The Richies: Father-Daughter Duet

ByABC News

Sept. 7, 2006 — -- Lionel Richie -- one in a handful of artists who owned the '80s pop charts -- may have made his mark in the music industry through his love songs, but his private life has been riddled with drama, divorce and despair.

Now Richie's new album, "Coming Home," approaches those darker issues. In the album, Richie mourns his mistakes and celebrates his renewed relationship with his family, including with his daughter Nicole.

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Departing from The Commodores to go solo in 1981 established Richie as an artist whose love songs composed the soundtrack of his fans' lives.

"The main praise I get are not from women," Richie said in an interview with "20/20."

"The main praise I get are from guys: 'Lionel, I've made love to you many times, boy.'"

Richie's love life became tabloid fodder in 1988, when reports alleged that his then-wife, Brenda, had uncovered his affair with Diane Alexander -- the woman who would eventually become his third wife.

He divorced Brenda to marry Alexander in 1996, but they ultimately divorced in 2003.

"I remember it didn't affect me quite as badly as the first," Richie said. "It was a dear friend of mine, Elizabeth Taylor, who gave me some great advice. I went to her one day, and I said, 'Elizabeth, you've been divorced seven, eight times. How do you do it?' She said, 'The first one is the hardest. After that, you have an idea what's coming.'"

But marital worries were to be the least of Richie's problems.

As the man who led the star-studded singalong "We Are the World," and who closed the 1984 Olympics with "All Night Long," he was suddenly faced with the threat of losing his most precious gift: his singing voice.

Singing was one of Richie's greatest comforts and coping mechanisms.

"I know this may sound strange," he said. "But, you know, if your father's dying, write a song. If your divorce is going bad, write a song. When your voice goes out."

The next four years, he endured four surgeries to regain his voice.

It wasn't until he saw a holistic doctor, who diagnosed him with acid reflux, that Richie was able to sing again.

"I was the happiest brother on the planet when I found out that's all it was," Richie said.

Richie was instructed to change his bedtime diet, a big change from the years on the road in which he had adhered to an "anything goes" meal plan to try to gain weight.

Remaining robust in the face of stress was a lifelong issue for Richie, going back to his childhood in Alabama where he was known as "Toothpick."

Richie's diet decisions gave him some much needed experience in dealing with ongoing media speculation about whether his adopted daughter, Nicole Richie, had an eating disorder.

Despite his daughter's extreme weight loss, Richie is positive that her waiflike appearance is the result of nerves, not an eating disorder.

"Believe me," he said. "I've checked it out three different ways to Sunday. So, you know, I went to her, and I said, 'OK, what is it? Is it really an eating disorder?' Because we went to a couple of doctors and the doctors said, 'Well, it's not an eating disorder. She's just. … Her nerves affect her in weight.'"

Despite doctors' assurances, Richie admits that his daughter's weight and success in the fashion world worry him.

"We are a business of 'perfect,'" he said. "I'm more afraid of that word than 'slim.'"

Recently, the world-renowned singer-songwriter and his Hollywood "It Girl" daughter have teamed up on the set of "I Call It Love," the new music video from Richie's album, "Coming Home."

The reunion is a sign of progress from their years of estrangement after Richie first learned of Nicole's heroin abuse.

When Richie first approached his daughter, he said, "I've got some good news and some bad news for you."

"Let me tell you the bad news first. Nicole's gonna die. Now let me tell you the good news. She doesn't have to. But the only person that can save Nicole is Nicole. If you really want to save Nicole, call me."

Three weeks later, Richie and Brenda got a call from Nicole, saying that she wanted help.

As soon as they heard their daughter's plea for help, both parents canceled their plans and went to her side.

Weeks in rehab revealed Nicole's private emotions on her parents' divorce, and the pain and tumult in the Richie household.

Her parents' antipathy and the drugs made Nicole take advantage of their distance from each other.

"They were dealing with their own thing," Nicole said. "But I was also looking for some sort of authority, and when I realized that I could … could make my own decisions, then I kind of felt like I was an adult from there and that I could do whatever I wanted."

Richie reacted to Nicole's rebellion with "tough love," cutting her off from the family to protect the two young children he had with his third wife.

"He just really did not want my brother and sister to be around that kind of behavior," Nicole said. "So I was kind of cut off in that department until I got my act together."

Rehab also exposed the feelings of abandonment Nicole had experienced when her father was on the road and focusing on his music career.

Often he would leave for tours right before important events in her life, such as piano recitals or other demonstrations of her own budding musical talents.

The realization that his career had harmed his daughter hurt Richie deeply.

"It broke my heart," he said.

But as his songs still prove, no one knows the way around a broken heart like he does.

This fall, Richie hopes to add one more hit record to his collection, and Nicole hopes to become a singer in her own right, as well as a daughter to a strong and supportive dad.

Nicole supports her father's album.

"It's really great, and we have a really open and honest relationship. … So I'm really happy that I'm on the end of it."