The World’s Most Infamous Hotel Stay?

Fifty-one 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 occurred eventually evolved into legend as 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 7:00 minute mark.)
  1. 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.”
  2. 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…

Legends are often embellished by recursive poetic license. In the interest of juxtaposing myth and reality, everything below that is in an italic Underlined typeface has been refuted as fiction by Douglas Barnhart, the son of the Innkeeper of the Holiday Inn Flint (Neil Barnhart, who later became a corporate VP with Holiday Corporation) who, as a 12-year old, was living on the 2nd floor of the property when the incident occured – read his illuminating comments to this post.

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 (according to legend):

  • 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 meeting room
  • Girl jumps out of cake
  • Keith dumps whole cake on a group of party goers
  • Food fight spreads from meeting 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

Moon himself provided a nice recap of the day’s festivities in a 1972 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine

Was it on this tour you had your infamous birthday party?
Yes. That’s how I lost me front tooth. In Flint, Michigan. We had a show that night. We were all around the ‘Oliday Inn pool, ‘Erman’s ‘Ermits and meself. I was 21 and they started giving me presents. Somebody gave me a portable bar and somebody else the portable booze. I’d started drinking about ten o’clock in the morning and I can’t remember the show. Then the record companies ‘ad booked a big room in the ‘otel, one of the conference rooms, for a party. As the hours went on, it got louder and louder, and everybody started getting well out their minds, well stoned. The pool was the obvious target. Everybody started jumping in the pool with their clothes on.

The Premier Drum Company ‘ad given me a ‘uge birthday cake, with like five drums stacked up on top of each other. As the party degenerated into a slanging, I picked up the cake, all five tiers, and hurled it at the throng. People’d started picking up the pieces and ‘urling it about. Everybody was covered in marzipan and icing sugar and fruitcake. The manager ‘eard the fracas and came in. There it was, his great carpet, stained irrevocably with marzipan and fruitcake trodden in, and everybody dancing about with their trousers off. By the time the sheriff came in I was standing there in me underpants. I ran out, jumped into the first car I came to, which was a brand new Lincoln Continental. It was parked on a slight hill and when I took the handbrake off, it started to roll and it smashed straight through this pool surround [fence] and the whole Lincoln Continental went into the ‘Oliday Inn swimming pool, with me in it. Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!

So there I was, sitting in the eight-foot-six in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Continental, underwater. And the water was pouring in – coming in through the bloody pedal ‘oles in the floorboard, you know, squirting in through the windows. In a startling moment of logical I said, “Well, I can’t open the doors until the pressure is the same . . .” It’s amazing ‘ow I remembered those things from my physics class! I knew I’d ‘ave to wait until the pressure was the same.

So I’m sitting there, thinking about me situation, as the water creeps up to me nose. Today I can think of less outrageous ways of going than drowning in a Lincoln Continental in a ‘Oliday Inn swimming pool, but at that time I ‘ad no thoughts of death whatsoever. There was none of that all-me-life-passing-before-me-eyes-in-a-flash. I was busy planning. I knew if I panicked, I’d ‘ave ‘ad it. So when there’s just enough air in the top of the car to take a gulp, I fill up me lungs, throw open the door and go rising to the top of the pool. I figured there’d be quite a crowd gathered by now. After all, I’d been down there underwater for some time. I figured they’d be so grateful I was alive, they’d overlook the Lincoln Continental. But no. There’s only one person standing there and ‘e’s the pool cleaner and ‘e’s got to have the pool clean in the morning, and he’s furious.

So I went back to the party, streaming water, still in me underpants. The first person I see is the sheriff and he’s got ‘is ‘and on ‘is gun. Sod this! And I ran, I started to leg it out the door, and I slipped on a piece of marzipan and fell flat on me face and knocked out me tooth. Ah-ha-ha-Ha-Ha-Hahaha!

I spent the remainder of the night under the custody of the sheriff at a dentist’s. The dentist couldn’t give me any anesthetic because I was pissed out me mind. So ‘e ‘ad to rip out what was left of the tooth and put a false one in, and the next day I spent a couple of hours in the nick [jail]. The boys ‘ad chartered me a plane because they ‘ad to leave on an earlier flight. The sheriff took me out in the law car and he puts me on the plane and says [American accent], “Son, don’t ever dock in Flint, Michigan, again.” I said, “Dear boy, I wouldn’t dream of it.” And I was lisping around the new tooth, Ah-Haha Hahaha!

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.

Regardless of what actually happened on that fateful birthday night, the legend of Keith Moon changed the relatiponship between hoteliers and touring rock performers forever…

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.