Richard Pryor: 1940 - 2005

Posted in Stand Up on December, 16 2005 9:25 PM

Richard PryorRichard Pryor died on Saturday 10th December only nine days after his 65th birthday.

Renowned as one of the World's greatest trailblazing stand-up comedians for his delivery style and content, Pryor was born on December 1st 1940 and raised by his grandmother in an Illinois brothel. This grounding in life would later provide him with the inspiration, characters and profane style of delivery that made him famous, infamous and celebrated.

He first took to performing comedy in the 60s after a brief army service. He soon found himself with spots on the likes of the Ed Sullivan and Merv Griffin shows but was discontented with his universally acceptable material so began using his life experiences to 'tell the truth' no matter how brutal.

Part of that brutality was his decision to disempower the word 'nigger'. He stated in his autobiography, Pryor Convictions , "I decided to take the sting out of it. Nigger. As if saying it over and over again would numb me and everybody else to its wretchedness."

It was because of his controversial routine that stopped him from bagging the part of Sheriff Bart in Mel Brookes' Blazing Saddles for which Pryor has a script credit.

It was not long after that he got the chance to team up with Gene Wilder to co-star in a number of films that had a more mainstream appeal: Silver Streak, Stir Crazy and See no Evil, Hear No Evil. Other films of the thirty-eight he starred in that would broaden his household appeal included the Oscar nominated Lady Sings The Blues and Superman III .

But with the ever-increasing success and fame came the usual downside of infamy and self-indulgence of drugs and alcohol. There was a 'suicide attempt' involving cognac, cocaine, fire and a hotel window, two heart attacks, triple bypass surgery, a number of confrontations with police, seven marriages and seven children. Then in 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with having the nervous system degenerative disease, multiple sclerosis.

But in Pryor's own indeterminable way, he was able to turn the pain around into another element of his profound stand-up act.

On Saturday 10th December, Pryor was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital after several unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him. He had suffered another heart attack.

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