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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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His drug use spiraled out of control the following year. In June 1980, after several days of freebasing cocaine, he lit himself on fire in a suicide attempt. It was initially reported as an accident,
but he later admitted in his autobiography that he had done it on purpose in a drug haze. He had third-degree burns on more than 50 percent of his body. Reflective of his comic style, Pryor found the humor in his own suffering. "You know something I noticed? When you run down the street on fire, people will move out of your way."
After a lengthy recovery, Pryor returned to stand up and acting. He won two more Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording—one for Rev. Du Rite in 1981 and one for Live on the Sunset Strip in 1982. Live on the Sunset Strip was also released as a concert film that same year. He also starred in several films, including Some Kind of Hero (1982) with Margo Kidder and The Toy (1982) with Jackie Gleason. Marrying for the fourth time, Pryor wed Jennifer Lee in 1981, but the couple divorced the following year.
In 1983, Pryor became one of the highest-paid African American actors at the time. He took home $4 million to play an evil henchman in Superman III—reportedly earning more than the film's star Christopher Reeve. He drew from his own life experience for another important project from this era—Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986). In the autobiographical film, he played a popular stand-up comic who takes a look at his life while recuperating in a hospital after suffering serious burns in a drug-related incident. Around this time, Pryor was briefly married to actress Flynn BeLaine. (The couple made another short-lived attempt at marriage in the early 1990s, as well.)
The following year, Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system. He did the best he could to not let the degenerative illness slow him down, starring in several movies, including Critical Condition (1987), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) with Gene Wilder, and Harlem Nights (1989) with Eddie Murphy and Redd Foxx. By the early 1990s, however, once kinetic Pryor was confined to a wheelchair. Still he kept performing stand-up and acting.
He wrote his autobiography, Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences (1995) with Todd Gold, which earned critical acclaim. That same year, he appeared in an episode of the medical drama Chicago Hope with his daughter Rain as a man with multiple sclerosis. His last film appearance was in David Lynch's Lost Highway (1997).
Pryor became the first person to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center in 1998. He said at the time, "I am proud that, like Mark Twain, I have been able to use humor to lessen people's hatred."
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, Craig Robinson, Maya Rudolph 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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