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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
REM's 'southern gentleman'
Guitarist Peter Buck with wife Stephanie
Friends and colleagues took the stand to defend Buck

As a British Airways crew prepared for a flight from Seattle to London in April last year, there was no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary.

Among passengers on board the Boeing 747 were REM guitarist Peter Buck and his manager - flying to Britain because the band were scheduled to perform at the Nelson Mandela Freedom Day concert in Trafalgar Square.

Few could have suspected that the musician's behaviour would lead to the plane almost being diverted and to Mr Buck's subsequent arrest by British police.

He's just not a person who is rude to anyone

REM singer Michael Stipe
In his 20 years in the music business, Mr Buck's atmospheric guitar melodies have helped to define the sound of REM and have won him a reputation as a respected and prolific artist.

But he has never been known to be a stereotypical hell-raising rock star.

And so it came as a shock when he was accused of acting like a "drunken lout" who had upset other passengers, overturned a breakfast trolley and grappled with cabin crew before falling asleep in a drunken stupor.

Mr Buck told Isleworth Crown Court his behaviour had resulted from a sleeping pill which he took with a small amount of wine early in the flight - a defence accepted by the jury.

'Gentle and polite'

The 45-year-old said he had started to feel a "little woozy" after taking the tablet, and remembered nothing more until he woke in a British police cell.

The musician believes he suffered a rare reaction from the combination of taking the Zolpiden tablet and drinking up to six small glasses of red wine.

The jury rejected a claim by the prosecution that it was a story "concocted" by the star to save his multi-million pound career.

Celebrity friends and fellow band members took the stand at his trial to say that his behaviour was a world apart from the "peaceful, gentle" man they knew.

U2 frontman Bono, who has known Mr Buck for 17 years, said he had never seen him drunk.

"I could not believe my eyes and ears," he said of the allegations, adding that Mr Buck was a "famous parent" who found touring hard because he missed his children so much.

Bono appeared in court as a character witness
Bono: Never seen Peter Buck drunk
REM singer Michael Stipe, who has known Mr Buck since his family moved to Athens, Georgia, in 1979, said the allegations went completely against the guitarist's "gentle and polite" character.

"He's just not a person who is rude to anyone," he told the court.

"[In] the American south, there is what is called a southern gentleman, and Peter is my definition of such.

"He is someone who is considerate of all people, gentle and polite. That is why this whole thing to me is absurd... it just seems so bizarre."

He said Mr Buck would prefer to retire to his hotel room with a good book rather than join the band in the bar after a concert.

The man he knew and the allegations against him simply "did not compare", he said.

'Great father'

The group's bass player, Michael Mills, told the court that he too had never seen Mr Buck drunk.

Guitarist Peter Buck with other members of REM
REM are one of the world's most famous bands
Mr Mills described him as "very gentle, very dedicated to his friends and his craft, and a very nice, straightforward, kind and homely person".

Both agreed Mr Buck had never behaved on a plane in a manner to give cause for concern.

Mr Buck's wife Stephanie, a qualified lawyer, told jurors her husband was a "great father" to their twin daughters.

"Peter is a very gentle man, he is shy, he is very self-effacing."

Asked about her first reaction on learning of the allegations, she replied: "Not Peter, not Peter at all. I would not be married to him if he was anything like that."

Mr Buck was repentant when told by British police of his activities on board the plane, saying he had acted "like an idiot, a jerk going on vacation".

He will no doubt be wishing to put this whole affair behind him now, and concentrate on his music in future.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Music
Peter Buck's rich pageant
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