Lionel Richie Reflects on Adopting Daughter Nicole with First Wife Brenda Harvey: ‘She Was a Godsend’

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If music legend Lionel Richie has gleaned anything from fatherhood, it’s that “My kids turned me into my parents,” he says with a laugh.

The star, 72, who sat down for a wide-ranging interview for this week’s People cover story and issue in recognition of Black History Month, is dad to three stars in their own right: actress and fashion mogul Nicole Richie, 40, his musician son Miles, 27, and model daughter Sofia, 23.

Reflecting on his evolution as a parent he says, “I don’t know why I’m so shocked with what my kids are doing. I scared my folks to death!”

For more on PEOPLE’s cover story with Lionel Richie, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

When it comes to his eldest, whom Richie famously adopted at age 9 with his first wife Brenda Harvey prior to their divorce in 1993, the star credits her with changing his life.

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Lionel Richie cover

Lionel RIchie instagram Miles, Sofia, Lionel and Nicole Richie

RELATED: Lionel Richie on Becoming a Legend Despite Critics Who Questioned His ‘Blackness’

“Nicole was actually a godsend. She was a little girl who needed a shot,” he says of his daughter, whose biological parents were friends of Richie’s who were struggling financially. “She was used to people coming and going. She looked at me and I’d say, ‘I’m not going anywhere.'”

Richie and Harvey would eventually split, following reports that she’d caught him with dancer and fashion designer Diane Alexander. (Three years after his split from Harvey, Richie and Alexander wed in 1996 and later welcomed Miles and Sofia before divorcing in 2004.)

Through it all, the star says Nicole helped ground him. “Brenda and I went through a very interesting time,” says Richie, who has long shut down rumors that Nicole is actually his biological daughter. In regards to Harvey, “We didn’t agree on a lot of things, but we did agree on [Nicole].”

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Lionel Richie cover

Erik Carter Lionel Richie on the cover of PEOPLE

Married to rocker Joel Madden, Nicole has now made Richie a grandpa twice over with daughter Harlow, 14, and son Sparrow, 12. But Richie can recall the days when she’d push the limits.

“My dad and mom used to always say, ‘One day you’ll get yours,’ and I couldn’t figure out what that meant until I had kids,” he says. “Nicole came to me one day and she said, ‘Dad, why do you think I’m lying?’ I said, ‘Nicole, it’s the same lie I told my mom and dad.'”

Now that she’s a mom, it’s all come full circle. “I’ll say something and she goes, ‘Dad, we don’t use those kind of words around the kids.’ And I go, ‘Excuse me?'” he says with a laugh. “She turned into a fantastic young lady.”

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 everywhere Friday.

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