My Life in Pictures Lionel Richie

UPDATED 06/01/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/01/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

1985 "I thought my life was pretty darn good, retiring as a Commodore," says Richie, 59. Then his solo career led to five No. 1 smashes plus an Oscar for "Say You, Say Me." For his new CD Just Go, songwriters Akon and The-Dream were happy to help their hero. Says Richie: "They know more about my career than I remember."

1967 "This was before I even had a concept that the hair could grow longer than that," Richie says of his high school years in Joliet, Ill., where his family moved from Tuskegee, Ala. A member of his high school tennis team, he also played the piano and saxophone, but he admits, "I was so far away from rock and roll. I was going to be somebody's lawyer."

1979 As a Tuskegee Institute frosh, the econ major joined a campus band that became the Commodores and opened for the Jackson 5. "Our original look was jeans and a shirt," says Richie. But to compete with increasingly funky fans, "we had to come with as much flash as we could."

1985
Michael Jackson and Richie wrote, recorded and shot the all-star video for "We Are the World" in about 10 days. Jokes Richie (with Jackson in the L.A. studio where the Grammy winner was created): "Three of those days were Michael and I chasing Bubbles [Jackson's chimp] down the hallway."

1985
The singer and his first wife, Brenda (at an awards dinner in New York City), became parents when they took in 3-year-old Nicole, whose mom was struggling. "That smile right there," he says, "is the part that sold everything."

1996
Richie says playing a club owner in The Preacher's Wife opposite Whitney Houston and pal Denzel Washington "was kind of intimidating. I was a deer in the headlights."

2008
Richie says Nicole's rebel years make her a great sister to Sofia, 10 (in L.A.), and Miles, 15 (not pictured), whose mom is Richie's ex-wife Diane: "Nothing like the finally-calmed-down sister saying, 'Dad, I'll handle it.'"

2008
"Nicole now says, 'Dad, I don't want you to spoil her,'" Richie (at home in Beverly Hills) says of 16-month-old Harlow. "But Granddaddy and Grandma will try to do as much as we can to bring back the old tradition of spoiled."

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