9 delightfully unexpected facts about Lionel Richie

Penny Brazier
3 min readApr 8, 2021


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Hello — is it Lionel trivia you’re looking for?

It’s 37 years since Hello topped the charts, becoming one of Richie’s best-known hits and Motown’s first million-selling single in the UK.

To celebrate the existence of this super-ballad and its famously awful music video, here are some ace facts about our Lionel. The total mega-watt megastar, King of the Crooners, Captain Ballad, Sergeant Smooth FM. We love you Lionel!

1. He was a high school tennis phenom

Lionel was the star tennis player in his high school and went to study Economics at Tuskegee College, Alabama, on the back of a tennis scholarship. He soon quit the sport to focus on playing in bands, ensuring he wasn’t Stuck On Deuce for too long (sorry, sorry).

2. He nearly became a priest

Lionel seriously considered priesthood with the Episcopal Church, but decided eventually that he wasn’t “priest material”. The Lord’s loss is our party playlist’s gain.

3. He wrote smash hit ‘Lady’ on the toilet

Lionel started writing for other artists in the 1970s (Three Times A Lady was allegedly intended for Frank Sinatra) and music clearly flowed out of him in more ways than one. Legend has it he wrote the second verse to the Kenny Rogers smash Lady whilst on the studio loo.

4. The other famous Lionel was named after him

Footballing legend Lionel Messi’s parents Jorge and Celia are huge Richie fans. Although they’ve never officially confirmed it, it’s understood La Pulga was originally named after their favourite artist. Celia herself is said to have been named after Simon and Garfunkel’s Cecelia.

5. He’s an Oscar winner

Sadly not for his first and only acting performance in Whitney Houston/Denzel Washington movie The Preacher’s Wife. Instead, Lionel grabbed a shiny statue for Best Original Song for Say You, Say Me, which was written for 1985 musical drama White Knights.

6. He once styled Nelson Mandela

On Mandela’s release, Lionel was tasked with putting together a suitably stylish wardrobe for his many media appearances. Nelson also personally thanked Lionel for writing music and lyrics that helped him get through his time in prison. Richie talks about it here and it’s quite lovely.

7. His music is used around the world as an English language teaching aid

Fans in China have told him his songs are used on their English curriculum, and you can find ESL worksheets for lots of his famous hits.

8. He made up the African language section in All Night Long

I know! Richie phoned a friend at the United Nations to get a translator but was told it would take too long.

9. He has his own line of designer homeware

As pop star side gigs go, this one could not be more fitting. What’s smoother than a super-smooth Lionel bath-towel? A silky tasseled decorative Lionel cushion, that’s what. Or why not woo your love interest with some silky Lionel bedsheets and a squirt of his signature Hello fragrance?

Surely a recipe for Endless Love.

This is article #43 of 52 in my last-ditch attempt to complete my Write 52 marathon of writing about number one singles. If you’re looking to write more regularly, you should check out the Write 52 community, it’s a really supportive place to be.

I’m “Penny Lover” Brazier and I really love crap facts, especially about my pop heroes.

I’m also a copywriter who likes writing about music and creativity. My website is here. You could hire me! I sing a mean Dancing On The Ceiling.