Early Life and Career
Singer-songwriter Lionel Brockman Richie was born on June 20, 1949, in Tuskegee, Alabama. He grew up at the Tuskegee Institute, where two generations of his family worked (including his grandfather, who worked with Booker T. Washington). As he explained to Esquire magazine, the school and surrounding community provided a warm and supportive environment for the young Richie: “I was born and raised in a community where if somebody can’t eat, the whole town goes to feed him,” he said.
Early on, Richie toyed with the idea of becoming a priest, but music proved to be his true calling. A founding member of the Commodores—one of the most popular R&B acts of the late 1970s—Richie played saxophone, performed some vocals and wrote songs for the group; he contributed to such hits as “Easy,” “Brick House” and “Three Times a Lady.”
In 1980, Lionel Richie left the Commodores to become a solo act. The following year, his duet with Diana Ross on “Endless Love” reached the top of the charts. In 1982, he released his debut solo album, Lionel Richie, which quickly became a hit on the U.S. Billboard charts. One ballad from that album, “Truly,” climbed to the top of the charts, also garnering Richie a Grammy Award for best male pop vocal performance.
Richie’s next effort, 1984’s Can’t Slow Down, featured the energetic pop hit “All Night Long” as well as the dreamy ballad “Hello.” The success of this project, which won Richie a Grammy for best album of the year, helped cement his status as one of the era’s biggest stars. He performed “All Night Long” at the closing ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games, held in Los Angeles, California.
The following year, Richie focused on helping those in need, co-writing the famine relief song “We Are The World” (1985) with Michael Jackson. His popularity continued to grow with the release of his next album, 1986’s Dancing on the Ceiling, which sold roughly 4 million copies.
For several years after releasing Dancing on the Ceiling, Richie suffered a series of personal challenges, and disappeared from the music scene as a result. His father died in 1990, and he and first wife Brenda Harvey had an ugly, public break-up a few years later. Their adopted daughter, Nicole, stayed with Brenda after the divorce.
Richie returned to music in 1996, releasing the album Louder Than Words. That same year, he married his second wife, Diane (m. 1996-2004). The couple has two children together, Miles and Sofia.
In Recent Years
After releasing the albums Renaissance and Coming Home in 2000 and 2006, respectively, Lionel Richie made a return to the top of the album charts in 2012 with Tuskegee, a country-music collection. He worked with country stars such as Willie Nelson and Jennifer Nettles on the record.
Richie continues to tour around the world. In recent years, he announced plans to do a 2014 tour with John Farnham in Australia and New Zealand. Now divorced from his second wife, Richie is enjoying life as a grandfather; his daughter, Nicole Richie, and her husband, Joel Madden, have two children, Sparrow and Harlow.