Reflections and fond memories of comedian Richard Pryor from friends, family and colleagues have emerged in the wake of his death of a heart attack at a San Fernando Valley, CA hospital.
“Everybody here knows that it’s a huge loss,” Jamie Foxx said Saturday at a star-studded pre-Grammy event in Los Angeles. “Who doesn’t have a Richard Pryor album? Who didn’t get in trouble when your parents came in and said, ‘Boy, what you listening to, this is Richard Pryor,’ then have us sit down and hear your mama gigglin’ to Richard Pryor? Hopefully we’ll get a chance to send him off in a spectacular way.”
BET President and CEO Debra L. Lee said Pryor “was the last of a great breed of black comedians who taught us how to laugh at ourselves. He was willing to push the envelope of language, content and race in his humor during an era when most shied away from those subjects. But Richard did so in a manner that still made us laugh while at the same time teaching us something about humanity, and even his own personal downfalls. There is no legitimate comedian in the profession today – black or white – who has not been touched or in some way inspired by Richard Pryor. Richard’s style was all his own, and it will never be duplicated.”
Pryor was pronounced dead of a cardiac arrest at 7:58 a.m. Saturday at a hospital near his San Fernando Valley home. He is survived by his wife Jennifer Lee Pryor and his six children, Richard Pryor, Jr., Elizabeth Stordeur, Rain Kindlin, Kelsey Pryor, Steven Pryor, Franklin Mason and his three grandchildren.
For 19 years, Pryor suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that left the groundbreaking talent in a wheelchair for the past several years.
”To be diagnosed was the hardest thing because I didn’t know what they were talking about,” he once said. “And the doctor said `Don’t worry, in three months you’ll know.’ So I went about my business and then, one day, it jumped me. I couldn’t get up. … Your muscles trick you; they did me.”
Joyce Nelson, President and CEO of The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said in a statement released Saturday: “We want to express our sincere condolences to the Pryor family. We are all saddened by this loss as Mr. Pryor will be remembered as a ground-breaking comedian and world-class talent. Mr. Pryor struggled with the devastating effects of multiple sclerosis for many years and he will be remembered for his courage and dignity. The Society was honored to work directly with Richard Pryor and is pleased to currently have his daughter Rain as an ambassador for the MS cause.”
Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III was born on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois to an unwed mother and a bartender/boxer father. The youngster was raised in his grandmother’s brothel, where his mom worked as a prostitute.
Pryor started his career in the late 60s as a comic known largely for filling his standup routines with a lot of expletives, n-words and perceptive observations about life as a black man in America.
As a virtually unknown comic in 1973, he was featured in the documentary film “Wattstax” giving his humorous takes on racial topics in between performance footage of the historic Watts concert. His humor often pointed out the realities of racial inequality.
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, filmed versions of his concert performances and a series of comedies made Pryor one of the highest paid entertainers in Hollywood. His fame afforded him enough power to cut his own film deals – a rarity among black performers of the time.
In the early ’80s, he signed a $40 million, five-year contract with Columbia Pictures, but along with the rising fame came an increased dependence on drugs and alcohol. In 1980, he nearly lost his life when he suffered severe burns over 50 percent of his body while freebasing cocaine at his home. An admitted “junkie” at the time, Pryor spent six weeks recovering from the burns and later admitted that the incident – described in a press release as an accident – was indeed a suicide attempt.
In 1982, Pryor’s “Live on Sunset Strip” addressed the incident in a poignant bit that pitted his weak-willed self against his more domineering persona as a glass pipe. It’s the pipe who comforts Pryor through the death of friends, loved ones and an intervention by football legend Jim Brown.
“Sunset Strip” also includes Pryor’s account of his “roots” trip to Africa, where the comedian found he had not once uttered the word “nigger” during his visit, “because there are no niggers there,” he explained. Pryor, whose albums included “That Nigger’s Crazy” and “Bicentennial Nigger,” vowed never again to use the n-word, which drew a standing ovation from an audience that included Rev. Jesse Jackson.
During the late 80s, Pryor’s once firey film work gave way to a string of lukewarm endeavors, including “Harlem Nights,” “Brewster’s Millions” and “Hear No Evil, See No Evil.”
Five years after he was diagnosed with MS, Pryor’s failing health was clearly evident in his 1991 box office bomb, “Another You.” He followed up the performance with several standup gigs in clubs and on television while appearing thin and frail and with noticeable speech impairment.
In 1995, he earned an Emmy nomination for his role as an embittered multiple sclerosis patient in an episode of the television series “Chicago Hope.”
Pryor was married six times. His daughter Rain, who became an actress, told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year that her father always “put his life right out there for you to look at. I took that approach because I saw how well audiences respond to it. I try to make you laugh at life.”
Reprinted with permission www.eurweb.com