If you were to lookup Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor in the dictionary; it will say GENIUS! Known to most of us as “Richard” a comedic genius, the most profound and prolific American stand-up comedian, actor, social critic, writer, and MC. Pryor was, if anyone ever was, ahead of his time and the greatest comedian to ever live. His genius derived from an uncompromising examination of racism and topical contemporary issues, which employed colorful vulgarities, and profanity, as well as racial epithets.
The great comedian Bill Cosby reportedly once said, “Richard Pryor drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it.” His body of work includes a list far too numerous to mention in this writing that included concert, movies, and recordings. He collaborated on many projects with actor Gene Wilder and frequently collaborated with actor/comedian/writer Paul Mooney.
Mr. Pryor won an Emmy Award in (1973) and five Grammy Awards (1974, 1975, 1976, 1981, and 1982). In 1974, he also won two American Academy of Humor awards and the Writers Guild of America Award. The first ever Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was presented to him in 1998. Pryor is listed at Number 1 on Comedy Central’s list of all-time greatest stand-up comedians.
Mr. Pryor had what he called in his autobiography Pryor Convictions an “epiphany” when he walked onto the stage at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas when he looked at the sold-out crowd, exclaimed over the microphone “What the f@#k am I doing here!?”, and walked off the stage. Afterward, Pryor began working profanity into his act, including the use of the “N-word”.
In the 1970s, Pryor wrote for such television shows as Sanford and Son, The Flip Wilson Show, and the Lily Tomlin special, for which he shared an Emmy Award. During this period, Pryor tried to break into mainstream television. He was a guest host on the first season of Saturday Night Live. He had his own show – The Richard Pryor Show which premiered on NBC in 1977, but was canceled after only four episodes. Television audiences did not respond to the show’s controversial subject matter, and Pryor was unwilling to alter his material for network censors.
In 1979, at the height of his success, Pryor visited Africa. Upon returning to the United States, Pryor swore he would never use the word “nigger” in his stand-up comedy routine again. However, his favorite epithet, “mother@#ker”, remains a term of endearment on his official website.
Despite a reputation for constantly using profanity on and off camera, Pryor briefly hosted a children’s show in 1984 called Pryor’s Place. Like Sesame Street, Pryor’s Place featured a cast of puppets, hanging out and having fun in a surprisingly friendly inner-city environment along with several children and characters portrayed by Pryor himself. However, Pryor’s Place frequently dealt with more sobering issues than Sesame Street. Pryor co-hosted the Academy Awards twice, and was nominated for an Emmy for a guest role on the television series, Chicago Hope.
In 1989, he appeared in Harlem Nights, a comedy-drama crime film starring Eddie Murphy. It was a financial success, grossing three times the amount it cost to make it (worldwide) and is well known for starring three generations of black comedians – Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Redd Foxx. In 1990, Pryor suffered a second and more severe heart attack and underwent triple heart bypass surgery.
By the early 1990s, he was confined to using a wheelchair as well as a motor powered scooter for the remainder of his life to get around when his multiple sclerosis began to take its toll on his body. On December 10, 2005, nine days after his birthday, Richard Pryor left us for the great beyond and on that day his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was covered with flowers, beer bottles, fan letters etc. Just the way Rich would have wanted it.
I will tell you that on that day in December the world lost a treasure and I lost a hero – a man that only comes this way once in a lifetime. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…