Mostly Credited As: Richard Pryor
Birth Name: Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III
Date Of Birth: December 01, 1940 (Age 65)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: Peoria, Illinois
Date Of Death: December 10, 2005
Cause Of Death: heart attack (Los Angeles, California)
Height: 5' 10" (1.77 m)
A groundbreaking standup comic who became a major screen personality, Pryor's personal life has been more dramatic than anything a screenwriter could concoct. After dropping out of school, Pryor (who claimed to have grown up in a brothel) served a two-year hitch in the Army, then started working in nightclubs, eventually making a name for himself. Variety and talk-show appearances on TV led to occasional movie work (in 1967's The Busy Body 1968's Wild in the Streets and 1971's Dynamite Chicken) and a prominent supporting role with Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues. He also worked as one of the writers of Mel Brooks' classic comedy spoof Blazing Saddles.
As censorship barriers began to fall, Pryor came into his own; his profane but sharp-eyed observations about American life and the black experience made him hugely popular. An unexpurgated film record of a 1979 performance was released as Richard Pryor-Live in Concert which showcases the comedian at his very best. (Subsequent concert movies, glitzier to be sure, were not quite as good: 1982's Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip and 1983's Richard Pryor Here and Now.) Meanwhile, Hollywood was trying to find a way to capitalize on this formidable talent. Television was not ready for Pryor; his NBC comedy series was canceled after just a handful of shows in 1977. He seemed to fare best in supporting roles, as in Car Wash, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, The Wizand Blue Collar, though even in that capacity he was often let down by bad material, as in California Suite (teamed with Bill Cosby), In God We Trust, and Wholly Moses. His starring films were a very mixed bag: Which Way Is Up?, Greased Lightning, Bustin' Loose, Some Kind of Hero, The Toy, Superman III, and Brewster's Millions. At their best, they gave Pryor a stage for some moments of high comedy; at their worst, they straitjacketed him into a Hollywood formula that suppressed his comic instincts.
One of Pryor's best opportunities came in the romantic comedy thriller Silver Streak (1976), in which he supported the film's star, Gene Wilder. Their scenes together were so good, and their chemistry so obvious, that they were reteamed (under Sidney Poitier's direction) for a costarring comedy, Stir Crazy, which was an even bigger hit. (Unfortunately, their reteamings a decade later, in 1989's See No Evil, Hear No Evil and 1991's Another You were pathetically poor.) Pryor's career came to a temporary halt at the start of the 1980s; while preparing a highly volatile cocaine mixture called freebase, he lit himself on fire, suffering third-degree burns over half his body. (He was about to start filming Mel Brooks' History of the World-Part I and was replaced at the last minute by Gregory Hines.)
The comedian made an amazing recovery, and reflected on his tumultuous life in the autobiographical comedy-drama Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, which he cowrote, produced, and directed. His subsequent films-Critical Condition, the bland but amusing Moving, and the Eddie Murphy fiasco Harlem Nights-were unable to restore the luster to his once red-hot movie career. Failing health (he is a victim of multiple sclerosis) made it difficult for him to get through his last film with Gene Wilder in 1991, but he managed somehow; it just seemed a shame to expend that effort for a movie that (like so many others before it) failed to make the most of his unique comic gift. By 1992, Pryor seemed to be headed for retirement. In addition to accolades for his screen work, Pryor has won several Grammy awards for his comedy recordings.
Pryor, who had been ill with multiple sclerosis, died at Encino Hospital near Los Angeles, at 7:41 a.m. PT. Jennifer Lee Pryor tried to revive him before paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital, she said. "He enjoyed life right up until the end," she said. "At the end there was a smile on his face." Pryor, who was born in Peoria, Illinois, on December 1, 1940, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986. "He was able to turn pain into comedy," his wife said. "He let the world see it, and that was his inspiration too. People said, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'