"I'm not addicted to cocaine. I just like the way it smells." -- Richard Pryor 12/1/1940 - 12/10/2005
Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III was born December 1st, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois. Raised in poverty, Richard was one of four siblings who were raised in a brothel ran by his Grandmother. Richard's childhood had many traumatic experiences, as you can imagine, being raised in a brothel where his mother worked, and his Grandma was Madam. Richard was raped at six years old, and even molested as a boy by a Catholic Priest, not to mention constantly exposed to the environment of the brothel where he saw his mother work as a prostitute. To escape from these traumatic experiences as a boy Richard would spend a lot of time watching movies at the local theater. Seated in the "Black Seats", Pryor consumed the cinema, it was what inspired him to become an entertainer. As a child he knew he wanted to be a star. Richard Pryor became determined at a young age to become an entertainer.
Pryor began entertaining at the age of 12. Acting in plays at a local Peoria Public Recreational Facility where a supervisor, Juliette Whitaker, noticed his comic talent and cast him in a production of Rumpelstiltskin. Impressed with Pryor's comic ability she began to showcase him and even remained a mentor throughout his career.
Expelled from school at 14, he began work as a janitor at a strip club. Richard had many different jobs as a young man. He'd done everything from shoe shining, packing meat, driving a truck and more. He even worked for awhile as a drummer. Coming up in the black experience of 1950's America, Pryor was instilled with an insightful perspective on life that would later show in his unique mind and style of comedy.
Starting out in what was the performing scene of the time Richard worked in many small variety shows as an MC. A memorable story of his, from this time, is when he was working at a small show on the road early in his career. He had learned the owners weren't planning to pay the entertainers so Richard, determined the entertainers were going to get paid, stormed the office with a pistol to demand payment. When he stormed in the office was full of Mobsters. Big lethal looking guys with shotguns in their lap and Richard standing there shaking with a small pistol. Scared but determined, he stood his ground and demanded their money. Luckily for Pryor the Mobsters we're so entertained with him he even joked of how they took him in for a while as like their own private comedian.
Richard Pryor honed his skills, and found his voice becoming a master storyteller and performer working on the road. Quickly he found success with his unique voice and began performing in films. Soon after he produced his first comedy album, the self titled 'Richard Pryor'. Pryor found success in comedy and films appearing in nearly 50 movies and releasing four successful comedy albums. He started his own production company, Indigo, in 1980. Richard also wrote and directed a few films such as his autobiographical film, "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling", co-wrote Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks, and was even paid an unprecedented amount at the the time of four million dollars to star in Superman 4 in 1984.
Richard Pryor's film library contains many classic films, many of my favorites featured Pryor paired with Gene Wilder. 'Hear No Evil, See No Evil' is a classic example of their brilliant chemistry together on film. Another stand out movie from his career for me was the movie 'The Toy', in which he plays a live toy a millionaire has rented for his spoiled son. That movie is a testament to the fact that comedy films can be hilarious, heartfelt and inspiring. He possessed a rare talent of exposing his soul in his performances. Whether playing one of his many characters on stage or a character he was bringing to life on film Pryor was always genuine and extremely funny. In touch with his gift to bring those characters to life and inspire your mind with his comedy keeping you laughing while expanding your mind, making you think, and touching your heart without you even realizing it.
Despite his success in films and comedy Richard Pryor's personal life was tumultuous. Married 8 times, twice to the same woman, Richard also suffered from drug addiction. At his lowest point he even set himself on fire by pouring alcohol on himself and igniting it. He survived this suicide attempt but it left him severely burned over most of his body. Being honest and open with his comedy he talked about the incident on stage in his comedy and also even reenacting the haunting scene in his movie, 'Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling'. Richard Pryor also suffered from Multiple Sclerosis which eventually forced him to stop performing in 2005.
Richard Pryor's comedic talent was undeniable. A master performer who brought to life his creative and colorful characters and what he had to say with them was meaningful and insightful as well as hilarious. As a comic I can tell you that you will rarely speak to a comedian that doesn't list Pryor as an influence and it's easy to see why. Richard Pryor was a master at the art of comedy and had a voice that was rare and relatable who had the ability to speak about life in a way that wasn't only entertaining and funny but deep and thought provoking as well.
Richard Pryor had many other passions aside from performing and was an activist for animals and animal rights. A member of PETA as well as running his own animal rights groups and charities. A hilarious, troubled, brilliant, comedic voice whose work will endure forever. His comedy has inspired countless numbers of comedians today and his messages and humor are immortal. I can't wait to get to heaven because he should probably be on his maybe seventh album by now because you know in Richard Pryor's heaven, He's performing. I can't wait to hear his new stuff.
I was deeply inspired by Richard Pryor's comedy and life story. I related to his comedic voice and his message. Mixed in with his humor were very formative moral truths that exposed the simple truths about love, life, and humanity. Society was blessed by the entertainment and message Richard Pryor left behind. Thank you Richard for all you gave us. May you rest in peace.