Entertainment Music Lionel Richie on Coming 'Close' to a 'Nervous Breakdown' After Nearly Losing His Voice The hit singer recalls how undergoing multiple throat surgeries nearly pushed him to the brink By Janine Rubenstein Janine Rubenstein Instagram Twitter Janine Rubenstein is Editor-at-Large at PEOPLE and host of PEOPLE Every Day podcast, a daily dose of breaking news, pop culture and heartwarming human interest stories. Formerly Senior Editor of music content, she's also covered crime, human interest and television news throughout her many years with the brand. Prior to PEOPLE she's written for Essence, The Cape Times newspaper and Los Angeles Magazine among others. On-screen Rubenstein can be found featured on shows like Good Morning America and Entertainment Tonight and she routinely hosts PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly's star-studded Red Carpet Live specials. Follow the San Francisco native, Black Barbie collector and proud mom of two on Instagram and Twitter @janinerube People Editorial Guidelines Published on February 14, 2022 09:45 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Lionel Richie's usually the happiest guy in the room. And while he's a legendary showman, it's no act. "I'll pass on exactly what my father said to me: Aptitude plus attitude determines altitude,'" he tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story and issue honoring Black History Month. "If you happen to have both, sky's the limit, but if you're only blessed with one, have the right attitude because people will love to have you around." Lionel Richie. Erik Carter That said, the 72-year-old American Idol judge, says he's seen his share of dark days. While battling a mysterious illness affecting his throat during the height of his solo career, Richie recalls feeling overwhelmed. "About as close as you ever would've come to a nervous breakdown," says the star, of that trying time. In the early '90s, Richie underwent four separate surgeries to address an unknown condition impacting his throat. "You don't want anybody fooling around down there. This is your identity," he says of nervousness surrounding the procedures, adding, "I never really thought that it would end." Lionel Richie on the cover of PEOPLE. Erik Carter Lionel Richie Reflects on Adopting Daughter Nicole with First Wife Brenda Harvey: 'She Was a Godsend' In the end, Richie — who was also in the midst of a difficult divorce from his first wife Brenda Harvey and caring for his ailing father — was diagnosed with diet-induced acid reflux that was affecting the area. He went on to recover and hasn't suffered since, but Richie still recalls a chance encounter with a fan during that difficult time that helped get him through. One day while on the beach in Jamaica he says an elderly Black man pulled him aside. "He said, 'You must survive because you are our beacon of hope,'" the star says. "'If you make it, we know we can make it. If you accomplish, we know we can accomplish.' I was crying." Lionel Richie on Becoming a Legend Despite Critics Who Questioned His 'Blackness' Lionel Richie. Erik Carter For more on Lionel Richie's revealing cover story and PEOPLE's celebration of Black History Month, pick up this week's issue, on newsstands now.