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

Plus: Madonna gives birth and Eric Clapton opens Crossroads

little richard 1957
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Little Richard
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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.

October 14, 1996: Madonna gives birth to daughter Lourdes shortly before the release of Evita
At the height of her film career, Madonna found personal joy as well with the birth of her first child, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon.

In 1996, Madonna starred in Evita, the biographical musical about controversial First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peròn. The period drama was an elaborate undertaking, breaking film records for its lavish staging (including hundreds of costumes that were complicated by Madonna’s discovery of her pregnancy by trainer Carlos Leon). Evita would prove a boon to Madonna’s career: she released three singles from the soundtrack and helped win an Academy Award for one, "You Must Love Me," as well as landed a Golden Globe for Best Actress in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. She also recorded a separate music video for "You Must Love Me" while eight months pregnant.

In October, two months before the wide release of Evita, Madonna gave birth to her daughter, Lourdes.  She now has four children (daughters Lourdes and Mercy and sons Rocco and David) and has collaborated with Lourdes on a fashion line, Material Girl for Macy’s.

October 13, 1998: Eric Clapton opens the Crossroads rehab center
Named after his incendiary cover of a blues staple, Eric Clapton’s non-profit Crossroads Centre is now a recognizable name in the rehab world. The musician, who publicly waged his own battles with addiction, founded the center on the West Indies island of Antigua in 1998. He has also since established the companion Crossroads Guitar Festival to raise funds for the international facility; in 2010, the Crossroads Festival featured B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Sheryl Crow and more.

Crossroads operates on a 29-day residential program, including a tiered program of "steps" not unlike other alcohol recovery programs. As the musician states on the website:

"As a recovering addict and alcoholic, many people over the years spoke with me about the problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse on the island…We believe that the majority of individuals suffering from addiction have the capacity for recovery if given the proper foundation to begin their journey."

Crossroads comes at a formidable cost: the four-week program runs $24,500 and the six-week extended program is $31,500. No wonder troubled celebrities flock to it – including, reportedly, Britney Spears in 2007.

LAST WEEK: Jerry Lee Lewis Records 'Great Balls of Fire'

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