The Death of Meredith Hunter at Altamont

Meredith Curly Hunter (October 24, 1951 – December 6, 1969) was an 18-year-old American who was killed at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert. During the performance by The Rolling Stones, Hunter was involved in a scuffle with members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang serving as security guards. He subsequently drew a gun, and was stabbed 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, but was acquitted on self defense grounds after the jury was shown the footage.

Hunter, an 18-year-old from Berkeley, California, was nicknamed “Murdock” and described by friends to be a flashy dresser with a big Afro. Hunter, his girlfriend Patty Bredahoff, and another couple traveled from Berkeley to attend the Altamont Free Concert.

The Hells Angels had been hired to provide security for the concert in a deal that was rumoured to include $500 worth of beer. They stood directly in front of the bands in an effort to keep people off the unusually low stage.

Fueled by LSD and large amounts of amphetamines, the crowd had also become antagonistic and unpredictable, attacking each other, the Angels, and the performers. By the time the Rolling Stones took stage in the early evening, the mood had taken a decidedly ugly turn as numerous fights began to erupt between Angels and crowd members and within the crowd itself. Projectiles started being thrown at the stage. The Angels retaliated by hurling back full cans of beer from their stockpile and swinging sawed-off weighted pool cues and motorcycle chains to drive the crowd farther back from the stage.

Lead singer Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones (who had already been punched by a concertgoer within seconds of emerging from his helicopter) was visibly intimidated by the unruly situation, urging everyone 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 a lengthy pause and another appeal for calm, the band restarted “Sympathy” and continued their set with less incident until the start of “Under My Thumb“. At this point, two of the Hell’s Angels got into a scuffle with Hunter when he attempted to get onstage with other fans. One of the Hell’s Angels grabbed Hunter’s head, punched him, and chased him back into the crowd.

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 Bredahoff 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”. Rock Scully, who could see the audience clearly from the top of a truck by the stage, noticed Hunter clearly in the crowd, remembering, 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.”

At this point, footage from the documentary shows Hunter (seen in the film in a lime-green suit) drawing a long-barreled black revolver from his jacket and pointing it in the air. The film clearly shows a bright orange flash at the end of the pistol in one frame. Porter Bibb says it is impossible to determine whether the flash is a gunshot, a reflection, or something else. 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. The footage was shot by Eric Saarinen who was on stage taking pictures of the crowd. Saarinen was unaware of having caught the incident on film. This was discovered more than a week later when rushes were screened in the New York offices of the Maysles Brothers.

In the film sequence, lasting about two seconds, a six-foot opening in the crowd appears, leaving Patty Bredahoff in the center. Hunter enters the opening from the left, his hand rises and the silhouette of a revolver is clearly seen against Bredahoff’s bright crocheted dress. Passaro is seen entering from the right and delivering two stabs as he pushes Hunter off screen. The opening closes around Bredahoff. 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.

Hell’s Angels beat a different concert attendee with pool cues. This was earlier in the day at the Altamont Free Concert. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

The video. You can see Hunter enter from the left during the first few minutes:

Further Reading: