The Essayist

Aggregated long-form essays from the world's best writers and publications.

When John Waters Met Little Richard

I bring up the book – The Life and Times of Little Richard, perhaps the best and most shocking celebrity tell-all book ever written. Penned by Charles White with Little Richard’s full co-operation and published in 1984, it is copyrighted in the names of the author, the star and his longtime, now-deceased manager, Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. It’s a real lulu. Detailing his early life, in which he travelled with a minstrel show, sold snake oil in Doctor Hudson’s Medicine Show and performed in drag as Princess Lavonne, it touchingly includes early childhood anecdotes, such as the time Richard gave an old lady neighbour a bowel movement in a box for her birthday. (What a coincidence! Divine was on the receiving end of this exact same gift in Pink Flamingos.) Halfway through the book, you realise that you are in a stratosphere of lunacy. The bizarre lifestyle you’d fantasised for Little Richard is small potatoes compared with the truth. His onetime drug addictions and alcoholism, his hilarious threesome with Buddy Holly and his longtime stripper friend Lee Angel (with a “50-inch bust”), and his obsessions with voyeurism (“Richard the Watcher”) and masturbation (“six or seven times a day”) are all topped off with truly staggering photographs of his many fashion statements. Just when you start thinking Nobel Prize, you get to the final chapter, a compilation of Richard’s religious testimony that seems to sour the entire volume and turn off the very audience for whom the book was written. He seems to want it both ways.

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    I bring up the book – The Life and Times of Little Richard, perhaps the best and most shocking celebrity tell-all book...