He was known for his frequent use of the curse words and the racial epithet "n-----". Later in his career, after a trip to Africa, Pryor swore he would never use the word in his comedy routine. He has appeared in several popular films including The Toy, Superman III, Brewster's Millions, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, and Movin.
In the 1980s Richard Pryor set himself on fire, apparently a suicide attempt. At the time his manager tried to protect him by claiming that he had accidentally set himself on fire while free-basing cocaine. In 1986 Pryor announced that he suffers from multiple sclerosis. He is currently confined to a wheelchair. In 1998 Pryor won the inaugural Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Early in his career, Richard Pryor was a more middlebrow,
comic in the Bill Cosby tradition. The first five tracks on the
2005 compilation CD Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years
(1966-1974), recorded in 1966 and 1967, capture Pryor in this
In September 1967, Richard Pryor had what he called in his autobiography Pryor Convictions an "epiphany" when he walked onto the stage at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas (with Dean Martin in the audience), looked at the sold-out crowd, said over the microphone "What the f--- am I doing here?", and walked off the stage. Afterward, Pryor began working at least mild profanity and the word n----- into his act. His first comedy recording, the eponymous 1968 debut release on the Dove/Reprise label, captures this particular period, not long after that breakdown.
In 1969 Richard Pryor moved to Berkeley, California, where he immersed himself in the counterculture and rubbed elbows with the likes of Huey P. Newton and Ishmael Reed. He signed with the comedy-centric independent record label Laff Records in 1970 and recorded his second album, Craps (After Hours). Not long afterward, Pryor sought to get a deal with a larger label, and after a protracted period of time, signed with Stax Records. His third, breakthrough album, That N-----'s Crazy!, was released in 1974 and was almost sued out of existence by Laff, who claimed ownership of Pryor's recording rights. Negotiations led to Pryor being released from his Laff contract in exchange for the small label being allowed to release previously unissued material recorded between 1968 and 1973 at their leisure.
During the legal battle, Stax briefly closed its doors. Pryor then resigned with Reprise/Warner Bros., who immediately rereleased That N-----'s Crazy! on the heels of his first album under his new Reprise/Warner Bros. deal, ...Is It Something I Said?. With every successful album Pryor recorded for Warner Bros. (or later, his concert films and his 1980 free-basing accident), Laff would turn around and rush out a hastily-compiled, badly packaged album of old material to capitalize on Pryor's growing fame - a process the label would undertake until 1983.
Comfortably successful and into the zenith of his career, Pryor visited Africa in 1979. Upon returning to the United States, Pryor swore he would never use the "N" word in his stand-up comedy routine again. (His favorite epithet, "motherf---er", remains a term of endearment on his official website to this day.)
Richard Pryor appeared in several popular films including Lady Sings the Blues, The Mack, Uptown Saturday Night, Silver Streak, Which Way Is Up?, Car Wash, The Toy, Superman III, Brewster's Millions, Stir Crazy, Moving, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Blue Collar. In four of his films, he co-starred with Gene Wilder. He also co-wrote Blazing Saddles directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder. Pryor was to play the sheriff in "Blazing Saddles", but the film's producers were unsettled by his vulgarity and Mel Brooks chose Cleavon Little instead.
On June 1, 1980, Pryor set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine. Pryor made this part of his heralded "final" stand up show "Richard Pryor Live On Sunset Strip" (1982). After joking that the incident was actually caused when he dunked a cookie into a glass containing two different types of milk, he gave a poignant yet both funny and serious account of his accident and recovery, then poked fun at people who told jokes about it by waving a lit match and saying "What's this? It's Richard Pryor running down the street." Interviewed in 2005, Jennifer Lee Pryor said that Richard poured high proof Rum over his body and torched himself in a drug psychosis. In a TV interview during his recovery Pryor said that he tried to commit suicide.
He didn't stay away from live stand-up too long, though - in 1983 he filmed and released a new concert film and accompanying album, Here And Now, which he directed himself. He then wrote and directed a fictionalized account of his life, Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling.
In 1986, Richard Pryor announced that he suffers from multiple sclerosis. In 1992 he gave some final live performances, excerpts of which appear on the ...And It's Deep Too! box set.
Today, Richard Pryor uses a wheelchair because of MS. In late 2004 his sister claimed that Pryor has lost his voice. However, on January 9, 2005, Pryor himself rebutted this statement in a post on his official website, where he stated, "Sick of hearing this s--- about me not talking... not true... good days, bad days... but I still am a talkin' motherf---er!"
In 1998, Pryor won the inaugural Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. According to Former Kennedy Center President Lawrence J. Wilker, "Richard Pryor was selected as the first recipient of the new Mark Twain Prize because as a stand-up comic, writer, and actor, he struck a chord, and a nerve, with America, forcing it to look at large social questions of race and the more tragicomic aspects of the human condition. Though uncompromising in his wit, Pryor, like Twain, projects a generosity of spirit that unites us. They were both trenchant social critics who spoke the truth, however outrageous."
In 2000, Rhino Records re-mastered all of Pryor's Reprise and Warner Bros. albums for inclusion in the box set ...And It's Deep Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992).
In 2002, Pryor and his wife/manager Jennifer Lee Pryor, won the legal rights to all of the Laff material - almost 40 hours of reel-to-reel analog tape. After going through the tapes and getting Richard's blessing, Jennifer Lee Pryor gave Rhino Records access to the Laff tapes in 2004. These tapes, including the entire Craps album, form the basis of the double-CD release Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974).
In 2004, Richard Pryor was voted #1 of the "Greatest Standup Comedians of All Time" by Comedy Central.
In a 2005 British poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, Pryor was voted the 10th greatest comedy act ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
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