He went from taking part in orgies and snorting $1,000 of cocaine a night, to giving it all up for God after receiving a confronting prophetic vision, only to eventually return to a life of excess and pleasure all over again. Little Richard’s personal life was as wild as his on-stage antics, according to a new documentary which lays bare how the rock ‘n’ roll legend spent much of his career teetering between the sacred and the profane.Little Richard: I Am Everything, which premiered in select theaters Tuesday ahead of its nationwide release on April 21, tells the story of the scandalous rock icon through a queer lens, three years after he lost his battle with at the age of 87. The son of a church deacon and later self-proclaimed ‘omnisexual’, Richard – born Richard Wayne Penniman – kept a bible by his bedside as he had sex with groups of men, women – or anyone who caught his eye. His appetite for sex was reflected in his music, most notably in his 1955 hit Tutti Frutti, whose lyrics about anal sex were so raunchy they had to be toned down. Little Richard’s storied music career was marked by sex, drugs, scandalous moments, and a brief conversion to Christianity Richard – pictured with late singer David Bowie and bassist Tony Fox Sales in 1991 – never won a Grammy despite his success, but was one of the first names inducted into the newly created rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame in 1986 Richard, who was born in Macon, Georgia, as Richard Wayne Penniman, was raised Christian, and famously quit music at the height of his success in the mid 1950s to become a preacher The rock singer was an open book when it came to his sexual encounters, publicly claiming to have had an affair with fellow rock and roll star Buddy Holly, and masturbating so often he joked he was a ‘professional jack-offer’ who pleasured himself eight times a day. Little Richard: I Am Everything, premiered in select theaters Tuesday ahead of its nationwide release on April 21But at the height of his fame in the 1950s, Richard shocked fans – and the world – by retiring to become a Bible scholar at a conservative Christian college, marrying a devout 17-year-old, and even calling his records ‘devil’s music’.The career and lifestyle change, however, would only last two years before he got back on the road and developed a cocaine habit that left his nose ‘big enough to back a diesel truck in.’He would spark controversy again in his final years when he found God for a second time and denounced his life as a gay man as ‘unnatural’.The documentary, produced by Bungalow Media + Entertainment for CNN Films and HBO Max, is directed by Oscar-nominated Lisa Cortes, whose previous films include 2009 drama Precious. Richard was born December 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, and was the third of 12 children to a father who made a living making bootleg moonshine.He was born with an abnormally large head and one leg and arm shorter than the other, resulting in a disability that would stay with him for the rest of his life.He earned the nickname ‘Little Richard’ as a young boy as a result of his small frame. As a child he wanted to be a church minister but his father Charles Penniman kicked him out of home at 15 for being gay – though he would later declare he was bisexual or, to use his term, ‘omnisexual’. Richard was born December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia.
At birth he had one leg shorter than the other resulting in a disability that would stay with him for the rest of his life He was the third of 12 children born to Charles Penniman, a church deacon who made a living making bootleg moonshine, and Leva Mae Penniman (pictured) Growing up, Richard wanted to be a church minister but his father kicked him out of home at 15 for being gay, though the singer (pictured in 1975) would later declare he was bisexual or ‘omnisexual’ more videos
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The segregated South was not welcoming to young Richard, who was called a ‘cissy’ and a ‘f*****’, according to the film. He started working at a speakeasy in Macon then began touring on what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit: groups of black performers who did a mixture of music and cabaret shows.Richard found a home with drag acts and raunchy blues performers like Ma Rainey, whose lyrics were so blue they would still shock audiences today.
He was also inspired by flamboyant performers such as Billy Wright and Esquerita. He would eventually make up with his father, but not too long after, tragedy struck when Charles was shot dead.In a shocking twist, Richard’s best friend Frank was the one who pulled the trigger after a fight at the bar Charles owned.By 1955 Richard had become enough of a name to get a recording session with Art Roupe, ‘Bumps’ Blackwell and their legendary label Specialty Records.Their first efforts were a failure as Richard was being asked to imitate Ray Charles and BB King, but after a boozy lunch at the infamous Dew Drop Inn, he came back to the studio and gave an uproarious rendition of Tutti Frutti.As the documentary puts it, the raucous piano playing and fierce tempo was all ‘post-war teenage horniness and desire to be free in a musical form’.Richard’s lyrics were so blue they had to be toned down as they included lines like ‘if it don’t fit, don’t force it’ – but the song exploded like a rocket. Little Richard shot to stardom in the mid 1950s.
He is seen performs onstage with his band as his saxophone player Grady Gaines stands on the piano in 1957 But at the height of his success, the rock and roll star decided to go back to his Christian roots and announced he was quitting music to become a minister.
He is pictured studying the bible in 1958 Little Richard would eventually return to the music scene in 1962.
He is pictured during an interview with Dick Clark in 1964 Fourteen more hits followed in three years, including Long Tall Sally, which went gold after selling a million copies, along with records like Good Golly Miss Molly and Lucille.But Richard grew infuriated at white artists like Elvis Presley and Pat Boone who covered his music and got more acclaim than him. According to musicians and fellow artists interviewed in the film, Richard was seen as a ‘danger’ and a ‘complete upheaval of the existing social system’ and so white singers were brought in to seem less threatening.Such frustration would simmer inside of Richard for the rest of his life and decades later he picketed on Hollywood Blvd over his lost wages due to contracts which cut him out.But for the time being, he and his band had more important things to worry about – like the constant sex while on the road.In the documentary one of Richard’s band mates brags about having slept with more than 1,400 women.Richard tells the film: ‘I had all these orgies going on. Some people wish they never have to leave.’I just loved whatever came.
I didn’t refuse anything. If you knocked on my door I wanted more – for sure!’Among his conquests was Lee Angel, a nude model who he approached when she was just 16. Richard proposed and even though she rejected him, they had a long lasting relationship.She is featured in the film, saying she was the ‘love of his life’, despite Richard being gay, and adding: ‘He slept with me and I guarantee you I’m all woman’.Richard also earned a reputation for masturbating, admitting that ‘everybody liked to jack off’ – in his case up to eight times a day. Musician Little Richard poses for a portrait with a piano in 1967 Richard was an open book when it came to his sexual encounters, admitting he ‘loved whatever came’ and ‘didn’t refuse anything’ Among his conquests was Lee Angel, a nude model who he approached when she was just 16.
Angel is featured in the film, saying she was the ‘love of his life’, despite Richard being gayAmong his conquests was Buddy Holly, he claimed, and recounted in graphic detail a 1985 book about his life how they had a threesome with Angel.Richard loved voyeurism and in 1955 was jailed for three days for seeing a couple have sex in a car. He earned the name ‘Richard the Watcher’ among his bandmates for enjoying watching them have intercourse.Among the other peculiar habits he developed was gifting his own poop to people as a present, once earning the scorn of an elderly female neighbor who threatened to ‘kill him’ when she opened the box.In the late 1950s – and midway through a world tour – Richard gave it all up when he had a vision of the plane he was flying in going up in flames with angels holding it up.In a stunning turn, Richard joined Oakwood College in Alabama, one of the nation’s premier black ministry schools, as a student and disowned his own music.DeWitt Williams, another student at the college, tells the documentary: ‘He said he saw himself in hell, he knew he wasn’t ready to see the Lord with how he was singing and how he was behaving.’He said if you had any of his records he would buy them back and he was going to have a bonfire.
He burned the records. He cut his hair. We just accepted him as a normal student’.Despite being gay, Richard married a 17-year-old devout Christian woman but their marriage lasted just two years before he gave up God and returned to touring and a life of excess, tempted by the money he needed to support his high living. Vivica A.
Fox, Little Richard, Halle Berry, Larenz Tate, Lela Ro at the Why Do Fools Fall In Love premiere August 26, 1998 in Los Angeles Little Richard and Cher at the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center in 2008 Richard toured the UK and Germany with the Beatles as a support band and later hired Jimi Hendrix to play guitar.Hendrix was fined $50 for refusing to cut his hair and wear a shirt that Richard approved of before being fired.As Hendrix later put it, the experience was ‘bad pay, lousy living and getting burned’.Richard fell into doing drugs and began doing so much cocaine he blew through $1,000 a night on a habit that left him with nostrils ‘ big enough to park diesel trucks’, as he once put it.His weight went down to just 115lbs, he was financially ruined and every time he blew his nose there was blood in his tissue.When he began doing PCP things got even more out of control.As Richard puts it in the movie: ‘You talk about rock bottom, I’ve been below the rocks where there was no bottom.’ He found God for a second time after his brother Tony died of a heart attack in 1977, only this time he went further and renounced his sexuality.He earned $150 a week as a traveling Bible salesman, made gospel albums and appeared on talk shows to rail against his past life.On one he said: ‘I’m not gay now but I was gay all my life.
I was one of the first gay people to come out. God let me know that Adam be with Eve, not Steve’.In a video of Richard preaching featured in the documentary, he says: ‘Oh God how can you save me, I’m homosexual.’I’m not just a dope addict.
I’m unnatural, I like men.’Improbably he also became a celebrity wedding officiant, presiding over nuptials such as the 1987 wedding of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.Richard, who never won a Grammy, was finally set to receive recognition from the porno tour guide music industry in 1986 when he was to be one of the first names inducted into the newly created rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame. Richard at one point became a celebrity wedding officiant, presiding over nuptials such as the 1987 wedding of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.
The actress paid tribute to the singer with a poignant Instagram photo of her wedding after his death Little Richard died from complications related to bone cancer on May 9, 2020 at the age of 87.
He is pictured performing Good Golly Miss Molly in 2002 But shortly before he crashed his car into a telephone pole in West Hollywood having fallen asleep at the wheel, meaning he missed the awards ceremony.Police found a bag with $30,000 in the car as Richard had just flown back from London where he got a record offer – he didn’t have a lawyer and so was doing everything all on his own.Richard’s anger at being overlooked boiled over at the 1988 Grammy Award where he was presenting the Best New Artist award where he castigated music industry executives in the audience.To nervous laughter, he told the crowd: ‘I have never received nothing.
Y’all ain’t never gave me no Grammy and I been singing for years. I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll and they never gave me nothing. And I am the originator!’Richard finally got the acknowledgement he deserved with an Award of Merit at the American Music Awards in 1997.He broke down in tears as the crowd applauded him loudly before he performed a medley of his greatest hits.Among those who appear in the documentary to credit Richard with inspiring them is Mick Jagger who says that on the Rolling Stones’ first tour in 1963 they opened for him every night.By watching Richard work the crowd, Jagger says that he learned to do the same.Disco legend Nile Rodgers says that David Bowie came to him holding a Little Richard album in the 1970s and wanted to do something similar.Richard died in 2020 aged 87 from complications related to bone cancer, his legacy as a musician finally secured.But on a personal level, his journey had been more complicated and, as music scholar Jason King puts it: ‘He was very good at liberating others through his example.‘He was not good at liberating himself.’