TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)
|Also Known As:||Richard Franklin Lenox Thomas Pryor||Died:||December 10, 2005|
|Born:||December 1, 1940||Cause of Death:||heart attack|
|Birth Place:||Peoria, Illinois, USA||Profession:||actor, comedian, director, producer, screenwriter, drummer, truck driver, billiard hall attendant, meat packer|
Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY
Evil" (1989) was as uninspired as it was uncomfortable to watch, although it was Pryorâ¿¿s most profitable film in four years. Actor-comedian Eddie Murphy had inherited the throne Pryor once occupied, so the teaming of Murphy with his personal hero in "Harlem Nights" (1989) seemed like a dream project for all concerned. And while the final product resulted in a modest hit, the onscreen pairing of Murphy and the ghostly-thin Pryor failed to yield the comedic alchemy so many had predicted. Hollywood returned to the well once more with the fourth and final Wilder-Pryor outing, "Another You" (1991). An already bad film further marred by Pryorâ¿¿s MS-ravaged appearance, it came and went with little to no acknowledgment, marking an inglorious end to Pryorâ¿¿s career as a comedy film star.Having finally revealed his MS to the public the year before, Pryor performed comedy onstage for the final time in 1992, although now his stand-up was delivered while seated in a comfortable armchair. After the bittersweet performance, an ill-advised concert tour was announced, but cancelled within weeks. Despite persistent rumors of his being near death, a physically decimated although still determined Pryor proved the...
Evil" (1989) was as uninspired as it was uncomfortable to watch, although it was Pryorâ¿¿s most profitable film in four years. Actor-comedian Eddie Murphy had inherited the throne Pryor once occupied, so the teaming of Murphy with his personal hero in "Harlem Nights" (1989) seemed like a dream project for all concerned. And while the final product resulted in a modest hit, the onscreen pairing of Murphy and the ghostly-thin Pryor failed to yield the comedic alchemy so many had predicted. Hollywood returned to the well once more with the fourth and final Wilder-Pryor outing, "Another You" (1991). An already bad film further marred by Pryorâ¿¿s MS-ravaged appearance, it came and went with little to no acknowledgment, marking an inglorious end to Pryorâ¿¿s career as a comedy film star.
Having finally revealed his MS to the public the year before, Pryor performed comedy onstage for the final time in 1992, although now his stand-up was delivered while seated in a comfortable armchair. After the bittersweet performance, an ill-advised concert tour was announced, but cancelled within weeks. Despite persistent rumors of his being near death, a physically decimated although still determined Pryor proved the gossip mongers wrong on occasion with increasingly rare guest appearances on TV series such as "Martin" (Fox, 1992-97) and "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000). He attempted to set the record straight when he co-wrote a memoir of his remarkable life, entitled Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences in 1995, with author Todd Gold. Pryor made his final feature film appearance â¿¿ seated throughout the brief scene â¿¿ as the owner of an auto repair shop in director David Lynchâ¿¿s surrealistic noir "Lost Highway" (1997), one year before he became the first person to be honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at New Yorkâ¿¿s Kennedy Center in 1998. No longer physically able to make public appearances, or even grant interviews, Pryor was given several heartfelt tributes by his fellow comedians in offerings like "Richard Pryor: I Ainâ¿¿t Dead Yet, #*%$#@!!" (Comedy Central, 2003). In the company of his wife, Jennifer Lee â¿¿ one of five wives from seven separate marriages â¿¿ Pryor died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on Dec. 10, 2005, nine days after his 65th birthday.
By Bryce Colemanapproaching what would be the zenith of his career, Pryor simultaneously reset the bar for stand-up comics everywhere, regardless of race, when he released the seminal comedy concert film "Richard Pryor: Live in Concert" (1979). Filmed in Long Beach, CA the year before, it captured the incendiary comic at the very height of his powers, performing to an audience â¿¿ both at the actual performance and in movie theaters â¿¿ comprised of equal parts black and white. "Live in Concert" broke box office records for a performance film and perched its star upon the very precipice of Hollywood superstardom. Unfortunately, Pryorâ¿¿s long-festering personal demons were about to plunge him into an abyss that would permanently scar the talented comedian physically and emotionally.
For years, Pryor had been indulging a growing addiction to alcohol and cocaine, and as his professional success increased, so too did his substance abuse. On July 9, 1980, deep in the throws of a days-long drug binge, Pryor, his upper body completely engulfed in flames, was found by police, stumbling along the streets of his San Fernando Valley neighborhood. Suffering third degree burns over a large portion of his body, the comedian was not expected to survive the ordeal. Initially reported as an accident involving "freebasing" â¿¿ a method of freeing cocaine of impurities by heating it, usually in ether, and inhaling the vapors â¿¿ Pryor would later tacitly admit that it was a deliberate suicide attempt. As the troubled comedian underwent months of painful skin grafts, rehabilitation and self-reflection, a pair of film projects already shot prior to the incident, were released to a public more fascinated than ever by the mercurial performer. Reteamed with Wilder, he co-starred in the hugely successful broad comedy "Stir Crazy" (1980) as one of two Hollywood hopefuls mistakenly convicted of a crime they did not commit. While not the comedy blockbuster that "Stir Crazy" had been, his road trip comedy "Bustinâ¿¿ Loose" (1981) also acquitted itself very well at the box office the following year. Having just crawled back from the grave, Pryor found himself to be a bigger star than ever before.
Professing that the ordeal had made him a changed man, Pryor went on to churn out a string of film projects with varying results. "The Toy" (1982), in which he literally portrayed the plaything of the son of a neglectful millionaire (Jackie Gleason) also did reasonably well in theaters, despite its being a missed opportunity of egregious proportions. Pryor acquitted himself nicely with a rare dramatic turn as a disillusioned Vietnam vet in "Some Kind of Hero" (1982) opposite Margot Kidder â¿¿ who he went on to date in real life, much to a shocked, less interracially tolerant public of the time â¿¿ in addition to filming his first stage performance since nearly emolliating himself. "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip" (1982) marked his long-awaited return to stand-up, and although his trademark brutal honesty remained, many sensed a lack of energy in the performance. Regardless of the critical dissection of Pryorâ¿¿s work and personal life at the time, the comic actor ended 1982 as the No. 1 box office draw in America. Flexing his newfound clout, Pryor was reportedly paid a whopping $4 million for his role in the forgettable second sequel, "Superman III" (1983), while the seriesâ¿¿ titular star, Christopher Reeve, was compensated substantially less for his participation. That same year, Pryor made a much publicized $40 million dollar deal with Columbia Pictures to produce four feature films under his newly created Indigo Productions banner, an endeavor that the actor would later describe as a "fiasco."
Pryor returned to familiar ground for Indigoâ¿¿s first offering with the self-directed concert film "Richard Pryor: Here and Now" (1983). Performed in front of a raucous New Orleans audience by a purportedly sober Pryor, it featured much of his now familiar material, although without the self-assuredness and spontaneity he once possessed. Fans who suspected the subversive comedian was losing his edge, were further convinced by the advent of "Pryorâ¿¿s Place" (CBS, 1984-85), a short-lived childrenâ¿¿s show which featured Pryor inhabiting a kid-friendly persona. Ironically, while Pryor pointed to director Walter Hill's production of the oft-remade "Brewster's Millions" (1985) as the first film he had made completely sober, the rather timid outing ranked for many as one of his less inspired. Once again under the Indigo banner, Pryor undertook the very definition of a vanity project when he served as producer, writer, director and star of the semi-autobiographical "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" (1986). Although the film depicted much of the actorâ¿¿s sordid past â¿¿ including his childhood in a brothel and his near death experience â¿¿ the end result seemed oddly sanitized. "Jo Jo Dancer" was a commercial and critical failure, one that prompted legendary film critic Pauline Kael to publicly wonder where the comicâ¿¿s earlier "excitable greatness" had gone.
Matters were made worse when Pryor began to suffer symptoms brought about by the onset of multiple sclerosis in 1986, a condition which, once diagnosed, he would not publicly acknowledge until 1991. At the peak of his commercial powers, Pryor's ability to select material and his once unassailable skill as a performer were visibly abandoning him. He appeared increasingly frail and uncertain in the theatrical failures "Critical Condition" (1987) and "Moving" (1988), the latter film officially ending his reign as a box office champ. His third pairing with Wilder, "See No Evil, Hear No
Filmographyclose complete filmography
CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
"The increasingly harrowed face of Richard Pryor gazes out at us through his own wreakage. This life seems far more his "work" or "art" than all the individual films or comedy routines. Grant that Pryor is a victim of racism, of family troubles, of drugs, fame, and illness, still he impresses as someone who might have found a way of liberating self-destructiveness even if his circumstances had stayed tidy and nurturing. There is a raw wildness in Pryor that is close to genius, more in his live, improvisational work than in any "set" movie. Once upon a time, Pryor talked of playing Charlie Parker. That he did not is our loss, for he has that strung-out frenzy for dangerous lines of invention that is vital to Parker. Pryor is the jazziest of comics." --David Thomson, "A Biographical Dictionary of Film"
In 1991 a spokesman for Pryor revealed that the actor has been suffering from muscular sclerosis for five years; he had a triple heart bypass May 29, 1991.
Pryor has been married and divorced five times.
He founded Richard Pryor Enterprises, Inc, Los Angeles in 1975.
He received the American Academy of Humor Award for "Lily" (1974)
"Richard is truly an original -- a comedy legend. His irreverent style and honesty about his own personal life managed to hit a chord with all audiences and made Richard a pioneer among standup comedians," ---Lauren Corrao, senior vice president of original programming at Comedy Central on Richard Pryor CNN.com November 26, 2003
Companions close complete companion listing
Bibliography close complete biography
Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.Click here to contribute