Before judging American Idol or being crowned one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, Lionel Richie was an artist slowly building a name in the music world. in 1983, while attending a Prince concert in Los Angeles, the soon-to-be star noticed a 2-year-old girl standing in a place she certainly didn’t belong. So, he started asking questions.
Lionel was entranced by this little girl. She was standing up on the busy stage, right next to Prince himself! The young performer beamed as she banged on a tambourine and danced to the music. Seemingly there by accident, the 2-year-old compelled Lionel to figure out what was going on.
Lionel, whose reputation was budding quickly, asked around for answers about the little girl’s identity. In particular, he wanted to know her parents’ whereabouts and how she managed to climb on stage with such a legendary pop star!
Eventually, Lionel got himself backstage. He learned that the girl was the daughter of Peter Escovedo and Karen Moss, both figureheads in the music world. Lionel asked to meet the 2-year-old cutie to tell her how great she performed.
Her name was Nicole, and she was bursting with energy upon meeting Lionel. They laughed and played for a while, but soon it was time to go. Upon finding her parents, Lionel was no longer concerned about Nicole’s safety. That is, until he met her again a few months later.
This time, it was clear that Nicole’s family was having issues. Her recently-divorced parents were leaving Nicole with countless family and friends rather than raising her themselves. When Lionel heard they were considering taking Nicole on tour, he turned to his wife, Brenda, with concerns.
“We [were] a little worried that the little kid can’t go on tour because a 2-year-old needs to be stationary,” Lionel told the Huffington Post. With Brenda’s blessing, Lionel offered to give Nicole a place to stay. At first, her parents were hesitant.
“They were having difficulties with their relationship,” Lionel later told Piers Morgan of Nicole’s parents. With so many issues, it was impossible for them to say no to Lionel and Brenda’s help. However, things were about to get worse before they got better.
Lionel and Brenda were now getting a firsthand look at the madness Nicole had been exposed to at such a young age. The Escovedos were constantly fighting, and their lifestyle choices weren’t helping. As their careers grew, their family was falling apart. Lionel wanted to do something about it.
“It took about maybe a year for me to just fall in love and she was a little button,” said Lionel. Soon, he and Brenda were appointed as Nicole’s legal guardians. They were intent on officially adopting Nicole, but there was one problem: Lionel’s career.
Lionel worried that his flashy career might not provide enough consistency to Nicole, who was in desperate need of a normal routine. To do things right, he’d need to make some major changes to his lifestyle. With his music finally taking off, how was that going to be possible?
“By that time, I was Dad,” said Lionel, who decided he was ready to make sacrifices for Nicole. “You are going to make everyone in your family wish they actually had a chance to get you back,” he told her. And yet, Nicole’s trust wouldn’t be earned easily.
When Nicole Escovedo officially became “Nicole Richie,” her entire world changed. Even while sitting in the courtroom, waiting for the adoption to go through, 9-year-old Nicole seemed completely unaware of this change. She was used to being left behind, and Lionel could tell.
“I remember you had abandonment issues for obvious reasons,” Lionel told Nicole in a Talk To Me interview. “You’ve been handed around to every relative in the family. And remember what I said to you. I said, ‘I’m never, ever going to leave you.’” But the look on 9-year-old Nicole’s face expressed serious doubts.
“I said, ‘No no, listen, I’m never going to leave you.’” Lionel told Nicole again, determined to give her the comfort she deserved. He resolved to shorten his tours, returning home often with stories and gifts to share. Slowly, he chipped away at the walls around Nicole. Unfortunately, a major change was coming.
Nicole’s world was rocked once again when Lionel and Brenda went through a messy divorce. Lionel had been caught cheating on Brenda, resulting in arrests, charges, and tabloids. Fortunately, Lionel’s rocky relationship with women was something Nicole could poke fun at him for as she got older.
“Women haven’t really been your strong suit,” Nicole told Lionel in a Huffington Post interview. “But you’re very gentle with me and, and I feel like you and I have a really good, strong relationship.” This relationship was put to the test when Nicole was checked into rehab.
After starring on Fox’s The Simple Life with fellow starlet Paris Hilton, Nicole’s fame skyrocketed. However, the show’s success dwindled when the two childhood friends began butting heads. Soon, Nicole found herself deep in the Hollywood party scene with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin addictions. Her entry into rehab made headlines.
Nicole’s emancipated appearance wasn’t just getting her media attention, but was also a major concern to Lionel. When she checked into rehab in 2003, Lionel canceled his tour and checked in with her. While by her side, Lionel told Nicole some harsh truths about life in Hollywood.
“Some people take fame and pressure and get fat, some get skinny, some get addicted to drugs,” Lionel told Nicole. “Get used to it, kid, because it doesn’t get any better.” Lionel’s blunt words inspired Nicole. Now, she’s been clean and sober for over 15 years!
Today, Nicole is married with two children, making Lionel one happy grandpa. “Everything up to that point was about songwriting in the business and touring,” he recalled. “All of a sudden, I found something I could actually fall in love with that was never going to leave me.” But when Lionel and Brenda Harvey went through a nasty split in the early ’90s, both attempted to sway Nicole by indulging her every whim.
“Their way of making me happy was to say, ‘yes,’ to everything I wanted, but I don’t think a little girl should have that much freedom,” Nicole recalled. Growing up in the music world might seem like a blast, but according to Nicole, life in the spotlight can quickly lost its luster once the curtains close.
It still comes as a surprise to many that Nicole is not Lionel’s biological daughter. But alongside his two biological children, Miles and Sofia, who are half-siblings to Nicole, his relationship with his adopted daughter has always been special. Indeed, they’ve resolutely stuck together throughout the trials and tribulations that life has thrown at them. And there have been many!
In a 2013 interview with The Telegraph’s Fashion section, Nicole spoke about how she’d never considered her childhood to be unusual. As she put it, “My childhood was my childhood. I don’t have another one to compare it to.” Plus she doesn’t agree with Lionel’s take that his parenting was found wanting due to his hectic touring schedule.
“My dad [Lionel] has said before that he doesn’t think he was a good dad,” said Nicole. “But I’ve never felt like that. He’s being too harsh on himself. Looking back, I think I had a wonderful childhood.” And it’s clear that Nicole is still close to her father today. After all, she described him as her biggest fan during a 2017 TODAY show interview.
Though she got her start on The Simple Life, which survived a falling out between the two women, as well as their personal troubles with the law, before eventually ending after five seasons. Following its cancellation, Nicole would move into acting and writing. In fact, she wrote two novels, The Truth About Diamonds and Priceless.
But Nicole would then truly find her niche as a fashion designer. She founded House of Harlow in 2008, initially as a jewellery line. And over time it has evolved into a full lifestyle brand. Even a host of celebs have been snapped wearing its clothing, swimwear, eyewear, and accessories. Then in 2010 Nicole won Glamour magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. Not bad all things considered.
On the other hand, Lionel’s success came from the music world. He is an icon, of course, known for his hugely successful solo career, but also his early time as a singer and saxophonist in The Commodores. Hailing from Tuskegee, Alabama, he joined the band in 1968 and would go on to pen some of their most famous songs. “Three Times a Lady” and “Easy” were written by Lionel, as was “Brick House.”
Lionel launched his solo career with a self-titled 1982 album. And it featured three hit singles, including “You Are” and “My Love.” But “Truly,” the album’s first single, made it to number one on the Billboard chart. The following year saw him double down on the success of his first album when its follow-up, Can’t Slow Down, landed him an Album of the Year Grammy Award.
That record included the massive hit “All Night Long (All Night),” which Lionel would perform for the Olympic Games closing ceremony in 1984. Then in 1985 Lionel solidified himself as a music phenomenon when he co-wrote the charity single “We Are The World” with Michael Jackson. Its sales of over 20 million made it one of the biggest selling singles in history.
Over the decades Lionel’s records have sold a whopping 90 million copies. This makes him one of the biggest selling recording artists of all time. Plus he still managed to keep himself in the public eye well into his 60s by, for example, playing a headlining set at Glastonbury in 2015. And he appeared as a judge in the 2018 revival of American Idol.
But when it comes to their relationship, Nicole and Lionel have a great affection for each other. She explained on a 2020 appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan that when it comes to her father, what you see is what you get. She revealed, “Here’s the thing: he’s the same person he is on camera as he is off camera.”
Plus when they talk on the phone, “He’s got the zingers and the one-liners and zoom zoom zoom,” laughed Nicole. “And I’m like, ‘Were you waiting for me to call? Do you have a list written down? How do you have so many jokes ready to go all day long?’” Dig deeper than his fun personality, though, and you’ll find that Lionel has been there for his daughter through some tough times.
Because in her teen years Nicole had struggled with drugs. In 2007 she told Diane Sawyer on 20/20 that, in some ways, living a privileged life had warped her worldview. She said, “I got so much so fast that nothing really excited me anymore. I kind of took matters into my own hands and was creating drama in a very dangerous way.”
“I think I was just bored,” reasoned Nicole, “and I had seen everything – especially when you’re young, you just want more.” This desire for “more” led to an 18-year-old Nicole using cocaine, which she wound up receiving treatment for. But then she simply replaced this addiction with a potentially more frightening one in her early 20s – she began to take heroin.
In a 2006 interview with Vanity Fair Nicole explained how she felt when using China White heroin. She said, “To me it was the epitome of caring about absolutely nothing. There were points when my mom would come home and scream at me about something, and I literally didn’t care about anything.”
“It was like watching a really dramatic movie with the volume turned down,” continued Nicole. “I thought I was getting away with everything, when the reality was that I was arrested three times and had five car accidents.” Nicole realized that she needed to deal with her addiction head-on, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to continue filming The Simple Life.
“I knew I could not go on television being as wasted as I was,” Nicole admitted to Vanity Fair . “I went to my parents and said, ‘It’s time for me to get help.’” With this, Lionel and ex-wife Brenda leapt into action. During a 2015 interview on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, Lionel revealed he told Nicole, “‘I am with you and I canceled [my] tour.’”
Lionel knew he and Brenda needed to pull together for Nicole. He told Morgan that, “I said, ‘Me and your mother’ – who didn’t get along that well – ‘Me and your mother are checking into rehab with you.’” The month-long treatment, which included family therapy sessions, changed Nicole, Lionel and Brenda’s perspectives.
Nicole confessed to Vanity Fair , “I had to sit in a room with my parents, and they were crying. I kind of put down my shield, and I wasn’t as defensive – and then I felt really bad. We all had to change the way we dealt with each other. My parents didn’t speak for ten years, until we went into rehab and they both had to figure out what to do about me.”
Following the revelatory experience in rehab, Nicole said that she and her parents were in a good place. She explained, “I have a really good relationship with both my parents. I know they both love me.” Lionel added, “Nicole managed to bring her mother and father together,” alluding to the fact that, in its own way, Nicole’s addiction had helped them all find each other again.