Sunday, December 11, 2005


December 1, 1940 - December 10, 2005

Hollywood has suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of award-winning and groundbreaking comedian, writer, producer, and director RICHARD PRYOR, who died Saturday morning, reportedly from a heart attack, at the age of 65. Pryor had been battling multiple sclerosis since 1986, and had struggled with drug addiction and heart problems throughout his life.

The legendary entertainer was reportedly said to be doing well yesterday, smiling, laughing and in general good spirits.
Born December 1, 1940, in Peoria, IL, Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor endured a nightmarish childhood (which he said included living in a brothel with his mother). By 10, he was on his own, abandoned by his mother, at 14, he had already dropped out of high school and by 17 he was already a father.
Like many others, comedy would become his refuge from the angst of a difficult personal life, as Pryor, who idolized BILL COSBY, first performed a standup act in his local town. In 1963 he ventured into New York nightclubs and established himself with an, at that point, fairly clean, stand-up act.
Apparently it was while doing a show in Vegas in 1969 that Pryor suffered a "breakdown" onstage and left in the middle of his act. He then traveled to Berkeley, where he met and hung out with writers CECIL BROWN and ISHMAEL REED. After getting real with himself, Pryor returned to comedy with his infamous, no-holds-barred routine.

Exposure on TV shows like "The Tonight Show Starring JOHNNY CARSON" and "Kraft Summer Music Hall" led to a job as writer and performer for LILY TOMLIN's comedy/variety series "Lily" (1973), for which he would win his first Emmy (for writing).
Movies came calling as well: In 1967, Pryor made his feature debut in 'The Busy Body,' and continued with memorable roles in 'Wild in the Streets' (1968), 'Lady Sings the Blues' (1972), 'Uptown Saturday Night' (1974), 'Blazing Saddles' (1974), which he co-wrote with MEL BROOKS, and 'Car Wash' (1976).
In 1977, Pryor created his own TV mark with "The Richard Pryor Special," which would turn into the short-lived "The Richard Pryor Show" TV series. By this point America was exposed -- but maybe not quite ready -- for the controversial performer, known for his profanity, self-effacing humor and mimicry of a certain element of the African American community (spoofed in his many drunk and druggie impersonations), which he would use to spout his infamous social commentary.

Most of that material would be seen in his ingenious, outrageous and award-winning standup concert movie specials, like "Richard Pryor: Live and In Concert" (1979) and "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip" (1982). He scored five Grammy awards for his comedy recordings.
Back on the film front, Pryor was also well known for his partnership on-screen with friend GENE WILDER in films such as 'Silver Streak' (1976), 'Stir Crazy' (1980), 'See No Evil, Hear No Evil' (1989) and 'Another You' (1991). He also starred with JACKIE GLEASON in 'The Toy' (1982), opposite CHRISTOPHER REEVE in 'Superman 3' (1983), and in the 1985 comedy 'Brewster's Millions.

During the '80s, Pryor's struggle with drugs escalated. In 1980 he burned himself severely while attempting to freebase cocaine. In 1986 he was diagnosed with MS, although he wouldn't publicly admit his disease until 1991. He also had heart problems, undergoing a triple bypass operation in 1991.
Despite Pryor's increasingly fragile health, he still worked. His last memorable movie role was opposite EDDIE MURPHY in 1989's 'Harlem Nights.' He also managed to write an autobiography on his roller-coaster ride of a life, called Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences.
In 1996, he returned to the small screen and was nominated for an Emmy for his endearing performance as a man with multiple sclerosis in the TV series "Chicago Hope."
Pryor leaves behind a legacy of history-making comedy, which influenced and will live on in celebs impacted by his work, like MARTIN LAWRENCE and Eddie Murphy.

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