Lionel Richie spent his youth on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama where he was born. His grandfather's house was across the street from campus, where he once worked with founder and renowned educator and activist Booker T. Washington. After his family relocated to Joliet, Illinois, Richie returned to Tuskegee on a tennis scholarship and graduated with a degree in economics. But his interest in music soon brought about big changes in his life.
In 1968, Lionel Richie formed the eclectic R&B/soul group The Commodores along with several other freshmen at the Tuskegee Institute. The group first signed with Atlantic, jumping quickly to the influential Motown Records after just one record. They toured extensively with groups like The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones, perfecting their live show and building a strong fan base. The group had chart success with funkier tracks like "Machine Gun
" and "Brick House
," but it was ballads like "Easy
" and "Three Times A Lady
," written by and featuring Lionel on lead vocal, that truly propelled them to the pinnacle of fame and success.
Lionel Richie and his college sweetheart Brenda Harvey were married on October 18, 1975. But he began a secret relationship with a woman named Diane Alexander in 1986 while still married. Two years later, while Lionel and Brenda were separated, she discovered the undercover pair in a Beverly Hills hotel room. A confrontation ensued, and Brenda reportedly attacked both Lionel and Diane - she was ultimately charged with spousal abuse, trespassing, assault and vandalism. After a 17-year marriage, Lionel and Brenda divorced in 1993.
In the early '80s Lionel Richie began to achieve success outside The Commodores. He penned the song "Lady
" for country singer Kenny Rogers, a soulful ballad that topped the charts for six weeks. Then he teamed up with Diana Ross on the theme song for the movie Endless Love
. "Endless Love
" became the biggest hit of Ross' career, holding the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks in the fall of 1981 and earning Lionel Richie an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. These successes would inspire Richie to break from The Commodores completely in 1982 to pursue a solo career.
Lionel Richie's 1982 self-titled debut for Motown exploded with three Top 10 hits including the #1 smash "Truly." His 1993 sophomore effort Can't Slow Down
doubled down on its predecessor, selling over 15 million copies and spawning five more top-10 hits, including two more #1's: the earnest, sentimental ballad "Hello
" and the danceable Carribbean rhythms of "All Night Long (All Night)
." The album would go on to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1985. Now an international superstar, the "black Barry Manilow" was here to stay.
In a 2001 interview with Sir Michael Parkinson on his BBC show Parkinson, Lionel Richie tells of his first encounter with then three-year-old Nicole Richie, onstage during a Prince concert banging away on a tambourine. He and his wife Brenda soon discovered that the young girl's mother was working in the wardrobe department on the tour. Unable to properly care for the child, the mother agreeed to let Lionel and Brenda act as informal guardians. Six years later they formally adopted Nicole Camille Escovedo and continued to raise her as their own. In 2003 Nicole Richie told People magazine, "My parents were friends with Lionel. They trusted that they would be better able to provide for me."
According to a 2006 article by ABC News Nightline reporter John Berman, Lionel Richie is shockingly popular among the people of Iraq. In response to the claim, Richie himself says, "The answer is yes. I'm huge, huge in the Arab world. The answer as to why is, I don't have the slightest idea." The singer has performed in Morocco, Dubai, Qatar and Libya — he hopes to one day get the chance to perform for the people of Iraq. They were reportedly playing "All Night Long," on the streets the night US tanks rolled into the country in 2003.
Richie likes to relax by pottering around in his garden. He told The Mail On Sunday's Event magazine: "I follow my gardener round, fiddling with bits and pieces, pulling up trees, rearranging things. Then I go out the next day and say: 'Hey! Who did this?' I just putz around."
Starting with his Commodores hit "Three Times A Lady
" in 1978 and ending in 1985 with his solo single "Say You, Say Me," Richie wrote songs that were #1 hits in eight consecutive years, which is a record.
Lionel Richie's tunes are very well known in China. They are used there to teach children at school English, where lyrics of such songs as "Hello
," "All Night Long (All Night)
" and "Say You, Say Me" are part of the curriculum.
One of his hobbies is collecting fireplaces.
Soccer player Lionel Messi's parents are huge Lionel Richie fans. They named their son after the "Dancing On The Ceiling
" star when he was born in 1987.
The actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. was once a backup dancer for Lionel Richie. In fact Gooding's very first job as an entertainer was as a breakdancer performing with Richie at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.