He was the master of the modern comedy style. A man who was always thinking about comedy and what would be funny to his audience. He turned a heartfelt trip to the motherland (Africa) with much real soul searching into a stand-up comedy gig.
He was Mudbone. A movie star. A legend. And today Richard Pryor would have been 72 and probably on a stage somewhere making fun of himself being old.
Pryor was known for uncompromising examinations of racism and topical contemporary issues, which employed colorful vulgarities, and profanity, as well as racial epithets. He reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations and storytelling style. He is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential stand-up comedians of his era: Jerry Seinfeld called Pryor “The Picasso of our profession”; Bob Newhart has called Pryor “the seminal comedian of the last 50 years.” This legacy can be attributed, in part, to the unusual degree of intimacy Pryor brought to bear on his comedy. As 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 the concert movies and recordings Richard Pryor: Live & Smokin’ (1971), That Nigger’s Crazy (1974), …Is It Something I Said? (1975), Bicentennial Nigger (1976), Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979), Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), and Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983). He also starred in numerous films as an actor, such as Superman III (1983) but was usually in comedies such as Silver Streak (1976), and occasionally in dramatic roles, such as Paul Schrader’s film Blue Collar (1978). He collaborated on many projects with actor Gene Wilder. Another frequent collaborator was actor/comedian/writer Paul Mooney.
Pryor won an Emmy Award (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.
Pryor suffered a mild heart attack in November 1977. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986.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, Pryor suffered a heart attack in Encino, California. He was taken to a local hospital after his wife’s attempts to resuscitate him failed. He was pronounced dead at 7:58 am PST. He was 65 years old. His widow Jennifer was quoted as saying, “At the end, there was a smile on his face.” He was cremated and his ashes were given to his family.