In a statement to People, Little Richard’s longtime agent, Dick Alen, confirmed that the musician passed at his brother’s home in Nashville after a battle with bone cancer.
“He was battling for a good while, many years,” Alen said. “He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.”
Little Richard was regarded as a musical pioneer and his nickname was “The Architect of Rock and Roll.”
In the mid-1950s, he dominated the music scene with his screeching sound and flamboyant style. The pioneering, piano-pounding performer topped music charts with his hits “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Lucille,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
Little Richard’s career as a chart-topper was short-lived – his last Top 10 hit came in 1958 – but his songs influenced some of the biggest artists in the decades following his own heyday. He also greatly influenced the stage style of future artists such as Prince, whom he once described as “the Little Richard of his generation.”
In the late 1950s, Little Richard temporarily pursued a career as a gospel artist before returning to his rock roots.
He was one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the foundation’s first ceremony in 1986, alongside fellow legends Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and more. Little Richard’s last musical recording was on a tribute album to gospel singer Dottie Rambo in 2010.
He Was Known For His Flamboyant Stage Presence
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Little Richard was known for his flamboyant style. He sported wild, curled hair, colorful clothing, and wore makeup onstage. He once described himself as the queen of rock ‘n roll, opposite Elvis’ “King” title.
The singer was married once, to Ernestine Harvin, from 1959 to 1964. He went back and forth regarding his sexuality, at different times throughout his life describing himself as gay, bisexual, and “omnisexual.”
“We are all both male and female. Sex to me is like a smorgasbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for,” he once told GQ UK.
But in an interview with Three Angels Broadcasting Group in 2017, Little Richard denounced gay and trans lifestyles and described same-sex relationships as “unnatural affection.”
His Career Went Beyond The Music Industry
Deeply religious, Little Richard’s other careers included a stint as a bible salesman in the 1970s. He also officiated at celebrity weddings and served as a preacher at celebrity funerals.
“Although I sing rock ‘n’ roll, God still loves me,” the music legend said in 2009, per The New York Times. “I’m a rock ‘n’ roll singer, but I’m still a Christian.”
On the entertainment front, in addition to his albums and stage performances, Little Richard popped up on television and on the big screen. Later in his career, he recorded a children’s album and contributed to children’s TV with the theme song to the PBS Kids series The Magic School Bus. He also appeared on Sesame Street several times and was a guest star on Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
In the 1980s, Little Richard had a role in the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills and made cameos in TV shows like Full House, Bustin’ Loose, and Miami Vice.
In 2013, after a series of health scares, Little Richard announced his retirement from performing to Rolling Stone, saying he was done in a sense.