Little Richard, the rock legend best known for the hits “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly,” passed away this morning at the age of 87.
The musician’s son, Danny Jones Penniman, also confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was unknown.
Born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5, 1932, Little Richard was one of rock and roll’s founding fathers.
The icon first burst onto the music scene in the 1950’s with hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
He sold more than 30 million records worldwide, and his influence on other musicians was equally staggering, from the Beatles and Otis Redding to Creedence Clearwater Revival and David Bowie. In his personal life, he wavered between raunch and religion, alternately embracing the Good Book and outrageous behavior.
“Little Richard? That’s rock ‘n’ roll,” Neil Young, who heard Richard’s riffs on the radio in Canada, told biographer Jimmy McDonough. “Little Richard was great on every record.”
The Georgia native was one of 12 children. He reportedly left home at age 13 following accusations from his father that he was gay. He ended up moving in with a white family in Macon, Ga.
At 15, he reportedly took on the nickname “Little Richard.” In 1951, he landed his first record deal with RCA. He was known for his bold lifestyle choices, often decked out in sequins and makeup on stage.
It was 1956 when his classic “Tutti Frutti” landed like a hand grenade in the Top 40, exploding from radios and off turntables across the country. It was highlighted by Richard’s memorable call of “wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom.”
A string of hits followed, providing the foundation of rock music: “Lucille,” “Keep A Knockin’,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly Miss Molly.” More than 40 years after the latter charted, Bruce Springsteen was still performing “Good Golly Miss Molly” live.
Richard was cast in 1950s rock and roll films including “Don’t Knock the Rock” and “The Girl Can’t Help It,” according to his IMDB page. But his wild lifestyle remained at odds with his faith, and a conflicted Richard quit the 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.”
He mounted three tours of England between 1962 and 1964, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones serving as opening acts. Back in the States, he put together a band that included guitarist Jimi Hendrix and later fired Hendrix when he was late for a bus.
In 1986, he became one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1993, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. According to reports, his last recording took place in 2010 for a song he gospel singer Dottie Rambo.
In 2009 he underwent hip surgery in Nashville, where he lived at the time.