Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, died of bone cancer in Nashville over the weekend. He was 87 years old. Richard’s agent said the music icon passed with his brother and son by his side.

The flamboyant, high-voltage rock pioneer was among the first class to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thanks to his hits like “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip It Up,” “Lucille,” “Keep a-Knockin’,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” And he influenced countless musicians who came after him—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, John Fogerty, and Bob Seger to name just a few.

Richard’s frenetic piano playing, thumping backbeat, and uptempo rhythmic songs were topped with his raspy, expressive, joyous scream-singing style. He captivated audiences in both the United States and the United Kingdom. And the charismatic showman appealed to black and white audiences as well, resulting in integrated concert halls at a time when segregation was still in effect. In this way, Richard and his music served as a healing influence far and wide.

But Little Richard is not just a musical icon, he’s part of cinematic history as well—spanning decades. Starting off with the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, the Georgia native performed two songs, “Ready Teddy” and “She’s Got It.” He holds the scene together with his undeniably fun musical talent while essentially singing a tribute to the beauty and charm of actress Jayne Mansfield who stars in the movie.

 

In the 1967 comedy musical film Catalina Caper, Richard performed an original song called “Scuba Party”—a song for which he’s also credited as a co-writer. 

 

The 1986 movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Richard appeared with Bette Midler, Richard Dreyfuss, and Nick Nolte, portraying Orvis Goodnight who performs “Great Gosh A-Mighty” accompanying an action scene. 

 

A couple years later, Richard’s music can be heard in the 1988 science-fiction comedy film Purple People Eater based on Sheb Wooley’s 1958 novelty song of the same name. Neil Patrick Harris and Shelley Winters starred in the film, and Thora Birch made her film debut. And, as usual, Richard’s song is used to supercharge an action scene—a very purple one, in this case.

 

Although Little Richard’s singing career started in the 1950s, many of his current fans were first introduced to his musical magic via a Disney compilation CD titled For Our Children on which Richard played a spirited version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to benefit the Pediatric Aids Foundation. Following up, he performed the popular children’s song on the Disney Channel with Debbie Gibson in the early 1990s.

 

Little Richard appeared on several television shows as well. On the ‘90s sitcom Martin with Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell, he played an exterminator and joked about not getting the credit he deserved. “I’m the king, and I’m the legend, and I’m the founder,” he proclaims—a reference to full acknowledgment he missed for his contribution to rock ‘n’ roll. Indeed, Little Richard’s nicknames include “The Architect of Rock and Roll,” “The Innovator,” and “The Originator” being he laid a foundation for rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and funk.

 

Richard’s other TV shows include a cameo in Full House, as well as appearances in Baywatch, The Drew Carey Show, and The Simpsons.

During the height of his popularity, Richard abandoned rock ‘n’ roll for a period of about five years in order to enroll in theological school and become an evangelical minister and gospel singer. In an interview he gave three years ago, the singer reflected on his musical career, saying , “At first I was making thirty-five thousand dollars a night, then it came to fifty, then it came to a hundred thousand dollars an hour … It didn’t feel right anymore. I would sing and do things, but I wasn’t part of the in-crowd anymore.” But after his time away, he returned to his musical career with a tour in England in the 1960s.

Although the world lost a true legend this week, he’ll live on with his contagiously fun music.

Signing off, here’s one of Richard Penniman’s gospel songs to enjoy.

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