Little Richard, the screaming, preening, scene-stealing wild man of early rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” died Saturday at 87, Dick Alen, his former agent, confirmed to CNN.
Alen said Little Richard died in Nashville with his brother and son by his side. Alen tells CNN the cause of death is related to bone cancer.
He called the star “one of the legends, the originators” and said Little Richard had “been ill for a good while.”
Born Richard Penniman in Georgia in 1932, the rock pioneer would have stood out in any era, but in the 1950s, when he came to prominence, he was like no other: a flamboyant, makeup-wearing, piano-playing black man who personified the “devil’s music” to establishment guardians.
Elvis Presley was one thing, but for all his pelvic thrusts and slicked-back, juvenile-delinquent hair, he was at heart a polite Southern boy who loved his daddy. Little Richard, though … well, he may have come from a big Southern family himself, but he represented something else.
“Richard opened the door. He brought the races together,” said arranger H.B. Barnum in Charles White’s 1984 biography “The Life and Times of Little Richard.”
“When I first went on the road, there were many segregated audiences. With Richard, although they still had the audiences segregated in the building, they were there TOGETHER. And most times before the end of the night, they would all be mixed together.”
Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, no onstage slouch, was an admirer as well.
“There’s no single phrase to describe his hold on the audience. I couldn’t believe the power of Little Richard on stage. He was amazing,” he said, according to White’s book.
Little Richard knew his power. “They saw me as something like a deliverer, a way out,” he once said. “My means of expression, my music, was a way in which a lot of people wished they could express themselves and couldn’t.”
He also made no bones about his status. LIttle Richard bristled when he was overlooked in favor of other early rock figures, telling SFGate.com, “I created rock ‘n’ roll! I’m the innovator! I’m the emancipator! I’m the architect! I am the originator! I’m the one that started it!”
This is a developing story. Return for updates.