Lionel Richie grew up in racially segregated Alabama and once unwittingly drank from a whites only fountain. White men confronted his father, who grabbed Richie and ran off. Richie asked his father why he didn’t stay and fight. His dad answered, “I had a choice: to be a man or be a father.”
Never has the waxing and waning of a celebrity’s career been so closely tied to a hair style than with Lionel Richie. It’s almost as if he flew too close to the sun during the height of his popularity, melting the Jheri curl treatment into his own eyes before falling into obscurity. But abroad, Lionel Richie never went out of style. Even today the Arab world can’t get enough of him.
According to GQ magazine in an article entitled “Lionel of Arabia,” the only unifying element between Israeli and Lebanese governments, between Shiite and Sunni Muslims is that they all love the shit out of Lionel Richie. Just as Morrissey found fanatics among the Latino population of the Southwest, Lionel Richie has a massive following in the Middle East. Brides walk down the aisle to “Truly,” citizens of Bagdad cranked “All Night Long” while their city was being shelled in 2003, people who don’t know a single word of English can sing his entire catalogue perfectly. He is adored and worshiped everywhere he goes and no one, not even Lionel Richie himself, can say exactly why.
While this one remains a complete mystery, it’s oddly comforting to know that on the other side of the Earth right now there is a man setting up for Salah in the Syrian Desert with “Say You, Say Me” stuck in his head.