Rock and roll pioneer, Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard, has died at 87.
He had been in poor health for several years, suffering hip problems, a stroke and a heart attack.
Richard’s son, Danny Penniman, first confirmed the pioneer’s death.
However, in a statement, Richard’s agent, Dick Alen, said: “Little Richard passed away this morning from bone cancer in Nashville.
“He was battling for a good while, many years. I last spoke to him about two or three weeks ago. I knew he wasn’t well but he never really got into it, he just would say ‘I’m not well.’”
CANDIIDONLINE reports that Richard’s career began in the late 1940s but his early recordings with RCA Victor garnered little success.
His breakthrough came when he signed to Specialty Records in 1955, releasing a run of wild and flamboyant singles – Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille, Keep A-Knockin’ and Good Golly, Miss Molly, among others – that made him a star on both sides of the Atlantic.
Richard was known for his outrageous performance style at the piano – eyes lined with mascara, pompadour hair fixed with potato starch, ferocious eyes transfixing audiences – and infectious whoops, a style echoed by dozens of performers, Prince prominent among them.
Richard had been a drag performer and by his own admission was involved in voyeurism, allowing men to have sex in the back seat of his car while he watched. He was arrested at least twice for lewd conduct.
In October 1957, however, during a tour of Australia, Richard saw a fireball crossing the sky. It was actually the Sputnik 1 satellite, but he took it as a sign from God that he needed to change his ways.
In 1958 he became a preacher, before returning to secular music in 1962. The conflict between God and the devil’s music was a theme for much of the rest of his life. In old age, Richard renounced his omnisexuality, saying he had asked God to save him.
His Specialty singles exerted a profound influence.
Despite not having a top 10 US hit after 1958, to Richard his claim to be the originator of rock‘n’roll was never in serious question.
On Saturday, tributes poured in. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page said Richard “pioneered rock’n’roll”.
Beach Boys lyricist Brian Wilson said “he was there at the beginning and showed us all how to rock’n’roll”.
Beatles drummer Ringo Starr tweeted that Richard was “one of my all-time musical heroes”.
There was also praise from Keith Richards and from Jagger, who tweeted: “He was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and his music still has the same raw electric energy … as it did when it was first shot through the music scene in the mid-50s.
“When we were on tour with him, I would watch his moves every night and learn from him how to entertain and involve the audience and he was always so generous with advice to me. He contributed so much to popular music.
“I will miss you Richard, God bless.”