Little Richard’s Ex-Wife, Ernestine Campbell, And Controversial View On Being Gay In Spotlight After His Death

Kris ConnorGetty Images

Little Richard’s former wife, Ernestine Campbell, is in the spotlight after the singer’s death this weekend. So too are his complicated and controversial views on sexuality and his own identification as an openly gay man.

The Inquisitr reported earlier that the music legend, whose real name was Richard Wayne Penniman, has died at the age of 87. His cause of death has not yet been reported, but many aspects of his life have already been thrust back into the spotlight, including his complicated relationships.


Ernestine Campbell And Little Richard Were Married For Four Years

Little Richard performs at a concert.
Huty24457 006Featured image credit: Angela Deane-Drummond/Evening Standard/Hulton ArchiveGetty Images

The “Tutti Frutti” singer married Ernestine Campbell in 1959, but their marriage lasted just four years. As the Metro reported, Campbell said that the singer’s sexuality was one of the main reasons behind the split.

While the marriage may have been short, it had a lasting impact on both the singer and rock and roll history. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the home where the pair lived in the city’s Lafayette Square neighborhood sold last year for $1.9 million, in part due to the many parties that the couple hosted there that attracted stars like James Brown, Jackie Williams, and Etta James and the Coasters.

The couple had held their wedding ceremony at the home in 1959.


Little Richard Was Openly Gay, Expressed Complicated Feelings On Homosexuality

Little Richard performs at a concert.
Featured image credit: Kevin WinterGetty Images

The singer was open during his career about his sexual orientation, and the complicated feelings he had toward it. As Billboard reported, Penniman long acknowledged that he was a gay man, though said this was often difficult as his career shifted from being a gospel singer in Georgia to an architect of rock and roll in the south.

Little Richard recalled that he was kicked out of the house at 15 by his father, a deacon, and began performing around Atlanta and traveling across the south to venues that would allow black musicians during the segregated era. Even in his early success, Little Richard was willing to court controversy due to his views on sexuality — as Billboard noted, the original lyrics for the song “Tutti Frutti” contained a graphic depiction of an encounter with another gay man.

But the singer, who remained strong in his faith during his life, also expressed conflicted feelings about homosexuality. He said in an interview with the Christian-oriented Three Angels Broadcasting Network that he believed homosexuality was “unnatural,” but also believed that his faith would save him.

“Anybody that comes in show business, they gon’ say you gay or straight,” he said. “God made men, men and women, women… You’ve got to live the way God wants you to live… He can save you.”

As the Billboard report noted, the singer expressed similar feelings in a 1995 interview with Penthouse, saying he did not believe he would be judged for his homosexuality.

“I’ve been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate,” he said.

Though Little Richard openly identified as a gay man, he said in other interview that he was an “omnisexual” and loved both men and women.

“Whatever I feel like, I go for,” he said, via Billboard.