In this week's issue of PEOPLE, the American Idol judge and music legend, 69, opened up to PEOPLE about the lessons he's learned in life, love and fatherhood

By Janine Rubenstein
April 17, 2019 08:00 AM

Lionel Richie knows a thing or two about how hard it is to raise kids in the spotlight.

In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the music legend opens up about the lessons he’s learned in life and love throughout his almost 50-year career in entertainment — and what it’s really like being dad to his famous kids: Nicole Richie, 37, Sofia Richie, 20, and Miles Richie, 24.

Thankfully, all three are already grownups because as Richie gears up for his 70th birthday in June, the star has his own nonstop schedule to tend to.

In the midst of his second season judging American Idol on ABC, Richie just announced his upcoming new album Live From Las Vegas and Hello Tour and is busy promoting his new Endless Love home decor line. He’s also working closely with Prince Charles as Global Ambassador to the Prince’s Trust International charity.

From left: Nicole Richie, Lionel Richie, Sofia Richie and Miles Richie

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Still, he always makes time for his kids. “I’m a tough dad, but what I realize in life is that you have to approach it with a tad bit of humor,” says Richie of his parenting style.

The “All Night Long” singer has loads to be proud of. Nicole, whom he adopted as a toddler with first wife Brenda Harvey Richie, has a successful TV, fashion and lifestyle career and has built a family of her own, making him a grandfather. And both Sofia and Miles, with ex-wife Diane Alexander, are making big waves with their modeling careers and fashion partnerships.

Lionel Richie with Nicole Richie

But when it comes to the tough conversations with Nicole, Sofia and Miles, Richie takes it all in stride.

  • For more from Lionel Richie, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Asked what he’s learned about fatherhood, the star says “With my kids, I know their job is to completely scare me to death. And they’re doing a great job, by the way,” he says with a laugh. “I told this to Nicole the other day, my job is to embarrass them as much as I could, as long as I’m here. They’re trying to do the same to me, so I think it’s an equal swap right now.”

What helps is thinking back to what he was like as a kid.

“I remember the look on my parents’ faces when I tried explaining to them that we’re The Commodores, and we’re the Black Beatles, and we’re gonna take over the world,” he says of the singing group he joined while attending Tuskegee University.

Lionel Richie
Sami Drain

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“It’s the same look I have on my face when Nicole, Miles and Sophia come to me with their ideas,” he adds. “I kind of use that as my centering point before I completely go off.”

But more often than not, he remains calm: “I’m gonna have to kind of sit still at this point and kind of let it happen to me as it happened to my parents.”