The untold truth of Little Richard

If Little Richard didn't invent rock and roll, he most certainly reinvented it. Born Richard Penniman, the golden-voiced gem from Georgia infused his performances with a flare and femininity previously unseen in the music industry. He was a trailblazer and a trendsetter. Others imitated, but he always did it better. And music's better off as a result. It doesn't matter if you're a Hendrix man or a Beatles fan or if you jam to Prince or get rocked by Queen the band. There's a little bit of Richard in all of them.

The only thing crazier than Little Richard's impact on music is his life story. He's done the insane, embraced the profane, and probably warped his brain. Admittedly, no single article could fully do his doings justice. Thankfully, a Little Richard goes a long way.

He used to give people his poop

Psychoanalyst and possible psycho Sigmund Freud believed that babies view their poop as presents they can give or withhold. At first (and second) blush that sounds like coke-inspired nonsense that Siggy pulled from his unretentive anus. But Little Richard's childhood begs to differ. By Richard's own admission, he used to give his excrement to people.

In Charles White's The Life and Times of Little Richard, the artist admitted to having "a bowel movement in a box" and handing it to an elderly lady named Ola as a birthday present. Unaware of the horrors within, she brought the box home so she could open it in front of her friends. Meanwhile, Richard impishly watched from outside. As he recalled, "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!" Richard laughed and laughed.

That wasn't the end of Richard's excretory shenanigans. He had a bizarre affinity for sharing his derriere droppings, some of which he gave to his mother. Richard rather proudly recounted: "I did some in a jelly jar, and I did it very neatly, and I closed the up the jar and put it up in the cabinet with Mother's preserves." In case you were wondering, she didn't appreciate the gesture. Why Richard did such odiously odorous things is unclear, but his family considered him a "nut," though "rectal rascal" sounds more accurate.

Little Richard's little leg

For most children, giving their mother a jar of colon jam would get them grounded for several lifetimes. But Little Richard got away with a lot. According to him, that wasn't based on favoritism but on his physical abnormalities. In The Life and Times of Little Richard, the musician told biographer Charles White: "I had this great big head and a little body, and I had one big eye and one little eye." But his most defining bodily anomaly was his "little leg."

Richard's right leg was 3 inches shorter than his left, which drastically impacted his gait. His steps had an inconsistent cadence, and his hips swayed in an involuntarily pronounced fashion. As a result, neighborhood children assumed he "was trying to twist and walk feminine." Since some kids are soulless insult machines, young Richard became a consistent recipient of homophobic slurs and other verbal vitriol. Sure, he gave people poop, but he also had to take people's crap. On the bright side, the bullying bred a competitive streak in him, driving Richard to outdo everyone in every endeavor he could. And as one of 12 siblings, he always had someone to compete with.

Little Richard's little leg also introduced him to music. As People pointed out, Richard's mother believed that sending him to church would heal his limb-based affliction. His leg never lengthened, but his lungs got lots of exercise. At church Richard learned he had a hell of a voice.

Home is where disheartenment is

Home is supposed to be a haven, a place where sticks and stones won't touch your bones and words won't try to hurt you. Sadly, in Little Richard's case it was a far more vicious version of the bullying he endured outside. As Vice elaborated, Richard got berated and degraded in the (un)safety of his own home by his father, Bud Penniman.

Like the kids outside, Bud deemed Richard too feminine. The issue wasn't his son's "feminine" walk, but the budding rock star's long hair and propensity to put on makeup. Per The Guardian, Richard also wore his mother's curtains and proclaimed himself "the Magnificent One." These charmingly glamorous antics infuriated Bud, who was a church deacon and a firm believer in gender norms. He not only insulted his son but rabidly attacked him.

Bud beat the blood out of Richard, who was "naked and tied up" during the unconscionable assaults. When pulverizing his son didn't work, Bud banished him from the house altogether. Richard was just 13 years old. Spurned by the man who spawned him and harassed by hostile peers, Richard ultimately found acceptance with a white couple named Ann and Johnny Johnson. It was a complete reversal of fortune. According to Rolling Stone, the Johnsons owned the Tick Tock Club, where Little Richard cut his teeth as a performer. After years of being unaccepted, he would soon show the world he was exceptional.

His best friend killed his father

In an alternate reality Bud Penniman might have learned to fully accept his son. According to The Life and Times of Little Richard, Bud used to bash Richard's decision to be a musician, but later had a change of heart. He listened to his son's songs with pride. By then, Richard was 19 and coming into his own as a performer. He recalled: "My daddy had never been behind me in my career until then, and he was just starting to come behind me. He was going to buy me a car … to help me in my traveling."

But Bud never got to give his son that car. In a GQ interview, Richard explained, "My best friend Frank shot him. He was out of jail in a week. We never quite found out what really happened." It happened outside a bar. Frank Tanner had been tossing firecrackers into a coal stove at the Tip In Inn, which Bud owned. Perturbed by the juvenile hijinks, Bud eventually kicked Frank out of his establishment. Things escalated rapidly from there. Frank made a huge fuss outside, so Bud grabbed a gun and went to confront him.

It's not clear what Bud intended, but the altercation ended his life. In one fell swoop, Richard lost the man who had helped give him life but also made that life a nightmare. But the scars his father left remained. Bud rejected Richard for years, and years later Richard would reject himself.

'Tutti Frutti' bears fruit

In 1955 Little Richard released his first and most famous hit, Tutti Frutti. The tune's upbeat sound, gibberish lyrics, and energetic wooing made it perfect for people who like feeling happily confused. However, the song wasn't always the "rutti"-centric sound salad that everyone knows and loves. In fact, there was no "rutti" in the original version, and it probably wasn't Daisy who almost drove Richard crazy.

Disappointingly, Tutti Frutti wasn't a flagrant ode to fragrant farts. (Fruity Toots was truly a missed opportunity.) But the tune was very butt-heavy. As the Library of Congress elaborated, the line "Tutti frutti, aw rutti" used to be "Tutti frutti, good booty." Rolling Stone further observed that the "lip-smacking celebration of 'good booty'" contained insertion-related assertions like "If it don't fit, don't force it/You can grease it, make it easy." However, it's not entirely clear whose backside's getting all that easy grease. The Library of Congress claimed the song was about lovely lady rumps. But Billboard claimed that Richard was gushing about a gay dude's glutes.

Unsurprisingly, those unctuous descriptions were sanitized for marketability's sake. But what about the tune's famous "A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom?" Was that also something ludicrously lewd like "My-love-stump-is-butt-drunk-from-hot-rump-humps?" No, unfortunately. According to Rolling Stone, Little Richard has provided two different backstories. The utterance is either onomatopoeia for a drum beat or something Richard angrily exclaimed during his days as a dishwasher. Whatever the case, it sounds ineffably awesome and put the perfect cherry atop a tasty verbal sex sundae.

Little Richard rails against the music industry

Music fans weren't the only people who loved Tutti Frutti. It was also a boon for Pat Boone, who quickly recorded his own rendition, per the Library of Congress. This would become a recurring theme in Little Richard's career, as other artists would duplicate his music. In the case of Tutti Frutti, Boone initially achieved greater success with his version of the song (above), despite it sounding like oral toilet waste.

Boone had a habit of ripping off Richard, who believed Boone benefited from racial prejudice. In 1984 he explained to The Washington Post: "When Tutti Frutti came out, Elvis was immediately put on me, dancing and singing my songs on television. In The Life and Times of Little Richard, Richard recalled that "A lot of people in management didn't like it 'cos I was a white attraction." According to him, that resentment translated into blatant disrespect. When performing in Las Vegas, for example, he received worse accommodations than white musicians and got financially shafted.

He didn't simmer in silence, however. He demanded fairer treatment, but in the end he believed that racism robbed him of his musical legacy. During a 1999 interview with The Washington Post, Richard touted himself as "the architect of rock and roll," before lamenting that "If it's a white guy, they say he's the King of Rock 'n' Roll, but if it's a black guy, they add `self-proclaimed'; they say he's the `self-proclaimed King of Rock 'n' Roll.'"

Little Richard's wild side

Little Richard soared to incredible heights during his career. He also got incredibly high. A lot. As the artist detailed during a Jet interview, he did drugs religiously. He puffed pot and had a soft spot for PCP. Cocaine was his hands-down favorite, though. Richard called himself "one of the biggest cocaine addicts," adding, "They could have called me the little white boy with the shiny nose." They could have also called him Rudolph because his nose was so red. He once told People that "blood and flesh would come out" whenever he blew his nose. At that point he was doing $1,000 of coke a day.

Richard was also addicted to self-diddling and would hand-batter his manhood up to eight times a day. But he didn't just play with himself; he played with everyone. Richard was into guys, girls, and groups. He was a hardcore voyeur and often asked girlfriends to pleasure other men while he watched. One of those mates was allegedly Audrey Robinson.

A GQ recounted, Richard first spotted Robinson when she was just 16 years old and couldn't keep his eyes off her. (Or at least parts of her; she was apparently very busty.) The two developed an incredibly close bond, and according to Richard, Angel (a name she later took) fulfilled his freaky fantasies: "She would do anything to excite me, including having sex with other guys while I watched." Angel, however, denied this. Maybe it was all in Richard's drug-addled head.

Little Richard's relationship with religion

Richard's ravenous coke consumption and unfettered fornicating were firmly at odds with his conservative upbringing. He grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist household in the deeply religious Deep South during the 1930s. According to Rolling Stone, both of his uncles and one of his grandfathers were preachers. His deacon daddy displaced him for showing homosexual tendencies. The tremendous tension between Richard's inculcated piety and his libertine lifestyle weighed heavily on him. His two incompatible selves often vied for dominance, resulting in religious vacillation.

As Billboard detailed, during the mid- to late 1950s, Richard rolled out hits and rolled in dough. But with fame came homosexual encounters, which he deemed "unnatural." So he renounced rock and roll and attended college to study theology. He couldn't suppress his attraction to men, however, and "was caught asking a deacon's son to expose himself." An attempt to launch a gospel career also failed. Richard went back to backsliding.

In 1975, a family tragedy prompted him to become a preacher, per People. He had promised to lend money to one his brothers but delayed the favor in lieu of a "cocaine-and-sex party." Then that brother died. Racked with guilt, he again disavowed homosexuality and rock music. In 1995, he tried to reconcile his faith and sexual identity, telling Penthouse, "I've been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate." But 2017 saw another significant shift as Richard repented once more.

His near-death experience

During the latter half of the 1970s and the first half of the '80s, Richard replaced his microphone with a pulpit. Gone was the makeup that helped make him famous. He had kissed his kinky orgies goodbye. He had come to Jesus. But in 1985 Jesus nearly came for him.

Per The LA Times, Richard had a pretty nasty collision with a telephone pole while driving late at night. His sports car crumpled, his little leg got broken, and his ribs took a fairly fierce beating. Firefighters on the scene had to pry him free with the Jaws of Life. An orthopedic surgeon told The LA Times that the prodigal son turned preacher was "lucky to survive the accident." Richard, however, had a different interpretation: that God had saved him.

Perhaps abandoning his raunchy ways had saved the day. Richard vowed to keep spreading the good word and fighting the good fight. Not long after, he returned to rock and roll.

Little Richard's rock and roll soul

No matter how far or fast you run, you will never escape yourself. Little Richard grappled with that reality seemingly a million times during his start-and-stop career. According to The Washington Post, Richard's rock and roll itch returned in 1986. That year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and people started buying up his biography.

But according to Richard, his decision had a much deeper motive. It wasn't about clinging to fading vestiges of fame or having one last cash grab. It was a fundamental statement about who he was. As Richard put it, "Rock and roll is something I created. It's all I know how to do; I don't know how to do anything else. I'm not a minister, and I'm not what you call a gospel singer, even though I've made some gospel records. I'm just an old country rock and roll singer from Macon, Georgia."

According to Rolling Stone, that old rock and roll singer also pulled a few new tricks out of his bag during the 1990s with several film appearances and some surprisingly catchy covers of children's songs. In fact, even in old age as Richard disavows his old self, he still wears fabulous suits and sparkly shoes. Some habits die hard, and rock and roll never dies.