December 23, 2005 by

Richard Pryor

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood, Military, Writers/Editors

rpryor.jpgControversial. Authentic. Foul-mouthed. Manic. Pioneering. Genius. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe actor/comedian Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III. But fans and colleagues always add one other adjective to the list: Funny.
“He doesn’t fall into the [categories] of comedians we have, like prop comic, black comic, Jewish comic, white comic… he doesn’t even get comic. He’s just funny!” comedian and TV personality Jon Stewart said.
Born in Peoria, Ill., Pryor’s childhood was far from innocent. Raised in his grandmother’s brothel, he was sexually molested by a neighborhood teen and by a Catholic priest, and once saw his mother perform sexual acts on the town’s mayor. To escape from these horrors, Pryor watched movies from the colored section of the local theatre and played the drums at an area nightclub.
Pryor was kicked out of school at 14, and worked a variety of odd jobs (janitor, shoe shine man, meatpacker and truck driver). He served two years in the U.S. Army then began working the club circuit as a standup comedian. By the mid-1960s, he was performing in Las Vegas and making appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. But Pryor wasn’t happy with the media’s constant comparisons to Bill Cosby, so he took a two-year hiatus and returned to the comedy circuit with an act that featured unique characters and cutting edge social commentary.
Pryor next turned his attentions to Hollywood. During the 1970s and 1980s, he acted in dozens of films — such as “Lady Sings the Blues,” “The Wiz,” “Stir Crazy,” “The Toy,” “Superman III,” “Brewster’s Millions” and “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” — and became one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.
In 1986, he co-wrote, co-produced, directed and starred in the film “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling,” an autobiographical account of a popular comedian re-examining his life from a hospital bed. The film was an appropriate project for Pryor, who battled drug and alcohol addictions for years and nearly lost his life in 1980 when he caught on fire while freebasing cocaine. The incident, later described to Barbara Walters as a suicide attempt, caused him to suffer third degree burns over 50 percent of his body.
On television, Pryor headlined “The Richard Pryor Show” on NBC, a program that was canceled after only five broadcasts because the censors were so offended by his material. He hosted “Saturday Night Live” and the 1977 Academy Awards show, and won an Emmy Award and a Writers Guild Award for writing “The Lily Tomlin Special.” Pryor’s first screenwriting attempt, “Blazing Saddles,” which he co-wrote with Mel Brooks, brought him another Writers Guild of America Award. He released four comedy concert films, sold millions of comedy albums and co-wrote his 1995 autobiography “Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences.”
Pryor suffered two heart attacks, and in 1986 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Nine years later, he received an Emmy nomination for guest starring as an MS patient on the CBS drama “Chicago Hope.” Pryor was honored by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1998 with the first Mark Twain Prize for humor. In 2004, he was selected as #1 on Comedy Central’s list of 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6438 Hollywood Blvd. Sheridan Road in his hometown of Peoria was renamed Richard Pryor Place in his honor.
Pryor married seven times to five different women and fathered seven children. A lifelong advocate of animal rights, he adopted stray animals, participated in letter-writing campaigns and was honored by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for saving baby elephants in Botswana.
Pryor died on Dec. 10 of a heart attack. He was 65.
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4 Responses to Richard Pryor

  1. Sam Oliver

    Where The Soul Never Dies
    Nature, a reflection of our soul,
    reveals the seasons of our lives.
    Like people, earth’s seasons teach us
    patience, awareness, and encourage us to grow.
    From the sparkle of sunlight in the doe’s eye
    to the sparrow elevated by the air below its wings,
    the spirit of God is the source of life that fuels our spirit
    and raises us above pain and sorrow.
    Only the soul can travel to this place above the clouds
    where we are lifted by the breath of God.
    Here, the lessons learned in nature
    disclose to us that dying is a transition into life
    and nothing completely disappears.
    Rather, we are transformed into another realm of existence
    to experience the essence of living
    where the soul never dies.
    – Sam Oliver

  2. Geoff Brandner

    Pryor was a genius and a great comedian. He was the precursor to todays black comics like Chris Rock, Eddy Murphy and Dean Martin. I will really miss him and his riotous humor. His movies were also funny and I wish him well wherever he may be.

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