Lionel Richie is the king of love, romance and sex. His life’s been a roller coaster with some of the most stratospherically successful career highs anyone could imagine, but he’s also been involved in an affair and divorces and some really low moments.
Lionel’s music – the music of love
Piers said: “Lionel Richie you’ve sold a hundred million albums, yet probably you’re lasting legacy for the world is that you have played a formative part probably in every man’s romantic history for the last 50 years. You have basically helped us all get laid.”
Lionel said: “Yes, but I wasn’t going to say it quite like that. But that is correct. The funniest thing Piers is that the ladies walk up to me everywhere in the world and they stop me and tell me how they were married or had a boyfriend, the whole thing, but guys don’t talk. They just call my name and give me the official signal “Lionel!” [Lionel makes fist pump action]. That means thank you for everything.”
Piers asked: “Have you ever made love to your own music?”
Lionel said: “Absolutely not. You can’t even get into scandal with this. Let me tell you this, now wait, in the early days of Commodores maybe it was in the background.”
Piers asked: “Which particular song would you use?”
Lionel laughed: “It would be ‘Three Times a Lady’. I’m no fool, because that was our first worldwide hit.”
Meeting Nelson Mandela
Talking about meeting Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison in 1990, Lionel became teary, he said: “We had a reception, everybody in Hollywood was there in a line to meet him and he caught my eye and he came through the crowd and I thought he was going somewhere else but he came up to me and said “Young man, I want to thank you for many years of your music. Your lyrics got me through many years of being in prison” and I started crying on his shoulders and he was hugging me.”
Piers said: “That must be the greatest accolade you could ever…”
Lionel said: “I cannot tell you. I get teary eyed about it now because I was so not ready for that. Of all the things, to spend that much time in prison and for him to know my work and my words and it was just one of those very touching moments.”
Adopting his daughter Nicole
Music wasn’t Lionel’s only passion. He’d also found love with a fellow undergraduate, Brenda and in 1984, the same year in which ‘Hello’ released Lionel and Brenda had also said hello to four-year-old Nicole. She was the daughter of one of Lionel’s band mates and he was unable to look after her and Lionel stepped in.
Piers asked: “How did it happen that you came to adopt her? Tell me about the process.”
Lionel said: “I went to a Prince concert and there on the stage in the middle of the Prince concert was this four year old kid playing the tambourine. So I went backstage and I knew the mother and I knew the father and of course they were having difficulties with their relationship and I said “While you are having the difficulty the kid is sitting out here in limbo so I’ll tell you what I’ll do, just put the kid in my house until the tour is over with and then we will sort this out later.” And so it took about maybe a year for me to just fall in love and she was a little button and of course by that time I was Dad and so I said okay here is what we are going to do, you’re going to make everyone wish that they had adopted you. You are going to make everyone in your family wish they actually had a chance to get you back and that’s when I said, “Lets adopt her” and the rest is beautiful.”
Piers asked: “Did she know that she had been adopted? Or was there a moment when you had to have that conversation?”
Lionel said: “I remember just saying to her, because I don’t think she understood adoption, I think I just closed the door and said “Okay, I am never going to leave you ever again” and I said “Do you understand that?” and she said “Yes” which I am probably sure she didn’t, she didn’t know what that meant. And as time went on she got into a lot of trouble here and there and she kept saying to me “Dad, what are you going to do?” and I said, “Well, are you doing a television show?” and she said yes and I said “Well I’m showing up at the television show with you”. And she said “It’s embarrassing for what I went through” and I said “ What did I tell you? I’m not leaving you” and then she went through another problem and I said to her “I’m showing up” and she said “Dad you can’t show up it’s court, the cameras are at the court you can’t show up” and I said “What did I tell you? I’m not leaving you” so what I did was every time she got a chance to get into trouble she’d go “Wait, I can’t do that because my Dad is going to show up”.
That sculpture from ‘Hello’
When speaking about some of his most successful songs Piers asked about the video for a ‘Hello’ and “What happened to the hideous sculpture of your head?”
Lionel said: “I tried to get rid of it as soon as possible. Not realising that if I had just hung on to it and fired it, it would have been the most valuable piece ever on the planet!” He continued: “So I remember just abandoning it over on the side somewhere. Now do you understand that would be worth millions! But I just couldn’t at that time accept the fact that was me.”
Lionel’s experience with racism
Lionel grew up on the university campus in Tuskegee; a town that uniquely in the Southern states of America at that time had an educated and affluent mostly black population. In neighbouring towns it was a very different story.
Lionel told Piers about an encounter with racism when he was nine years old.
Lionel said: “What happened was we [Lionel and his dad] were in Montgomery and I couldn’t read the sign. The sign was up here [points up] saying ‘White only’ and ‘Coloured only’ and I didn’t see the sign. I ran up and went to a water fountain. Well, as I came back from the water fountain these four guys came and were harassing my dad and I kept thinking to myself “These guys better really calm down because my dad is going to kick their ass because I know dad he is a military guy and he takes no mess.” And dad didn’t say a word. And it bothered me from nine years old until twenty-two and I remember saying to my dad one day “Why didn’t you kick their ass? You turned and cowardly walked away” and he had the greatest line ever, he said “I had a choice that day of either being a man or your father. I knew that if I fought them they would kill me and I chose to be your dad.”
Lionel’s views on the ‘N-word’ and his criticism of Kanye West
Piers asked: “You recently criticised the rapper Kanye West for using the N-word and it is a debate that has raised a lot of questions in America in particular. Why do you feel that the N-word should be completely expunged?
Lionel said: “I went through a generation of people who fought and died to erase the N-word from the lips of Americans and the entire world. And then one day I woke up and said enough is enough. To bring the N-word back from slavery and bring the N-word back and make it a pop phrase – it’s a pop phrase, we are teaching the world to say it properly is unacceptable, and so I think it is time that we step up to the plate and go “Guys, if you missed that education, then let me give you the education that goes along with this.”
The death of Lionel’s father
During the 1980s Lionel Richie was one of the world’s biggest music stars, but Lionel’s focus on his career meant he was often away from home. In 1986 Lionel achieved every songwriters dream when he won an Oscar for his theme tune to the film ‘White Nights’. But his appearance at the ceremony was to be his last time in the spotlight for 5 years. Lionel received a devastating phone call saying that his father was seriously ill.
Talking about his father’s death, Lionel told Piers what he told people on the day of the funeral: “Well now I have a problem, from now on I have to be original” Lionel explained: “Because everything I had done up to that point was copying him. I had a dad that I loved to death and all of the examples of his life I shared with him were the funniest times of my life and I will always cherish them.”
Lionel’s affair with Diane and the end of Lionel’s marriage to Brenda
Meanwhile Lionel’s marriage to Brenda had broken down. Things grew worse for Lionel when Brenda discovered him with new girlfriend Diane and there was an altercation with them in Beverly Hills.
Talking about his father’s death and relationship breakdown happening at the same time, Lionel said: “It was a train wreck and plane crash at the same time. It was, you can’t get hit anymore – it’s a bad Mike Tyson fight. You know what I am saying? And I got hit with all the punches.”
Piers asked: “While your father was ill, your marriage to Brenda began to break down. Was that your fault completely?”
Lionel said: “It was my fault mainly, the best thing was I fell in love, the worst thing was I was still married. Yikes.”
Piers asked: “I mean the way it was reported was that Brenda and Diane effectively had a fracas together and you exited stage left.”
Lionel said: “It was a Thrilla in Manila. It was more screaming and hollering than it was fighting. Which is even more devastating, I was still portrayed as the same guy [points to himself] “You ** and you ** and you **” and so imagine the adjectives on the back of that for twenty minutes! You know so when we left and everybody departed it was not so much the physical but the verbal.”
Piers asked: “The police were called.”
Lionel said: “The police were called, it was unimaginable. The embarrassment is one thing but the disgrace is the one that gets you the most.”
Piers asked: “In the decades that you’ve been on a stage looking over a crowd full of beautiful women, very popular with the ladies. You see them mouthing “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” How many times have you thought yes and seen them later?”
Lionel said: “Well, I can answer that question for you. When you are 19 the answer is “See me after the show” but then my friend, then you turn 60 and you find yourself going “How are you? Good to see you!”
Piers asked: “Have you ever mentally computed the total?”
Lionel said: “[pause] No. I try as much as possible to forget.”
Piers asked: “Would it be two figures? Three figures? Four figures? Or possibly five figures?”
Lionel said, laughing: “The answer is, I am a quiet boy and I have tried to help as many women as I could.”
…Drugs and rock ‘n’ roll
Piers asked: “In terms of the kind of attractions of the non-female variety that might cause you to fall flat on your face. The narcotic end of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Were you a major partaker?”
Lionel said: “No, not at all. The wonderful thing that I didn’t have to worry about with this is that I have to, at all times, to be in control and so I found that out at a very early age. I had a chance to spend an evening with Bob Marley at the opening night for The Commodores at Madison Square Gardens and Bob said “Come down to the room” and we must partake in a room that looks like it has been set on fire. And it was at that point I realised that whatever I was smoking in Alabama was Lipton tea but I remembered clearly taking the rest of that night trying to remember who the hell I was!”
Piers asked: “Cannabis we are talking about?”
Lionel said: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. So in the very early stages of my career I knew that I couldn’t do it and perform because it just didn’t work.”
Lionel’s marriage to Diane
In 1996 Lionel married his second wife Diane; they had two children Miles and Sofia. However, their marriage was not to last and they divorced in 2004.
Piers asked: “If you had your time again, knowing the price you would have to pay. Would you have stayed with Brenda and been a good boy?”
Lionel said: “If I could control it, yes. But when you are young, foolish, crazy, out of control, hopeless romantic and you write love songs for a living and you fall in love at a whim I didn’t have a chance.”
Piers asked: “Why do you think your second marriage broke down?”
Lionel said: “I made a promise that I would not go back to work.” He continued: “One day I knew I was in trouble because I just happened to stumble back into the recording studio. Over.”
Nicole’s party lifestyle and drug taking
In 2003 the Richie name was in the spotlight but this time it was his daughter Nicole, thanks to her starring role in reality television series ‘The Simple Life’ with her then best friend Paris Hilton. Nicole’s choices hit headlines when she checked into rehab after being arrested for drug possession.
Piers said: “Nicole became a huge star herself in ‘The Simple Life’ with Paris Hilton. She fell off the rails and she got into drugs and the wrong kind of friends and was arrested for possession of heroin and went into rehab. That’s a fairly cataclysmic thing for any father to have to watch his beautiful, young daughter go through.”
Lionel said: “Getting her to understand the severity of what was happening. Now I sound like my father now, but I went to her and I said, “When I was growing up I lost three friends, they were the hippest friends I ever knew in life. One was the hippest guy at the clubs, he drank and he died in a car accident. The second friend died of drugs and the third one, suicide.” I said, “It’s going to happen to your generation. I don’t want you to be in that list of three because after that you’ll be just fine” Well, three months later her friend died of an overdose and I went back to her and very quietly, I was very shocked and I said, “I am sorry to hear that, that’s one.” And sure enough, one year later the second one died and I said “That’s two” and I got a phone call and she said “Dad I need help, I don’t want to be the third one.” And I said “I am with you” and I cancelled the tour. I said “Me and your mother”, who didn’t get along that well, “Me and your mother are checking into rehab with you.””
Today Nicole has settled down with musician husband Joel Madden, and they have two children Harlow, 7, and Sparrow, 5.
Piers asked: “When you see how Nicole has now come through everything, you must feel very proud of her.”
Lionel said: “There is not a day that I don’t send a text to her and I put down “Proud of you.”
Piers asked: “You are actually granddad. Be honest Lionel, the moment you became a grandfather, as a handsome pop icon that must have been a difficult day. I mean joyous, but difficult.”
Lionel said: “It scared me to death. I’m in tight pants and she is saying “Grandpa”. What are we talking about? And all of the sudden the word “Sexy” goes out of your life right quick. But I was so thrilled when the little ‘Pop-Pop’ showed up I mean I’ll take that position any day of the week, I love it.”
When asked which of his songs he’s most proud of, Lionel said: “If it were for the contribution to the world and my thumb print as far as absolutely saving lives it would be ‘We are the World’. My grandkids came home from school the other day and said, “Pop-pop, we learned your song ‘We Are The World’ at school today!” They are this big [gestures a small height].”
Piers asked: “How would you like to be remembered?”
Lionel said: “That I was absolutely a minister of love and a hopeless romantic and if I did nothing else in the world but bring a melody to the joys of the world and around the world that’s all I’m here for.”