in Flint – provided a literally explosive introduction to prime-time American audiences (things start disintegrating around the 4:00 minute mark.)

  4. Keith Moon was the drummer for The Who.  As Jeff Weiss of Stylus Magazine put it, “if Moon wasn’t the best drummer in rock history, he’s certainly its most original.”  Raving Tales of Keith Moon Insanity written by Andy Secher and originally published in the January, 1979 issue of “Hard Rock” magazine provides a good perspective on his escapades.  Never prone to moderation, he died in September, 1978 at the age of 32 of an accidental (and massive) drug overdose. For trivia buffs, Keith was also the inspiration for the manic Muppet drummer “Animal.”
  5. Holiday Inns, in 1967 was the world’s largest hotel chain, with nearly 1,000 properties – comprised primarily of roadside motels.  Its “Great Sign” was not only an icon for the company, but the travel industry as a whole in the 1960’s.

And the rest, as they say, is rock & roll (and hotel industry) history…

It may be best to look at the events of August 23, 1967 as one would a chemical reaction… A list of the ingredients provides some insight into an inevitable recipe for hotel chaos and destruction:

  • Hyperactive kid with destructive tendencies celebrating a major birthday
  • Lingering post-concert adrenaline rush
  • Motel with swimming pool
  • Lots of money
  • Lots of presents (mostly alcohol)
  • Lots of girls
  • Large birthday cake (containing girl)
  • Lincoln continental limousine
  • Unsuspecting hotel staff
  • More alcohol…

And a brief synopsis of the timeline:

  • The Who, on their first North American tour, open (ironically) for Herman’s Hermits at Flint’s Atwood Stadium.
  • Concert ends a bit before 10:00pm
  • Band and entourage return to motel
  • Much festive imbibing and celebrating ensues
  • Lots of clothed and partially clothed party guests can not resist the inviting waters of the conveniently located (parking lot facing) swimming pool
  • Property fire extinguishers are emptied
  • Toilet explodes in hotel room
  • Drum company wheels huge birthday cake into main dining room
  • Girl jumps out of cake
  • Keith dumps whole cake on a group of party goers
  • Food fight spreads from dining room into hotel lobby
  • In ensuing confusion, Keith misplaces his clothes
  • Police arrive – Party in full swing
  • Keith suddenly decides to leave party in great haste
  • Keith jumps into Lincoln Continental & releases handbrake
  • Car rolls backward through fence and into deep end of swimming pool
  • Keith greeted at gunpoint by police as he surfaces
  • Keith makes second attempt at quick exit from the party
  • Slipping on cake, Keith falls and knocks out front tooth
  • Police apprehend Keith and escort him to dentist before heading to jail
  • Dentist discovers that in his current state, Keith had no need for Novocaine; repairs tooth
  • Keith spends night in county jail
  • Next day, chartered plane flies Keith to The Who’s next tour stop in Philadelphia

Gary Flinn has a nice recap of the evening’s festivities on his Flinn’s Journal site that covers the history of Flint http://home.comcast.net/~steelbeard1/flinn122307.htm.

The total damage bill ran $24,000 in 1967 dollars (Approx. $132,000 today.)  Reports include the record company buying the “damp” car from its irate owner.

After the events of that evening, several things permanently changed within both the hotel and entertainment industries:

  • Touring rock ‘n roll bands were introduced to a new and entertaining hobby to pass time between shows
  • The Who were banned for life from performing in Flint, Michigan
  • Holiday Inn declared what is believed to be its first and only global lifetime ban on The Who from all future hotel stays in any Holiday Inn, anywhere
  • Hotel operators discovered that promoting a celebrity visit was best after departure unless security was enhanced
  • Hotel architects made it considerably more difficult for motor vehicles to interact with swimming pools
  • Insurance carriers dramatically increased premiums for third party property damage coverage on concert tour policies
  • Hotel accounting departments dramatically increased credit requirements for touring rock ‘n roll bands
  • Band road managers dramatically increased the amount of petty cash on hand to handle unforeseen talent-related incidents

Keith’s assault on the travel industry continued throughout his career – from uninvited drumming sessions in 747 cockpits, to casting televisions out of hotel windows, hatcheting hotel room furniture to kindling, and that perennial favorite, blowing-up toilets… His creative off-stage pursuits inspired a generation of rock musicians.

Reflecting the cultural changes triggered in the late 1960’s, as the boundaries of rock ‘n roll debauchery gradually expanded, sadly, some of the personalization and innocence of traditional innkeeping was lost. These days, direct interaction between celebrities, the hotel staff and other guests is rare. While I am sure most hotel owners and management companies don’t share my nostalgic sentiment, those days (that continued through the 1980’s,) despite the destruction, were a lot of fun.

Note: Clarification for historians and/or fans interested in making a pilgrimage to the site – the former Flint Holiday Inn is now the Days Inn Flint-Frankenmuth‎ located at 2207 West Bristol Road. This fact somehow eluded VH1 during a 1999 special where they mistakenly filmed segments at the Flint Holiday Inn Express.  The good news was that Holiday Inn took advantage of the VH1 special’s publicity to formally lift its lifetime ban on The Who.

Here’s a clip of Keith’s last concert performance – May 25, 1978, with The Who still at the top of their game, playing Won’t Get Fooled Again at Shepperton Studios for the film The Kids are Alright. An appropriate anthem reflecting on their generation’s loss of innocence.

Cheers Keith – Happy Birthday. (As Rest In Peace really does not suit you, I hope you are having fun…)  Long Live Rock.

About Robert Cole

Robert Cole is the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting practice. He also authors the Views from a Corner Suite Blog and publishes the Travel Quote of the Day. Robert speaks regularly at major travel industry conferences, authors articles for leading travel industry publications, advises travel-related startups and the equity investment community. He is an evangelist for the global travel industry.

  • vicarious1

    Sound nearly like events happening not only once in a landmark hotel in LA.
    Guests representative, books an entire floor for their privacy and entourage only one or two days ahead, ignoring possible occupancy problems.
    We are on our way and you better be ready, is the situation.
    They arrive with several 747. One for their personal belonging etc one for family if part of the trip.
    The Hotel has sent a very senior person round on an entire floor to invite guests, who pay considerable amounts per night, to either move room, always an upgrade if possible or move out both with a potent cash check with many zeros as a thank you gift for doing so.
    The new guest arrive only hours, following a fleet of trucks with loaded with mountains of personal furnishings and accessories.
    Once they set foot into their suites and rooms the carnage starts. Their staff literally rips off the walls and throws out on to the corridor anything no to their liking, such as cable phones, chairs, TVs, fixtures, curtains etc anything displeasing to their eyes.
    The bills or services, and damage and and and for quite short stays have many many zeros and are paid without any discussion by a third party.
    No police involved here for sure.
    Money talks and pays for the unruly behavior of guest one expect to have the highest of social standards and skills.

  • “I’d rather be Quilting” ….. Really!??

  • Trevor Lahey

    I actually live a couple miles away from the hotel at 2207 W. Bristol Rd. in Flint and drive past it almost every day. It is a fairly run down non-chain motel now. I’ve only lived here a year but have always known that The Who had a lot of history in Flint. I believe that Flint was actually the first U.S. market whose radio stations played them in heavy rotation. Which makes sense considering the area’s (Detroit, Ann Arbor) influence on the garage rock / proto punk genres.

  • If I here in this famous hotel, wow my feelings is so very happy. Happiest ever that never forget.

  • Douglas Barnhart

    My father was the Innkeeper of that Holiday Inn, when this event happened. In 1967, I was 12, So my memories of it are pretty clear. I will send the link to this article to him, and see if he want to correct some of the errors in the events described. I saw all three bands when they entered the lobby to check in. The only one I recognized was Herman of Herman’s Hermits. I got his autograph, and several of the other long haired people milling around. It turns out that I did get Keith Moon’s autograph as well. It stands out because I had a “mod” Bic pin with circle patterns on it, and Keith told me, “cool pen” as he signed my autograph book. Our family lived in a group of interconnected rooms on the second floor, overlooking the pool. When it got to the point they were running around spraying the acid based fire extinguishers, it was late, and I was ordered to stay indoors. In the pool the next day, I found an electric guitar cord. One point I am pretty sure the bill was never paid. My father talked about attempts to collect for years after the event. The description of what happened with the cake differs from your article. I’ll leave the rest to my father, who is the entire “Holiday Inn” side of the story. If he decides not to tell his side of the story, I’ll see if he will at least recount it to me, and I’ll pass what he says along. I will close with a personal after story of this. Obviously this event was a sore spot in my father’s life, but years later I convinced him to take me to a Who concert (with much arm twisting). When the band came on stage at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Roger said, “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news. The bad news is that we don’t have enough material for this show. The good news is that we are going to play the Rock Opera Tommy in its entirety for the last time live.” The crowd went wild throughout the concert. My father never stood up, until it was time to go, even though there was a standing ovation for almost every song. I’m off to send him a link here. L8r.

    • Douglas, thanks very much for the comment. I sincerely hope your father will consider providing as complete a description as possible of that day’s events.

      In my personal experience, I’ve worked at hotels where the Eagles threw suite patio furniture off the 32nd floor into the street, and Foreiger demolished a hotel room at a property that had opened two days earlier.

      The incident has become the stuff of legend, and I would love to make certain all the details are fair and accurate.

      Also, I love the idea of including the hotelier’s perspective, which may be, “how do I keep these people from killing themselves and others?” And as we all know, while rock bands hate adult supervision, they often need it, desperately…

      I hope you can convince him to share his story. It would be a shame for it to be lost in history.

      Thanks again for commenting.

      • Douglas Barnhart

        My father is working on his account of the evening. He actually wrote one years ago but is updating it. We spoke at length about the evening, and I covered most of the items on your timeline. Not all of them are covered in his description. So I’ll focus on the erroneous ones, and/or clarify some:

        Lots of clothed and partially clothed party guests can not resist the inviting waters of the conveniently located (parking lot facing) swimming pool===. Partially true, there was a driveway on one side of the pool, but it had a chain link fence. Lots of people were jumping into the pool late at night.

        Toilet explodes in hotel room— Unsure, I forgot to ask about this one.

        Drum company wheels huge birthday cake into main dining room— True, but only because they had to roll it through the dining room to get to the banquet room, where the party was.

        Girl jumps out of cake—False

        Keith dumps whole cake on a group of party goers— In the banquet room. Some versions of this night have them throwing cake on the dining room guest, which wasn’t true.

        Food fight spreads from dining room into hotel lobby— False, some of the band members may have trailed out some cake that was dumped on them, but there was no food fight through the dining room into the lobby.

        In ensuing confusion, Keith misplaces his clothes — False mostly. My father wasn’t with him the entire night. But Keith wasn’t nude anywhere the staff could see him, or my would have been notified.

        Police arrive – Party in full swing — False, my father never called the police the entire night. The bands had their own security guard to keep anxious fans away, but neither of us remember if he was armed or not.

        Keith jumps into Lincoln Continental & releases handbrake
        Car rolls backward through fence and into deep end of swimming pool— Entirely false. They threw some of the chairs, and one table from around the pool into it. Someone jumped in with their guitar. I found the spiral cord in the pool the next day.

        Keith greeted at gunpoint by police as he surfaces— False

        Keith makes second attempt at quick exit from the party
        Slipping on cake, Keith falls and knocks out front tooth
        Police apprehend Keith and escort him to dentist before heading to jail. — True and False, he did chip a front tooth that night, but since the police were never called, he was never “apprehended”. He did not spend the night in jail.

        Dentist discovers that in his current state, Keith had no need for Novocaine; repairs tooth— Neither of us knew what happened in the dentist’s office, but we were both pretty sure he went the next day. So most likely Novocaine was probably necessary.

        Keith spends night in county jail— False

        Next day, chartered plane flies Keith to The Who’s next tour stop in Philadelphia— This one we read about, and it was supposedly a 727 he chartered. But that may be an exaggeration.

        In closing, the total damage billed was $15,000 not $24,000. The bill was never paid by the band or the record company. It was eventually written off as a bad debt. My father spent a long time trying to collect it. Holiday Inn never banned any of the three bands. In fact, as was the custom, event planners would reserve rooms ahead with Holiday Inn for every city that had one, the band was performing in. My father even contacted other Holiday Inn managers that the group stayed at after tearing up the Flint property about the damage bill. But no one associate with the group would ever acknowledge the bill. Neither my father or Holiday Inn promoted that the bands were staying at the motel. They never did for any celebrities. If the celebrities managers or publicist chose to promote the location, it was their choice. Still even that was discouraged. Most of the changes in the hotel industry, I really cannot address. I can say the parking lot access to the pool was just a driveway, with a row of parking spaces lining the side towards the pool. It was perfectly flat, and had a standard size curb. No room for a limousine to park, without blocking the entire drive. It would have had to roll across flat ground, up over the curb, 10 to 15 yards through grass, through a chain link fence. Then go another 10 yards through grass to reach a iron fence that surrounded the pool. Plough through that, go through the pool furniture on the 6-10 foot concrete deck that surrounded the pool. Even if all of that could happen, they would have had to get a wrecker service out around midnight to fish the car out of the pool, without the permission of the manager, or any employee seeing them. Sorry to report that over the years the story has grown into some pretty big exaggerations.

  • Gene Bartholomew

    Many of the Keith stories are bullshit, or they are exaggerated/altered by Who management and the media to cover the truth, the limo at the Holiday Inn was a drunken accident, as his party is out of control he tried to leave to avoid the police, released the parking brake and rolled backwards into the pool, he was arrested and had to charter a flight to catch up with the band, the other pool was at home, he and his wife got into another fight, he was drunk and said he was going to kill himself, he drove into his pond which at the time was mud and knocked out his front tooth.

    When the band got to Who’s Next they had a meeting before the tour, Keith was told that from that point on all of his arrests, extra catch up flights, damages, etc were coming out of his pay not the company, a the end of that tour the other 3 came home with 500k, Keith came home with 50k.

    Almost all of his amazing superman stories are covers for his drugged out drunken disasters, one of which ended up costing his body guard driver Neil Boland his life and Keith was charged with manslaughter which he got off but he carried that guilt to his grave.