Little Richard, One Of Rock 'n' Roll's Founding Fathers, Dies At 87

by Kristine Cannon
Little Richard
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Richard ‘Little Richard’ Penniman was surrounded by family at his home in Tennessee

One of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers has died.

Little Richard died Saturday morning at 87; he was surrounded by family at his home in Tennessee. His son Danny Jones Penniman, his manager Jeff Epstein, and his close friend Pastor Bill Minson all confirmed the death.

According to his bassist, Charles Glenn, Little Richard had been sick for a few months, and Penniman told The Associate Press that his father had cancer. But according to Minson, the family is not releasing the cause of death.

“It is with a heavy heart that I ask for prayers for the family of my lifelong friend and fellow Rocker ‘Little Richard,'” rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “He will live on always in my heart with his amazing talent and his friendship! He was one of a kind and I will miss him dearly. God Bless his family and fans. Rest in peace, my friend.”

Many celebrities took to social media to pay tribute to the self-proclaimed “architect of rock ‘n’ roll,” from the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson to Questlove.

Born on December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia, Richard “Little Richard” Penniman topped the charts in the 1950s and ’60s with hits such as “Lucille,” “Keep A Knockin’,” and, of course, the 1956 classic “Tutti Frutti.” Little Richard sold more than 30 million records worldwide; and, in 1956 when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened, he was among the charter members with Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and more, AP reports.

Notably, Little Richard’s music attracted fans of seemingly all backgrounds, particularly at a time when parts of the U.S. were still segregated. “I’ve always thought that rock ‘n’ roll brought the races together,” Richard once said. “Although I was black, the fans didn’t care. I used to feel good about that.”

Little Richard would go on to influence a slew of musicians, including The Beatles and Elton John, who told Rolling Stone in 1973: “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it. 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.”