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Richard Pryor was a groundbreaking African-American comedian and one of the top entertainers of the 1970s and '80s.
Watch a short video about comedian Richard Pryor and his foul mouthed, no holds barred style.
Actress-Director Rain Pryor talks candidly about her father, comedian Richard Pryor, and his take on being a celebrity.
Actress-Director Rain Pryor talks about her father, comedian Richard Pryor, and how his difficult childhood influenced his comedy.
Actress-Director Rain Pryor talks about how her father Richard Pryor was a comedy pioneer with his raw stand-up performances and honest critiques of race.
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He retreated to Berkeley, California, where he met a variety of counterculture figures, including Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton.
In the early 1970s, Pryor scored several successes as an actor and comedian. He earned positive reviews for his supporting role in the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues (1972) starring Diana Ross. In 1973, he netted his first Emmy Award nomination (outstanding writing achievement in comedy, variety) for his work on The Lily Tomlin Show. The following year, Pryor took home his first Emmy (best writing in comedy, variety) for another collaboration with Lily Tomlin: the comedy special Lily (1973). Pryor also wrote for such shows as The Flip Wilson Show and Sanford and Son, which starred comedian Redd Foxx.
Continuing to thrive professionally, Pryor worked with Mel Brooks on the screenplay for western spoof Blazin' Saddles (1974). His own work was also attracting a lot of attention. Despite its X-rated content, his third comedy album sold extremely well and the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1974—a feat that he repeated over the next two years.
Comedy fans—of all racial backgrounds—were captivated by Pryor's comedy, which consisted of situational and character-driven humor—not straightforward jokes. He poked fun at the white establishment and explored the racial divide. In one bit, Pryor describes how differently the horror film The Exorcist would have been if it had featured an African American family instead of a white one. Another routine about Muhammad Ali covered how white people never gave Ali enough credit as a fighter.
By the late 1970s, Pryor had a thriving career as an actor. He starred in the box office hit Silver Streak (1976) with Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh. Pryor went on to play the first African American stock car racing champion in Greased Lightning (1977) with Beau Bridges and Pam Grier. He and Grier were involved off-screen for a while before Pryor married his third wife, Deboragh McGuire, in 1977. (They separated after a short while and officially divorced in 1979.)
Off screen and off stage, Pryor had a long history of substance abuse and stormy relationships. In 1978, Pryor had another run-in with the law after he shot his estranged wife's car. He was on put on probation, fined, and ordered to get psychiatric treatment and make restitution. Four years earlier, Pryor had gotten into legal trouble for failing to file tax returns from 1967 to 1970. He received a fine and probation.
His health began to suffer. He had his first heart attack in 1978. After this health crisis, Pryor started work on what has been considered by many critics to be his finest performance. The film Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) garnered a lot of praise and sold out at many urban movie theaters. That same year, Pryor traveled to Kenya and after that visit he announced that he would no longer be using the n-word in his act.
See Rain Pryor, the daughter of the comedian Richard Pryor, in her solo Off-Broadway show Fried Chicken & Latkes at the Actors Temple Theatre.
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From the early comedy of Nipsey Russell, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby to the contemporary routines of Steve Harvey, Mo'Nique, Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes and Dave Chappelle, black comedians have often used their wit to become the voice and face of the African-American experience. These legendary comedians have also set a very high bar—not only for African Americans, but for all comics trying to make it in show business. Learn more about these famous jokesters, from their early days to their comic beginnings, to their side-splitting performances and more.
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