Comic Pryor prevailed against all life’s odds

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake It was as good as TV comedy got. Some scripted material, some improvised. All of it was brilliant – all of it pure Richard Pryor. What made Pryor unique, aside from his remarkably strong material, was the level of honesty in his act. He was able to take the most painful episodes from his life – his mother’s funeral, growing up in a brothel, heart attacks – and turn them into wickedly funny bits. He spilled his guts without excuses or apologies. In so doing, Pryor raised the bar for future generations of comics. The comedians who would walk in Pryor’s footsteps would need to do more than put together clever bits. To the delight and benefit of audiences everywhere, comics like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle learned from Pryor’s example that nothing was off limits. While Pryor’s comedy was always on the edge, his personal life also kept him constantly on the brink of extinction. One night in 1980, when I was 16, I heard on the radio that Pryor had suffered massive burns over most of his body while free-basing cocaine. He was not expected to live. At the height of his fame and self-destructiveness, it appeared that Pryor’s demons had won. However, after months of agonizing rehab and skin grafts, Richard Pryor was back. In his first “Tonight Show” appearance after his burning, Pryor debuted hilarious new material about his free-basing mishap. At one point, when Pryor began to light a cigarette, Johnny Carson deftly said, “You want me to get that for you, Richard?” Once again, Richard Pryor had prevailed against all odds. Pryor enjoyed a number of successful years thereafter, including a dozen or so more movies, before facing the only obstacle he could not knock down: multiple sclerosis. Little by little, those who revered Richard Pryor watched as he slowly deteriorated. A proud man, seemingly destined to go out in a ball of flame, was forced to go out slowly and painfully. His still-sharp mind was gradually betrayed by his fading body. The more Pryor suffered, the more he made us laugh. After a heart attack early Saturday morning in his San Fernando Valley home, Pryor finally succumbed. At last, his suffering has ended. Phil Perrier is a comedian and humor writer in Los Angeles. Write to him by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The year was 1975. I was 11 years old. I cleaned out my piggy bank and hopped on a bus to go to Peaches Records and Tapes in Atlanta, then advertised itself as “The World’s Largest Record Store.” That day I bought my very first record – the self-titled “Richard Pryor.” On the cover a young Pryor squatted while clutching a spear and wearing a loin cloth. I spilled out $4.99 in change onto the record-store counter, then went home and listened to the album over and over, laughing hard every time. Richard Pryor was at the height of his powers then. He’d already been in a dozen or more movies, and that was the year he hosted “Saturday Night Live.” He also made numerous appearances on all the talk shows that mattered. “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson was my favorite place to watch this great comedian work. You could tell just by watching that Carson adored Pryor, and he knew when Pryor had the magic. Many nights, Johnny would bump other guests from the lineup when Pryor was hot, and just let Pryor go – in the way that only Pryor could. last_img

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