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History of notoriety key to these hotel rooms

By Christopher Klein
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2011

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Most hotel rooms are nothing special: an uncomfortable bed shrouded in a garish comforter over here, a bolted-down television set over there. A select few, however, are branded with pop culture everywhere you turn. Stamped with the legacies of previous guests, these rooms will be forever immortalized in books and “E! True Hollywood Story’’ episodes.

These rooms generally gain their notoriety as stages for politicians and celebrities behaving badly (Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Room 2806 of the Sofitel New York and Charlie Sheen and the Plaza Hotel’s Eloise Suite being just the latest examples). While they have been the backdrops for drug overdoses, murders, and sex scandals, they have also inspired flashes of artistic genius. For a break from the ordinary, check into one of these famous - and infamous - rooms:

ROOM 1742, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, Montreal Spending a week in a hotel bed might sound blissfully relaxing, but it was pure bedlam when John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their second bed-in for peace here in 1969. Fans, celebrities, and as many as 150 journalists a day crashed the couple’s pad. Asked by one reporter what they were trying to achieve, Lennon replied: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.’’ A peace anthem was instantly born, and on June 1, 1969, the pair - with vocal help from Timothy Leary and Tom Smothers among others - recorded “Give Peace a Chance’’ in what today is the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Suite, which features framed gold records of the song and photographs of the couple. (For a trans-Atlantic two-fer, stay at the John and Yoko Suite at the Amsterdam Hilton, where the pair held their first bed-in during their March 1969 honeymoon.) 514-861-3511, www.fairmont.com/queenelizabeth

ROOM 118, Cadogan Hotel, London Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde was arrested in this Knightsbridge hotel room in 1895 on the charge of “gross indecency.’’ His crime? A homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. John Betjeman’s poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’’ should be required reading for anyone checking into the Oscar Wilde Suite today. (Wilde’s fans can also cross the English Channel and stay in Room 16 of L’Hotel in Paris where the bedridden writer uttered, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.’’ On Nov. 30, 1900, the wallpaper emerged victorious.) 011-44-20-7235-7141, www.cadogan.com

ROOM 618, The Savoy, London Fascinated by the interplay of sunlight and London’s pea-soup smog, French impressionist Claude Monet on three occasions at the turn of the 20th century checked into the famed Savoy, unfolded his easel, and painted the Houses of Parliament, Waterloo Bridge, and other city landmarks through the grimy haze. During the recent renovation of The Savoy, two of the sixth-floor rooms from which he painted were remodeled into the one-bedroom Monet Suite. Monet’s views of London brighten the walls, and windows open to a dazzling, smog-free view of the Thames and London Eye. Monet, however, would find no inspiration today from the clear skies. “London would be quite ugly if it was not for the fog,’’ he once wrote. 011-44-20-7836-4343, www.fairmont.com/savoy

ROOM 8, Joshua Tree Inn, Joshua Tree, Calif. Singer and songwriter Gram Parsons checked into this room in 1973 and checked out permanently after a morphine and tequila overdose. The room in this small roadside desert inn has become a shrine to the country-rock musician, and nearly 40 years after his death fans continue to make pilgrimages and scribble heartfelt remembrances in the thick, spiral-bound journal resting on the side table next to recordings of his music and selected news clippings. Concert posters hang on the walls, and musicians who have spent a night in the room have left their CDs behind as well. 760-366-1188, www.joshuatreeinn.com

ROOM 217, The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colo. Hotel stays can be nightmares, but for Stephen King this one was quite welcome. Suffering from a bout of writer’s block, the horror master and his wife checked in to this grand Rocky Mountain inn the night before Halloween in 1973. They were the only guests that night, and the hotel’s spooky desolation instantly sparked King’s imagination. By the time he turned out the lights in this room “The Shining’’ was born. Stanley Kubrick used the exterior of Oregon’s Timberline Lodge to shoot the 1980 movie, but the 1997 TV miniseries was filmed here. Not surprisingly, the hotel is supposedly haunted, and daily 90-minute ghost and history tours are so popular that reservations at least a week in advance are recommended. 800-976-1377, www.stanleyhotel.com

ROOM 1220, Westin St. Francis, San Francisco Long before TMZ and Gawker, this hotel room was at the epicenter of one of Hollywood’s first salacious scandals. In 1921 silent film star Roscoe “Fatty’’ Arbuckle hosted a wild party in the sitting room of his top-floor suite. The actor was accused of raping actress Virginia Rappe in an adjacent room, and when Rappe died four days later, Arbuckle was accused of her murder. After three highly publicized trials, he was acquitted, but his career was ruined. In another brush with fame, Al Jolson died of a heart attack after playing gin rummy in this room in 1950. 415-397-7000, www.westinstfrancis.com

PRESIDENTIAL SUITE, Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin It was the celebrity moment that made everybody - not just parents and child safety advocates - cringe. In 2002, greeting his cheering fans below, Michael Jackson dangled infant son Prince Michael II (“Blanket’’), his head covered with a towel, over the balcony railing of this hotel room. The king of pop later explained he was “caught up in the excitement of the moment.’’ The hotel’s website features a virtual tour of the suite, including the view from the window toward the Brandenburg Gate and down to the sidewalk. Even online, it’s dizzying. 011-49-30-2261-0, www.kempinski.com

ROOM 105, Highland Gardens Hotel, Hollywood, Calif. After having drinks at the legendary Barney’s Beanery on Oct. 3, 1970, raspy rocker Janis Joplin returned to this hotel room. The next morning, after failing to show up for a recording session, she was found in the bedroom, dead from a heroin overdose at 27. Just days before, she had recorded her hit “Mercedes Benz.’’ Known then as the Landmark Motor Hotel, little of the decor has changed. (In 1982, John Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose two miles from here, in Bungalow 3 of the Chateau Marmont.) 323-850-0536, www.highlandgardenshotel.com

ROOM 871, Mayflower Renaissance, Washington, D.C. While the luxury Mayflower commemorates Room 776, where Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote his famous inaugural speech in 1933, and Room 570, where the G.I. Bill was drafted on hotel stationery, it understandably does not boast of the political history that occurred in this room. On the eve of Valentine’s Day in 2008, George Fox (a.k.a. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer) booked this room for a tryst with a $1,000-an-hour call girl. A little more than a month later when Spitzer was identified as “Client 9’’ in a high-end prostitution ring, the revelation drove him out of office. 202-347-3000, www.marriott.com

Christopher Klein can be reached at www.christopherklein.com.