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Meredith Hunter
Meredith hunter.png
Born Meredith Curly Hunter
(1951-10-24)October 24, 1951
Alameda County, California, U.S.
Died December 6, 1969(1969-12-06) (aged 18)
Altamont, California, U.S.
Cause of death Stabbing
Occupation Student

Meredith Curly Hunter, Jr. (October 24, 1951 – December 6, 1969) was an 18-year-old African-American teen who was killed at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert. During the performance by The Rolling Stones, Hunter approached the stage, and was violently driven off by members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club who had been contracted to serve as security guards. He subsequently returned to the stage area, drew a revolver, and was stabbed and beaten to death by Hells Angel Alan Passaro.

The incident was caught on camera and became a central scene in the documentary Gimme Shelter. Passaro was charged with murder. After an eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated for 12 and a half hours, following 17 days of testimony, Passaro was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.

Altamont[edit]

Hunter, an 18-year-old arts student from Berkeley, California, was nicknamed "Murdock" and described by friends to be a flashy dresser with a big Afro. Hunter, his girlfriend Patty Bredehoft, and another couple traveled from Berkeley to attend the Altamont Free Concert.[1][2]

The Hells Angels had been hired to provide security for the concert, for $500 (about US $3,345 adjusted for inflation, 2017) worth of beer.[3] They stood directly in front of the bands in an effort to keep people off the unusually low stage set up at the bottom of a low slope. They parked several of their motorcycles in front of the stage to act "as a kind of bulwark against the crowd"[4].

As the Hells Angels became intoxicated and the crowd became restless and unpredictable, the drunken Hells Angels began hurling full cans of beer from their stockpile and striking concert-goers with sawn-off, weighted pool cues and motorcycle chains to drive the crowd back from the stage and their motorcycles. By the time the Rolling Stones took the stage in the early evening, the mood had taken a decidedly ugly turn, as numerous fights began to erupt between Angels and crowd members. Denise Jewkes of local San Francisco rock band The Ace of Cups, six months pregnant at the time, was hit in the head by an empty beer bottle thrown from the crowd during their set and suffered a skull fracture that warranted emergency surgery.[5]

Lead singer Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones (who had been punched by a concertgoer within seconds of emerging from the Stones' helicopter)[6] urged the audience to "just be cool down in the front there, don't push around." Within a minute of starting their third song, "Sympathy for the Devil", a fight erupted in the front of the crowd at the foot of the stage. After another appeal for calm, the band restarted the song and continued their set with less incident until the start of "Under My Thumb". At this point, two of the Hells Angels got into a scuffle with Hunter. One of the Hells Angels grabbed Hunter's head, punched him, and chased him back into the crowd, where four Angels descended upon him. An eyewitness also reported that Hunter was stabbed by one of the Angels at this point, prior to the stabbing that was later caught on film. [7]

After a few seconds Hunter angrily returned to the front of the stage where, according to Gimme Shelter producer Porter Bibb, Hunter's girlfriend Patty Bredehoft found him and tearfully begged him to calm down and move farther back in the crowd with her. By her report he was enraged, irrational and "so high he could barely walk".[8] Grateful Dead associate Rock Scully noticed Hunter in the crowd, concluding that “I saw what he was looking at, that he was crazy, he was on drugs, and that he had murderous intent. There was no doubt in my mind that he intended to do terrible harm to Mick or somebody in the Rolling Stones, or somebody on that stage."[9] Another witness reported him as looking "pretty straight", though visibly upset about the violence inflicted upon him. [7]

At this point, footage from the documentary shows Hunter (seen in the film in a lime-green suit) drawing what appears to be a long-barreled black .22 caliber revolver from his jacket and pointing it in the air.[10] The film shows what might be an orange flash at the end of the pistol in one frame. Due to the film's low fidelity, it is impossible to determine whether the flash is a gunshot, a reflection, or a film defect. The Angels did not report any discharged cartridges in Hunter's pistol.[7] The film then shows Hells Angel Alan Passaro, armed with a knife, running at Hunter from the side, parrying the gun with his left hand and stabbing him with his right. Sources vary regarding which of the Maysles Brothers' camera operators shot the footage of the stabbing. Albert Maysles attributed it to cameraman Baird Bryant, while other sources have also credited Eric Saarinen.[11][12]

In the film sequence, lasting about two seconds, a six-foot opening in the crowd appears, leaving Patty Bredehoft in the center. Hunter enters the opening from the left, his hand rises and the silhouette of a revolver is clearly seen against Bredehoft's bright crocheted vest. Passaro is seen entering from the right and delivering two stabs as he pushes Hunter off screen. The opening closes around Bredehoft. Passaro is reported to have stabbed Hunter five times in the upper back. Witnesses also reported Hunter was stomped on by several Hells Angels while he was on the ground. The gun was recovered and turned over to police. Hunter's autopsy later confirmed his girlfriend's report that he did have methamphetamine in his bloodstream at the time of his death.[1][7]

Aftermath[edit]

Passaro was arrested and charged with murder for Hunter's death, but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense, after the jury viewed the footage from the concert showing Hunter drawing the revolver and pointing it toward the stage[13][14][15] or in the air.[10][16]

The Rolling Stones state that they were unaware that a killing had taken place during their set; in the Gimme Shelter documentary, Jagger is shown viewing raw footage of the killing, apparently for the first time. In 1995, Jagger commented on Hunter's death in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner, who asked, "After the concert itself, when it became apparent that somebody got killed, how did you feel?" Jagger replied, "Well, awful. I mean, just awful. You feel a responsibility. How could it all have been so silly and wrong? But I didn't think of these things that you guys thought of, you in the press: this great loss of innocence, this cathartic end of the era ... I didn't think of any of that. That particular burden didn't weigh on my mind. It was more how awful it was to have had this experience and how awful it was for someone to get killed..."[17]

Shortly after Hunter's death, Altha May Anderson, Hunter's mother, requested that Altamont Raceway be turned into a public park to "prevent any more wrongful deaths at Altamont". Alameda County officials later voted to allow the Raceway to still host races, but barred future concerts and restricted the number of attendees to 3,000.[7]

Passaro drowned in Anderson Lake in southern Santa Clara County in 1985; police said "the death is kind of suspicious",[18] though foul play was never confirmed.

Over the years, there were rumors that a second, unidentified assailant had inflicted the fatal wounds, and, as a result, the police considered the case still open. On May 25, 2005, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office announced that it was officially closing the stabbing case. Investigators, concluding a renewed two-year investigation, dismissed the theory that a second Hells Angel took part in the stabbing.[1]

Songwriter Don McLean's hit "American Pie" includes Hunter's death in the lyrics.[19]

In 2006, filmmaker Sam Green released a short documentary titled Lot 63, Grave C (Hunter's gravesite), which revolves around the last day of Hunter's life and the unmarked grave where he was buried.[20] After the film screened widely at film festivals, several people sent donations to the cemetery to buy Meredith Hunter a headstone. The headstone was installed in 2008.

In 2008, a documentary aired on BBC reported that subsequent to the concert members of the Hells Angels unsuccessfully tried to murder Mick Jagger.[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Lee, Henry K. (2005-05-26). "Altamont 'cold case' is being closed Theory of second stabber debunked by Sheriff's Dept". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  2. ^ McKeen, William; Guralnick, Peter (2000). Rock and Roll is Here to Stay: An Anthology. 0-393-04700-8. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 287.
  3. ^ ""Storm thwarted Mick Jagger murder attempt". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 19 May 2011.
  4. ^ ""Darkest day in rock history: How violence at Rolling Stones' Altamont festival went beyond infamous Hells Angels murder". The Mirror.
  5. ^ Bangs, Lester; Brown, Reny; Burks, John; Egan, Sammy; Goodwin, Michael; Link, Geoffrey; Marcus, Greil; Morthland, John; Schoenfeld, Eugene; Thomas, Patrick; Winner, Langdon (January 21, 1970). "The Rolling Stones Disaster at Altamont: Let It Bleed". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 12, 2016.
  6. ^ The Rolling Stones et al. (1970) (DVD released 2000). Gimme Shelter. Criterion.
  7. ^ a b c d e Burks, John (1970-02-07). "Rock & Roll's Worst Day: The Aftermath of Altamont". Rolling Stone. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  8. ^ Osgerby, Bill (2005). Biker: Truth and Myth: How the Original Cowboy of the Road Became the Easy Rider of the Silver Screen. Globe Pequot. p. 99. ISBN 1-59228-841-3.
  9. ^ Curry, David. 'Deadly Day for the Rolling Stones'. The Canberra Times. December 5, 2009.
  10. ^ a b Tim, Purtell (1995-12-01). "Last Rite for the '60s". ew.com. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  11. ^ McCreadle, Marsha (2008). Documentary Superstars: How Today's Filmmakers Are Reinventing the Form. New York: Allworth Press. p. PT35. ISBN 9781581157208.
  12. ^ "Baird Bryant". The Los Angeles Times. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2010.
  13. ^ Associated Press (2005-05-27). "Case closed in 1969 Altamont concert slaying". San Diegio Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on 2016-04-07. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  14. ^ Van der Leun, Gerard (2009). Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties. Hachette UK. p. 228. ISBN 0-446-55833-8.
  15. ^ Egan, Sean (2013). The Mammoth Book of the Rolling Stones: An anthology of the best writing about the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. Hachette UK. p. 108. ISBN 1-78033-647-0.
  16. ^ Bangs, Lester; et al. "The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed". Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  17. ^ Wenner, Jann (1995-12-14) "Jagger Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interview" Rolling Stone Magazine
  18. ^ "Drowning death of ex-Hells Angel probed". Houston Chronicle. October 4, 1985. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  19. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1182,00.html
  20. ^ Green, Sam (2006-04-12). "Sam Green: a tour through "lot 63, grave c"". sf360.org. Archived from the original on 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  21. ^ "BBC: Hells Angels Tried to Kill Mick Jagger,"[dead link] ABC News (March 3, 2008). Retrieved on July 3, 2016.

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