He was born Jiles Perry Richardson in 1930 in Sabine Pass, Texas and grew up not far from the Louisiana border. During his childhood, Jiles became known as J.P. or Jape to his friends. He graduated from Beaumont High School in 1949 and married Adrian Joy Fryon on April 18, 1952. They would have a daughter, Deborah. While he was in college, J.P. found a job at a radio station in Beaumont, Texas before entering the military. On his discharge in 1955 he set his sights on being the number one disc jockey in East Texas and by 1957, had landed a job at radio station KTRM in Beaumont. It was here that he coined the name "The Big Bopper", in reference to his 240 pound frame. In May of 1957 he broadcast for six days straight, over 122 hours, spinning 1,821 records and established a world record for continuous broadcasting.
With the Rock 'n' Roll craze beginning to sweep the nation, J.P. became interested in recording and songwriting and by the late 1950s, he had recorded some of his material, including "Begar to a King" , "Crazy Blues" and "The Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor", but none of them caught on. All of that would change after he recorded a song called "Chantilly Lace", a basic production with rhythm section, rocking saxophone and Richardson half singing and talking the vocals in his deep, radio-trained voice. Bells were used to simulate the ringing of a telephone. The song became a local hit and was picked up by Mercury Records in the Summer of 1958. By the Fall, it had climbed to the national Top Ten. Richardson followed the record with another novelty song called "Big Bopper’s Wedding", but it was only a moderate hit by January, 1959.
Richardson had signed on to many tours to promote his record, including the Winter Dance Party, along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. The tour was scheduled to play in remote locations throughout mid-west United States, and the area was suffering through a harsh Winter. Their bus developed heating system trouble and when the tour rolled into Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly chartered a plane to fly his band to the next gig. J.P. approached Buddy's bass player, Waylon Jennings, and asked for his seat on the plane so that he could get some rest and to a doctors appointment. Waylon agreed and gave his seat to Richardson, a move that would save Jennings' life. The plane took off from Mason City Airport around 1 AM on the morning of February 3rd, 1959, and crashed eight miles after takeoff, killing The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the pilot, Roger Peterson.
At the time of his death, J.P. Richardson was 28 years old. His wife, Adrian, was pregnant with their second child, who would be born 84 days after his father was killed. J.P.'s body was flown back to Beaumont by private plane. After his funeral, the streets were lined with fans watching the long procession of cars moving to the cemetery. Jiles Perry Richardson was interred in the Beaumont Cemetery on February 5th, 1959. Mercury Records continued to release material by The Big Bopper throughout 1959, including "Walking Through My Dreams" "Someone Watching Over You", "It's The Truth Ruth", "Pink Petticoats" and "The Clock", but none of them were hits.
Before his death, the Big Bopper had seen a young singer named Johnny Preston perform at the Twilight Club in Port Neches, Texas. He formed a friendship with Preston and the latter recorded a song that Richardson had written for him titled "Running Bear". Richardson and Country singer George Jones provided backup vocals on the song, which entered the chart ten months after the Big Bopper's death, making it to the number one chart position in early 1960. George Jones would also have a hit with one of Richardson's songs, "White Lightning".
In January, 2007, JP's son Jay requested that his father's body be exhumed and an autopsy be performed to settle the rumors that a gun was fired or that Richardson may have initially survived the crash. The autopsy was performed by Dr. Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. Bass found that there were no signs of foul play. JP Richardson had suffered a broken neck, a crushed skull and smashed rib cage, all of which would have killed him instantly. The doctor would conclude: He didn't crawl away. He didn't walk away from the plane".