May 22, 2006 12:00 PM

In his 40-odd years rocking as a Rolling Stone, Keith Richards has had his share of freak accidents: a near-fatal electrocution on stage in ’65, a badly infected finger from a guitar-string puncture in ’90, a fall off a ladder in ’98. So on April 27, when the veteran musician, 62, reportedly lost his balance and fell while climbing a palm tree at the Fiji resort where he was vacationing with wife Patti Hansen, 50, it’s not surprising he took the mishap in stride. Suffering from what his New York rep called a mild concussion, Richards continued his holiday—even, according to some press reports, going out jet-skiing the same day.

Alas, even battered-but-unbowed rock icons have their limits. Complaining of a headache, Richards was airlifted 1,300 miles to the Ascot Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, later that afternoon, accompanied by Hansen, his son Marlon, 36, and daughter Angela, 34. Discharged after several days of observation, he was readmitted with headaches on May 8 and underwent surgery to repair a subdural hematoma—a condition in which leaking blood can raise pressure inside the brain. His London rep termed the surgery “a complete success.”

Theodora, 21, and Alexandra, 19, Richards’s daughters with Hansen, flew in to be at their dad’s bedside. “He’s in good form and chatting to Patti and the girls,” says a source close to the band. Richards, who was expected to check out of the hospital later in the week, plans to rejoin the other Stones on the European leg of their current tour, postponed at least a month while he recovers. “Retire? I can’t spell the word,” Richards boasted to one interviewer days before his latest mishap. “I’d play on in a wheelchair.” Given his track record, he might want to keep one handy.

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