Richard Pryor - Biography

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December 1, 1940


December 10, 2005

Richard Pyror Overview:

Arguably the greatest stand-up comic of all time, Richard Pryor is the best storyteller and social satirist the medium has ever seen. Combining intensely personal confession with frank and brutal observations about race, Pryor was filthy, honest and brilliant. He was fearless, never shying away from using pain from his own life in his comedy and turning a sharp critical eye on the world around him.

There's hardly a comedian to hit it big in the last 30 to 40 years who wasn't influenced by Pryor in some way; he left his mark on generations of comics, from Louis C.K. and Chris Rock to Patrice O'Neal and Eddie Murphy.

Quick Richard Pyror Facts:
  • Richard Pryor was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois.
  • He began performing comedy in the early 1960s in New York City.
  • He released his first comedy album, Richard Pryor, in 1968.
  • Pryor became one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1970s, releasing an album almost every year and making numerous TV appearances.
  • He began starring in films in the early '70s and made a series of successful comedies, many of them collaborations with Gene Wilder, including Stir Crazy, Bustin' Loose and Silver Streak.
  • Pryor nearly died in 1980 when he set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.
  • In addition to nearly 20 comedy albums, Pryor released three theatrical concert films in his career: Live in Concert (1979), Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) and Here and Now (1983).

  • In 1986, Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
  • Pryor suffered a fatal heart attack and died in 2005 at the age of 65.

Richard Pryor's Early Days:

There was nothing funny about Richard Pryor's childhood. Born to a prostitute and raised in a brothel, Pryor was a victim of both physical and sexual abuse growing up. After being kicked out of school at age 14, Pryor began performing as a musician in nightclubs and eventually enlisted in the army. He lasted only two years in the service, spending much of that time in and out of prison.

When Pryor got out of the army in 1960, he moved to New York and started performing comedy. His early act was very different from the one that would eventually make him a star; he drew inspiration from Bill Cosby and focused on mostly inoffensive observational humor. It wasn't until he moved to California in the late '60s that Pryor's act began to transform into the racially-charged, profanity-laden one that would make him a superstar.

Richard Pryor's Addiction and Accident:

During the 1970s, Pryor developed a substance abuse problem and was hooked on drugs and alcohol. While filming the movie Bustin' Loose in 1980, Pryor got high while freebasing cocaine. He soaked his body in rum and lit himself on fire, nearly killing him and badly burning over half his body. He was hospitalized for six weeks. Pryor would eventually talk about the incident in his 1982 concert film, Live on the Sunset Strip, which was meant to be his final stand-up performance. A year later, though, he was back to performing and released another concert film.

Richard Pryor Discography:
  • Richard Pryor (1968)
  • Craps (After Hours) (1971)
  • That Nigger's Crazy (1974)
  • ...Is It Something I Said? (1975)
  • Holy Smoke! (1976)
  • Bicentennial Nigger (1976)
  • L.A. Jail (1976)
  • Are You Serious??? (1977)
  • Who Me? I'm Not Him (1977)
  • Black Ben the Blacksmith (1978)
  • The Wizard of Comedy (1978)
  • Wanted: Live in Concert (1978)
  • Outrageous (1979)
  • Insane (1980)
  • Rev. DuRite (1981)
  • Richard Pryor Live! (1982)
  • Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)
  • Here and Now (1983)
  • Supernigger (1983)

Select Richard Pryor Filmography:
  • Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
  • The Mack (1973)
  • Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
  • Car Wash (1976)
  • Silver Streak (1976)
  • Blue Collar (1978)
  • The Wiz (1978)
  • Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)
  • Stir Crazy (1980)
  • Bustin' Loose (1981)
  • Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)
  • The Toy (1982)
  • Superman III (1983)
  • Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983)
  • Brewster's Millions (1985)
  • JoJo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986)
  • Moving (1988)
  • Harlem Nights (1989)

Additional Richard Pryor Facts:
  • Pryor was a guest host during the first season of Saturday Night Live (appearing in the famous "word association" sketch opposite Chevy Chase). He was also the first African-American to ever host.
  • He tried to launch his own sketch comedy show in 1977, but refused to censor himself for network executives. As a result, The Richard Pryor Show was canceled after just four episodes.
  • Pryor worked as a writer on The Flip Wilson Show and Sanford and Son (starring Redd Foxx, a major influence on the comedian) during the 1970s.
  • He co-wrote the screenplay for the comedy classic Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks.
  • In 1998, Pryor was the first person ever to be awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
  • He was married seven times to five different women.
  • He co-hosted the Academy Awards twice.
  • Pryor hosted his own Saturday morning kids' show, Pryor's Place, in 1984. It lasted only 13 episodes.
  • He was named the Greatest Stand-up of All Time in a 2004 poll conducted by Comedy Central.
  • In 2006, Pryor was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his career in stand-up.
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