Rock ’n’ roll legend Little Richard dead at 87 of bone cancer

Little Richard onstage in 1986. ullstein bild via Getty Images

Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard died Saturday morning in his Nashville home at the age of 87, the artist’s son Danny Penniman confirmed to Rolling Stone.

Richard’s agent Dick Alen told People that the rock icon died from bone cancer.

“Little Richard passed away this morning from bone cancer in Nashville. He was living with his brother in Nashville,” Alen said in a statement. “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.’ He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.”

Musician Little Richard performs onstage with his band in 1956.
Michael Ochs Archives

Considered a founding father of rock ‘n’ roll, Little Richard — born Richard Wayne Penniman in 1932 — landed his first record deal with RCA in 1951. He quickly soared to fame with hits such as “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

Richard’s musical influence reached as far as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, the former covering several of his hits and deep cuts while the latter often paid tribute to his unique vocal stylings. Bob Dylan also spoke of playing the rock icon’s songs on his piano as a kid.

“I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”

Known for his eccentric looks, gospel-tinged voice and high-energy piano riffs, Richard was one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was honored at the 1993 Grammys with a Lifetime Achievement Award.