Rock and roll icon Little Richard, who was widely credited with helping pioneer not just the musical style itself but the larger-than-life personas for which it became synonymous, has died at 87, Rolling Stone reports. No cause of death was given, though Richard's bass player told TMZ the musician had apparently been sick for the past two months.
Born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia, in 1932, the flamboyant legend had been a pop culture fixture for decades, often portraying himself in films and on television. But it was his early music career in the 1950s, unleashing a series of indelible rock and roll hits like "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally," that helped define the sound of an emerging new style and laid the foundation for a life in the spotlight.
While performing his howling compositions, Richard, who also played with images of sexuality and was reportedly cast out of his own home by his father at age 12 after being accused of being gay, often stood at the piano, pounding the keys and wailing while flaunting a black pompadour. These songs, along with cuts like "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and "Rip It Up," traveled around the world, inspiring an entire generation of artists to try their hand at rock and roll — including The Beatles, Elton John, The Kinks, and dozens more.
As Frank Tortorici wrote for us in 1999, "The flamboyant, screeching rocker Little Richard is one of the genre's true originals. His pounding rock songs, crazy piano playing, and wild, sexual personality cut an indelible image in the early days of rock and roll and continue to inspire artists today."
Richard was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inaugural class of inductees in 1986, alongside fellow pioneers Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Fats Domino, among others.
As his impact on popular music grew and eventually helped build an entire new genre's foundation, so, too, did Richard's appearances in popular properties. He sang "Rubber Duckie" while in a bathtub on Sesame Street, acted in Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Last Action Hero, and had cameos on Full House, Baywatch, and The Simpsons.
Artists and celebrities have begun paying tribute to Little Richard on social media. The sentiments span generations, genres, and geography. Check out some of them below.