Little Richard, a rock ‘n’ roll legend known for such hits as “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly,” died Saturday. He was 87.
The singer-songwriter’s son Danny Jones Penniman confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, and said his father had been battling cancer.
Born Richard Penniman on Dec. 5, 1932, he was one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll and paved the way for other black musicians. The Macon, Georgia native sold more than 30 million records, and influenced everyone from the Beatles to David Bowie, to his childhood friend Otis Redding.
One of 12 children, Richard sang in the church. But he reportedly left home at age 13, after his church deacon father accused him of being gay. The teen then moved in with a white family in Macon.
At 15, he adopted the nickname “Little Richard.” In 1951, he landed his first record deal with RCA. He was known for his bold lifestyle, and often wore sequins and makeup on stage.
In 1956, the single “Tutti Frutti” landed in the Top 40. It included the catchy phrase “wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom.”
A string of hits followed, providing the foundation of rock music, including “Lucille” and “Long Tall Sally.”
In the 1984 biography The Life and Times of Little Richard, Richard called homosexuality “contagious” and said “It’s not something you’re born with.” Eleven years later, he told Penthouse magazine that he had been “gay all my life.”
In 1986, he was one of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Little Richard received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 1993.
The musician was cast in 1950s rock and roll films including Don’t Knock the Rock, according to his IMDB page. But his flamboyant lifestyle remained at odds with his faith. He quit the music business in 1957 to enroll in a Bible school and get married.
He later returned to his roots with a Gospel album titled “God Is Real.” The superstar continued to perform and record music into his 80s.