Week in Rock History: Little Richard Finds God and Nancy Spungen Dies

Plus: Madonna gives birth and Eric Clapton opens Crossroads

October 10, 2011 2:30 PM ET
little richard 1957
Little Richard
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This week in rock history, Little Richard renounced rock & roll, the Faces performed in concert for the last time, Sid Vicious’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen died, Madonna gave birth to her first child and Eric Clapton opened his rehab center.

October 12th, 1957: After a near-death experience, Little Richard renounces rock & roll and embraces God
The self-proclaimed "architect of rock & roll" thought less of his handiwork in 1957, when he almost died en route to a concert.

Little Richard, the ecstatic singer/pianist behind "Tutti Frutti," "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and other rock standbys, was in Australia in the midst of another debaucherous world tour (replete with the usual drugs and orgies) when he boarded a plane to Sydney. While in the air, one of the engines caught fire; in the panic, the singer saw angels holding up his plane (as he later explained to the press). He and his band landed safely in Sydney, though, and the shaken musician took the stage that evening to tell his audience that he was quitting rock & roll and turning to God.

After the show, to prove his intent to his dubious backing musicians, the flamboyant singer tossed his wildly expensive diamond jewelry into a river. When he returned to the United States, he entered a seminary in Alabama and studied to become a Seventh Day Adventist Preacher. Later, he released a gospel record, The King of the Gospel Singers, and returned to rock & roll touring in 1962, supported by a then-little-known act called the Beatles.

October 12, 1975: The Faces make their final live appearance
The Faces represented an unusual moment in British rock: they were a veritable supergroup, with members who came from and would go on to enormous pop success, but a limited phenomenon while they were together.

The group formed in 1969 from the ashes of the Small Faces, a respected mod band of the mid-1960s, after singer Steve Marriott left the group to start the rock band Humble Pie. The remaining members – bassist Ronnie Lane, keyboardist Ian McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones – recruited two prominent musicians from the bluesy Jeff Beck Group, singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood.

The band experienced modest success over the next six years, releasing four studio albums and embarking on U.K. and American tours. However, the band split in 1975 due to other enticements: Wood began touring simultaneously with the Rolling Stones, whom he later joined as a full-time member, and Stewart was enjoying far greater success as a solo artist with a string of hit albums, including Every Picture Tells a Story (1971) and Smiler (1974). The group’s final show was held at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York.

October 12, 1978: Sid Vicious’s girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, dies under mysterious circumstances
The Sex Pistols bassist and his equally self-destructive girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, now serve as shorthand for volatile young love. However, at the time of Spungen’s death, only a tragic mystery connected them.

Less than a year after the Sex Pistols broke up (leaving behind only their influential, assaultive punk album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols), the drug-addled Vicious and Spungen stayed at the Hotel Chelsea in New York. On the morning of October 12, Vicious is thought to have hysterically called the police, claiming that he had found Spungen on their bathroom floor, dead from a single stab wound. (The identity of the caller is still unknown.) Vicious was arrested and charged with murder, his story constantly changing: he alternately claimed that he’d stabbed her, that she’d fallen onto the knife, that they’d argued, and that he didn’t remember anything that had happened. Friends also stepped in to suggest a drug deal gone awry.

Ten days after Spungen’s death, Vicious attempted suicide and was sent to a mental hospital. He died, by suicide, on February 2, 1979; in his pocket was a note referring to a "death pact" between himself and Spungen.

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