Led Zeppelin once had to learn the hard way that the show must go on.
Before the last of a three-night stand at Madison Square Garden in 1973, the band was robbed of a whole lotta cash: approximately $200,000. The stacks of hundred-dollar bills — along with everyone’s passports and a few credit cards — had been stored in a safe-deposit box behind the desk at the Drake Hotel on Park Avenue at 56th Street, where Led Zep was staying.
Led Zeppelin was worn out and strung out on drugs, with cocaine and heroin being delivered to their hotel, but had to pull it together for these important MSG gigs, where footage was being shot for their 1976 concert film “The Song Remains the Same.”
Richard Cole, the band’s then-tour manager, discovered the theft at 7:30 p.m. the night of the final gig — with only the passports remaining. While the Drake transformed into a major crime scene, the band went on to play MSG.
“New York City police and the FBI moved in to investigate, but so did the paparazzi,” writes Bob Spitz in “Led Zeppelin: The Biography,” out Tuesday in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of “Stairway to Heaven.”
“To safe-guard the band’s privacy, the musicians were stashed in an apartment on East Eighty-sixth Street … until things cooled down. Meanwhile, Richard Cole, the FBI’s primary suspect, combed the band’s rooms, scrubbing them of drugs. There was plenty for him to worry about.”
In fact, Cole had the only key to the strongbox. “It certainly looked to the cops like an inside job,” writes Spitz of the case, which remains unsolved. “He was interrogated and fingerprinted. Cole also said that he had taken and passed a lie detector test. Nevertheless, he remained a primary suspect, as did a bellman.”
But Spitz also raises some suspicions about Led Zeppelin’s then-manager, Peter Grant. “No less than five sources close to the band told this author that Grant had admitted spiriting the Drake money away,” he writes. The cash was from the previous two nights of performances at the Garden, as well as for a previous gig.
At the time, The Post reported that it was “the largest-ever hotel cash robbery in New York City.”
Despite all of the ensuing drama, Spitz notes that the classic-rock legends “didn’t seem too put off” by the robbery. “Jimmy [Page] and I just laughed about it,” said frontman Robert Plant, who thought that the theft actually “somehow made sense.”
Indeed, Spitz writes, “In the scheme of things, a loss of $200,000 was pocket change to Led Zeppelin, but it sure didn’t look that way to the outside world.”
Among those descending upon the Drake Hotel to cover the story was a photographer from The Post. Grant grabbed his camera and smashed it — “doing a bit of damage to its owner’s face as well,” writes Spitz.
Grant was arrested and jailed in a cell at 100 Centre St., but before his arraignment, a settlement was reached that allowed the case to be dismissed.
The robbery intensified the chaos that was already swirling around Led Zeppelin at the time, with drugs taking their toll on the band. “The robbery, the publicity, the nonstop travel, the breakneck schedule, the vast sums of money, the death threats and security, the drugs, the rumors, the push-pull, push-pull, push-pull, the Led Zeppelin phenomenon — the whole thing was becoming too much to handle,” writes Spitz. “The band was knackered. The guys were in a daze.“
“I was just totally and completely spaced out,” Page admits in the book. “There was an enormous amount of adrenaline that we were building up on stage, and just taking it offstage into the land of mondo bizarro.”