Little Richard, the self-described “king and queen” of rock and roll and an outsize influence on everyone from David Bowie to Prince, died Saturday. He was 87 years old.
His death was announced on his official Facebook page, as well as by his son, Danny Jones Penniman, who confirmed the news. He died from complications from cancer.
With his ferocious piano playing, growling and gospel-strong vocals, pancake makeup and outlandish costumes, Little Richard tore down barriers starting in the 1950s. That is no small feat for any artist — let alone a black, openly gay man who grew up in the South.
He was a force of nature who outlived many of the musicians he inspired, from Otis Redding to the late Prince and Michael Jackson. His peers James Brown and Otis Redding idolized him. Jimi Hendrix, who once played in Little Richard’s band, said he wanted his guitar to sound like Richard’s voice. The late David Bowie was 9 years old when he first saw Little Richard in a movie. “If it hadn’t have been for him, I probably wouldn’t have gone into music,” Bowie told Performing Songwriter magazine in 2003.
Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman on Dec. 5, 1932, in Macon, Ga. He was one of 12 siblings. His father was a brick mason, a bootlegger and eventually a nightclub owner. When Richard was 19, his father was shot to death outside of his club: Charles Penniman died on Feb. 15, 1952.