By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated June 08, 2010 at 07:48 PM EDT
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Image Credit: Greetsia Tent/WireImage.comWhile assembling EW’s 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years issue, we talked to many artists about the real and fictional figures who inspired their creations. One name that came up repeatedly was that of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards — a personage so larger-than-life, so legendary in rock history, that he could almost qualify as a mythical character himself.

Here’s Johnny Depp, talking about what he drew on to play Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films: “I was thinking of pirates as rock’n’roll stars, so Keith Richards was already in my mind. Then came Pepe Le Pew. And then Lee Marvin’s performance in Cat Ballou.” Or animator Jamie Hewlett on Gorillaz‘ nefarious cartoon bassist: “Murdoc is an amalgamation of a Scooby-Doo baddie, Keith Richards, and Baron Von Frankenstein. Just the unpleasant villain of the band.” If you want to create a memorable character for stage, screen, page, or even record, it seems you could do worse than to model your work on good old Keef.

Richards himself has some experience playing characters, having appeared as Captain Jack’s dad in the third Pirates film. EW’s Clark Collis asked him in 2008 if he’d sought any acting advice from bandmate Mick Jagger. “He’s the last person I’d ask in the world,” Richards laughed. “Are you kidding me? I might give him a tip here and there. But, no, as an actor Mick is very good at being Mick. I didn’t even ask Johnny. Johnny had told me, ‘Well, all of [Jack Sparrow’s] moves are based on you.’ I said, ‘That’s why you paid for the dinner, eh?’ I just went there and did my stuff… I mean, you should see my King Lear, let’s put it that way.”

What is it about Keith Richards that makes him such an irresistible influence? Can you think of any other fictional characters he’s helped inspire? And would you pay money to see him play Lear? (I so would.)

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