Looking back at Little Richard's ad legacy
Little Richard may have been the architect of Rock 'n’ Roll, but his second act was advertising.
On Saturday, the rock legend died at 87 years old. He blazed the path as one of the original rock stars banging out hits in the 1950s like "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally." His flamboyant persona and furious piano playing kept him relevant all the way into the 2000s.
Part of his legacy beyond music was his undeniable charisma as a corporate promoter. Little Richard starred in commercials for some of the biggest brands, including Geico, Taco Bell, Sprint, Nike, McDonald's, Lipton and Revlon.
His look and sound were instantly recognizable to masses of consumers, making him a bankable star in almost any decade.
On Saturday, director Spike Lee reflected on the Nike commercial he made with Little Richard and Michael Jordan in 1991. Little Richard played "the genie of the lamp," granting wishes to Lee's famous character Mars Blackmon. The commercials are newly relevant, too, because of the popularity of ESPN's "The Last Dance" Jordan documentary, airing this month.
In 2006, Little Richard starred in a Geico commercial created by The Martin Agency, out of Richmond, Va. The commercial is in tune with the insurance company's comedic sensibilities. Little Richard plays the translator to a Geico customer, who tells the story of a Thanksgiving accident. Little Richard imbues the story with his over-the-top musicality.
"I honestly think it’s probably one of our most famous, if not most famous, testimonials," Steve Bassett, Martin senior VP and group creative director, said Saturday in a statement. "We shot it in a kitchen in L.A., with one camera that necessitated we get it all right in one clean take. You have to remember we were pairing him up with a real person who had never been on camera or in a commercial before. I believe we did about 55 takes before calling it a wrap. Little Richard never missed a line or a beat, and he kept the atmosphere positive."
"Little Richard and I were like best buds," added Adam Stockton, Martin creative director. "He was such a gentleman and was up for anything."
Chuck Woolery, the gameshow host, tweeted about his time co-starring with Little Richard in a Lipton commercial. Woolery recalled how Little Richard played his son in an absurdist farce about a family preparing dinner, also starring 80s celebrities Sally Jesse Raphael and Pat Morita.
In 1992, Richard carried Cindy Crawford in a cringey commercial for Revlon's Charlie perfume. The song in the ad is reminiscent of "Good Golly Miss Molly," but with Crawford's tone-deaf accompaniment it is a disaster. Still, Little Richard shines.
Here is a look back at Little Richard and his most memorable commercials: