With a string of chart-topping singles and award-winning albums, Lionel Richie was the 1980s ultimate balladeer. He launched his career as the singer and saxophone player of the funk-soul group the Commodores, which helped redefine the Motown sound with its anthem "Brick House" (1977) and the easy-listening classic "Three Times a Lady" (1978), among several other hits. Following his departure from the Commodores, Richie transitioned to a successful solo performer with the release of his Grammy Award-winning album "Can't Slow Down" (1983). The album included some of Richie's signature hits, from the upbeat party track "All Night Long (All Night)," to the heartfelt ballad "Hello." An acclaimed songwriter, Richie collaborated with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones in producing the 1985 charity single "We Are the World," one of the biggest selling singles in the history of recorded music. However, his personal life played out much differently than his love songs. In 1988, Richie's estranged wife was arrested for brutally attacking him after she caught the singer in a hotel room with his lover. Despite all the controversy surrounding his failed marriage - to say nothing of the storms he weathered from his adopted daughter, Nicole Richie - the singer continued to make music throughout the '90s and 2000s, maintaining a strong presence in the music industry, and solidifying his status as one of the more respected vocalists and songwriters of his generation.
Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr. was born on June 20, 1949 in Tuskegee, AL. The future hit-maker grew up on the campus of Tuskegee Institute, where his grandfather worked alongside civil rights leader Booker T. Washington. Richie's family later moved to Joliet, IL. A star tennis player at Joliet Township High School, he received a tennis scholarship from Tuskegee Institute, where he graduated with a degree in Economics before transferring to Auburn University in Alabama for his graduate studies. While attending Tuskegee in the mid-1960s, Richie joined several singing groups. In 1968, he formed the R&B group the Commodores along with fellow Tuskegee students Thomas McClary, Milan Williams, William King, Ronald LaPread and Walter Orange. The Commodores briefly signed with Atlantic Records in 1968 before moving on to Motown Records four years later. The group had its first taste of the spotlight after landing an opening slot for Motown superstars the Jackson 5 during the latter's tour. The Commodores released their debut album Machine Gun in 1974, which yielded the minor hits "Machine Gun" and "I Feel Sanctified."
Although the Commodores' first four albums failed to reach the Top 10, in 1977, the group's self-titled album was released. Commodores spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the R&B/Soul Albums chart and peaked at No. 3 on the mainstream chart. The album included what became one of the group's signature tracks - the funk-infused ode to sex titled "Brick House." Around that time, the band's sound shifted to romantic ballads and easy listening tracks, mostly penned by Richie. They scored a crossover hit with "Easy" (1977), a breakup ballad that landed at No. 1 on the R&B chart and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The single's success paved the way for more hit ballads from the Commodores, including the chart-topping "Three Times a Lady" (1979) and "Still" (1979). As a talented songwriter, Richie also composed hits for other artists - Kenny Rogers' country hit "Lady" (1980) and the timeless ballad "Endless Love" (1981), Richie's duet with Diana Ross. Infused with creativity and feeling stifled in a band, Richie left the Commodores amidst a degree of rancor to pursue a solo career in 1982. That year, he released his self-titled solo debut and topped the Billboard Hot 100 with the lead single "Truly." The slow, emotionally driven song was reminiscent of his later work with the Commodores. Richie topped his debut's chart success with his sophomore album Can't Slow Down. Released in 1983, the LP stayed at the top of the mainstream charts for three weeks and became one of the year's best-selling albums. Every single released from the album also landed in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including the No.1 hits "Hello" and "All Night Long (All Night)," "Stuck on You" (No. 3), "Running With the Night" (No. 7), and "Penny Lover" (No. 8). Richie cemented his pop star status in 1985 after Can't Slow Down won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. A month earlier, Richie and even bigger music star Michael Jackson co-wrote the charity single "We Are the World." The Quincy Jones-produced track featured an all-star lineup of entertainers - including Richie, Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, etc. - collectively called USA for Africa. The single sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, with proceeds going to African famine relief. "We Are the World" also made history by becoming the first single to be certified multi-platinum.
Already an international superstar, Richie released his third album Dancing on the Ceiling in 1986. The upbeat title track showcased the singer's ability to score a non-ballad smash. He landed back on top with the single "Say You, Say Me," which was written as the theme song for the drama feature "White Nights" (1985) starring Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Adding yet another feather in his musical cap, "Say You, Say Me" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year. Richie's song "Ballerina Girl" (1986) would become one of his last 1980s-era hits. Just as his career was hitting a bump in the road due to changing tastes, the singer's romantic image was tainted in 1988 after Brenda Harvey, his wife of 13 years, caught Richie and his lover Diane Alexander together in a hotel room in Beverly Hills. Harvey allegedly confronted Richie and Alexander before brutally attacking them. She was then arrested for spousal abuse, trespassing, assault, and vandalism. The couple divorced in 1993. Despite their marital issues, Richie and Harvey had adopted their daughter Nicole Richie in 1983, who was rumored to be the biological child of one of his band members. When she grew up to become famous in her own right as a socialite Paris Hilton's co-star and party pal on the reality series "The Simple Life" (Fox, 2003-05; E! Entertainment, 2006-07), the aging singer found his own fame eclipsed by that of his often troubled, tabloid-friendly daughter. Richie also had two children with Alexander, whom he married in 1995.
Richie did not release a new album for a decade, only to reemerge in 1996 with the R&B-inspired Louder Than Words. Richie made his feature-acting debut that year in "The Preacher's Wife," opposite Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. While his later work failed to match the commercial success of his first three albums, Richie continued to record and write new material throughout the '90s and 2000s. He achieved greater success in other parts of the world, scoring Top 40 singles in the U.K. and Arab countries like Dubai, Qatar, and Libya. The singer, whose grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the '80s, also became involved with awareness for the disease, helping to raise more than $3.1 million for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Richie released his ninth studio album Just Go in 2009, which featured hip-hop and contemporary artists such as Ne-Yo, Akon, and The-Dream. The following year, Richie and Quincy Jones re-worked the worldwide hit "We Are The World" into "We Are the World 25 for Haiti." Like its predecessor, the single featured superstar artists like Janet Jackson, Celine Dion, and The Black Eyed Peas, while its proceeds benefitted victims of the devastating Haiti earthquake that occurred in January 2010. Teen pop sensation Justin Bieber took over for Richie by performing the opening lines of the re-worked song, much to the dismay of music purists.