Pioneering, flamboyant, eccentric — Little Richard was all these things, and then some. And just as his anarchic performances suggested, the late legend was just as wild away from the piano, living a life full of sex, drugs, spirituality, generosity, sex, bravado, kindness, and some more sex. The immediate outpouring following his May 9 death at age 87 made it clear that his legacy was more than just a rock and roll and R&B hitmaker — he was a trailblazer whose musical and personal stylings begat Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, his former sideman Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Prince, Bowie, and countless others. Onstage and off, he defined “rock star.” Here are some of the most outrageous Little Richard stories — some rumored, many told by the man himself — that prove it.
1. He Had an Orgy With Buddy Holly, Maybe
In the 1985 book The Life and Times of Little Richard, an authorized biography written by historian Charles White (a.k.a. Dr Rock), Richard described a 1950s escapade with his longtime stripper friend Lee Angel and budding star Buddy Holly:
“One time Buddy came into my dressing room while I was jacking off with Angel sucking my titty. Angel had the fastest tongue in the west. She was doing that to me and Buddy took out his thing. She opened up her legs and he put it in her. He was having sex with Angel, I was jacking off, and Angel was sucking me when they introduced his name on stage. He finished and went to the stage still fastening himself up. I’ll never forget that. He came and he went.”
Angel disputed the account to GQ in 2010, saying, “I knew Buddy, but I didn’t know I knew Buddy that well.”
2. He Had Orgies With Lots of Others, Too
As remembered by Vulture’s Bill Wyman in his examination of Little Richard’s sex-filled songwriting, the star was a lover of group sex and never seemed to view it as taboo. Just read how casually he describes one:
I remember one night, we had this wonderful orgy going. It was one of the best I have ever been to. And in the middle of this orgy, that was fantastic, somebody knocked on my door. I said: “Just a moment! This is an orgy!”
He also found ways to keep his religion involved. “When I had all these orgies going on,” he told GQ, “I would get up and go and pick up my Bible. Sometimes I had my Bible right by me.”
3. He Identified As “Omnisexual”
Richard’s sexual dalliances with women and men began at a young age, leading his father to throw him out of the house when he was 15. Throughout his life, he’d both admit to being gay and denouncing homosexuality as a sin, so it seems the best explanation of Richard’s preferences was what he told White: “What kind of sexual am I? I am omnisexual!”
4. He Loved Voyeurism — and Got Arrested for It
One of Richard’s other kinks was watching others, a habit that got him in hot water a few times. In one instance in 1955, he got caught into a car watching a couple go at it and spent three days in jail. In 1984, he told Rolling Stone that he’d also oversee his bandmates during their orgies. “I used to like to watch these people having sex with my band men. They should have called me Richard the Watcher,” he said.
5. He Masturbated, Constantly
“Everybody used to tell me that I should get a trophy for it, I did it so much. I got to be a professional jack-offer. I would do it just to be doing something, seven, eight times a day,” he said in the White book.
6. He Gifted People His Own Excrement
On a few occasions, Richard would take a dump in a box or other receptacle and give it as a present. He did this to his own mother as well as an elderly female neighbor. “She wanted to know what I had brought her. She said, ‘Let us see what Richard has brought for me.’ Then I just heard, ‘Aaaaaaa, aaaaaaahhh — I’m gonna kill him. I’ll kill him!’” he recounted in White’s book.
7. He Once Quit Music … Because of Sputnik
The late-’50s space race between the U.S. and the Soviets inspired plenty of fear in people and nearly ended Richard’s career after the Russian satellite Sputnik flew over Australia, where he was performing. “This big light came over and it was frightening to me. I told the guys I was with in Australia, ‘I am coming out of this business,’” he told GQ. I have always feared that the world was going to end. We got on a ferry and I said, ‘Well, if you don’t believe I’m going to stop, I’ll throw all my diamonds in the ocean.’ And I threw all my big rings in the water.”
After that 1957 incident, Richard spent a few years out of the music business, traveling the country as a preacher and marrying Ernestine Harvin, a union that would only last into the early ’60s, around the time he was arrested for a 1962 homosexual encounter in a bus-station men’s room.
8. He Fired Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix learned countless lessons as a sideman for Little Richard in the mid-’60s, but the guitarist’s ways, onstage and off, clashed with his bandleader. Accounts vary as to the reason Richard let Jimi go from the band — constant tardiness, too much showmanship, money, unrequited sexual advances — but their brief collaboration did include at least one recording session, which produced the gospel-tinged “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me).”
9. He Got Spiritual Counseling From Bob Dylan
Rumor has it that Dylan inspired Richard to convert to Judaism, a subject on which the latter musician had always been coy — though he did attend synagogue, celebrated the religion’s holidays, and observed its Friday Sabbath. No matter what, Dylan did at least serve as a healing presence after Richard nearly died in a car accident in 1985. As he once told director John Waters in an interview for Playboy:
I feel Bob Dylan is my blood brother. I believe if I didn’t have a place to stay, Bob Dylan would buy me a house. He sat by my bed; he didn’t move for hours. I was in pain that medicine couldn’t stop. My tongue was cut out, leg all tore up, bladder punctured. I was supposed to be dead. Six feet under. God resurrected me; that’s the reason I have to tell the world about it.
10. He Was a Literal Snake-Oil Salesman
Following his expulsion from home by his father, Richard started working with Dr. Hudson’s Medicine Show as a performer, helping the man sell his counterfeit wares. He told Rolling Stone:
He would go into towns, have all the black people come around and tell them that the snake oil was good for everything. But he was lying. Snake oil! I was helping him lie. He had a stage out in the open and a feller by the name of James would play piano. I would sing, “Cal’donia, Cal’donia, what makes your big head so hard?”
11. He Developed a Massive Drug Problem
Though a teetotaler in his early career, Richard got into the world of alcohol and drugs with the same gusto as he did music, dabbling with marijuana, cocaine, PCP, heroin, LSD, and more. “I was also blowing about $1,000 of cocaine a day,” he told People. “When I’d blow my nose, blood and flesh would come out on my handkerchief.” After professional setbacks and personal tragedies, including the loss of his brother from a heart attack in the ’70s, he eventually got clean.
12. He Used His Own Rolling Stone Blurb to Proclaim His Greatness
“A lot of people call me the architect of rock & roll. I don’t call myself that, but I believe it’s true.” That’s how Richard began his self-penned blurb for Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” feature. While mostly recounting his life and career, Richard also used the opportunity to take some shots at his musical successors, the rock canon, and the idea of ranked lists:
I appreciate being picked one of the top 100 performers, but who is number one and who is number two doesn’t matter to me anymore. Because it won’t be who I think it should be. The Rolling Stones started with me, but they’re going to always be in front of me. The Beatles started with me — at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, before they ever made an album — but they’re going to always be in front of me. James Brown, Jimi Hendrix — these people started with me. I fed them, I talked to them, and they’re going to always be in front of me.
13. He Became the Go-to Celebrity Wedding Officiant
Among his many talents, Richard also had a busy stint as wedding officiant to the stars. As the E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt recalled, his 1982 wedding to Maureen Santoro was the first Richard presided over, but it was far from the last. He went on to officiate the weddings of Tom Petty and Dana York (“He did yell, ‘Shut up!’ at one point,” Petty told the Chicago Tribune in 2001, shortly after the wedding. “He was really nervous, but so was I”), Cyndia Lauper and David Thornton, and even Demi Moore and Bruce Willis’s 1987 wedding.
He’d also go on to officiate the fictional wedding of a couple on the soap opera One Life to Live in 1995 and, in 2006, presided over the very real nuptials of 20 contest-winning couples in one ceremony at a casino in Louisiana. “This ain’t no ‘Tutti Frutti,’ this is real,” he told the crowd that day.
14. His Biggest Hit Was Almost Certainly About Anal Sex
Finally, we have to note the lore surrounding “Tutti Frutti.” His 1955 career-defining hit originally included these lyrics:
Tutti frutti — good booty!
If it don’t fit — Don’t force it!
You can grease it — Make it easy
“Good booty” was eventually changed to “Aw rooty,” slang for “all right,” but the telling of the song’s origins almost always refers to the song being about some backdoor action. Dorothy Labostrie, one of the listed co-writers, later said she came up with the lyrics based on the name of an ice cream flavor, but given everything else we know about Richard’s proclivities, it’s hard to imagine the rock and roll staple having such innocent origins.