Richard Pryor was an iconic comedian whose animated, rapid-fire delivery and powerful touch with taboo subject matter created a body of influence that extended far beyond comedy. He passed away on Saturday, December 10, 2005, nine days after his 65th birthday. He passed away at a hospital near his home in the San Fernando Valley, at approximately 8 a.m. at a hospital near his home in California’s San Fernando Valley, according to The Associated Press. He had long suffered from multiple sclerosis after being diagnosed in the 1990s.
He influenced a host of comedians from Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence to Chris Rock and everyone in between. Anyone who was a regular viewer of Russell Simmon’s Def Comedy Jam could hear his influence in almost every episode from the upcoming comedians, trying to make a name for themselves.
Richard Pryor influenced generations of hip-hop artist as well. He has been sampled at least 47 times by several hip-hop artists such as Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, King Tee, Schoolly D, De La Soul, 2 Live Crew, Jeru The Damaja, Chuck Chillout, 2Pac, NWA, Easy E, Nice & Smooth, Ol Dirty Bastard, LL Cool J, The Brand New Heavies featuring The Pharcyde, Def Jef, Kam, Public Enemy, Gangsatrr, EPMD, The Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass, Cypress Hill, Marley Marl & MC Shan, Ice Cube, KRS ONE and Little Brother just to name a few.
I originally wrote this piece on Richard Pryor for a section called Living Legends in Atlanta based Holla Magazine a year before he died. I came across it earlier today and I thought I would share it will all of you today in honor of one of the funniest cats in the biz.
“Man this guy was really funny and to not steal some of his work, means that you are not a true comedian,” said Damon Wayans, Oct. 20, 1998 at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, where comedians from all generations gathered at the to salute one of the finest comedians ever to make us laugh, as he received the first annual Mark Twain Prize for American humor.
What Richard Pryor did was an art; he created another dimension of comedy. While he was known cursed his ass off, he was genuinely funny and could make you laugh with just his mere presence. Many of the Def Comedy Jam era comedians of today just curse for the sake of cursing they will never posses a tenth of his talent. The same way many of today’s rappers curse and attempt to do gangsta music like NWA but lack their talent and over skills. NWA had great lyrics; great production and the overall concept of their albums were incredible.
It would take a few books to totally capture the essence of this man, but I will attempt to do him justice. He was born December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois and grew up in a brothel and a pool hall his grandparents ran. He dropped out of high school, joined the Army and performed in amateur shows until returning home after being discharged.
After finding out his controversial style didn’t work well in Vegas, he appeared in close to 40 films among them The Busy Body with Sid Caesar and Wild in the Streets. He also released his first album, Richard Pryor, and did his thing as Billie Holliday’s drug addicted piano player in Lady Sings the Blues. Other films included Uptown Saturday Night, Bingo Long and the Traveling All Stars, Brewster’s Millions, Bustin’ Loose, Car Wash, the autobiographical Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, and Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, with Gene Wilder.
Richard Pryor is best known and loved for his live comedy, I can still remember playing my dad’s albums after school before he got home. He was famous for his characters such as the wino Mudbone and kept us in stitches touching upon everything from black life on the streets, the drug culture to sex with an endless array of facial expressions.
If you’ve only heard about Mr. Pryor and never had the pleasure to experience him first hand it’s a must you check Richard Pryor Live in Concert and Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, not to mention his best-selling, Grammy Award-winning That Nigger’s Crazy and Is It Something I Said, albums. When he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Louis Gossett, Jr. said, “He made it possible for us to be in this business on equal terms.” Quincy Jones once called him “a pioneer…who made us understand the truth about us.”
In 1977, the comedian launched his own television show The Richard Pryor Show on NBC in 1977. He also wrote for the hit series Sanford & Son, hosted a controversial episode of Saturday Night Live and later hosted his own children’s show, Pryor’s Place. In 1979, Pryor took a trip to Africa and vowed never to use the N-word in his standup comedy routine again. Before that he used the word so much, you almost thought he invented it.
He made his directing debut with the 1982 film Here and Now. His life away from the spotlight made as much news as he did on stage. He has five ex-wives, four children, including actress Rain Pryor, has suffered two heart attacks and underwent quadruple bypass surgery, suffered from mostly third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body, while getting high and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Despite all that he returned to live performing in 1992 making jokes about himself and his afflictions, decisively demonstrating that he is a survivor and living proof that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine. Thanks for the laughs, Richard Pryor, this goes out to you!