Richard PryorActor / Comedian
Born: 1 December 1940
Died: 10 December 2005 (heart attack)
Birthplace: Peoria, Illinois
Best known as: The comedian who recorded Live on the Sunset Strip
Richard Pryor is the maverick and influential stand-up comedian whose career took a disastrous turn in 1980, when he set himself on fire while preparing to freebase cocaine. Richard Pryor began writing and performing comedy in the late '60s, appearing in clubs and on television. By the 1970s he was appearing in feature films and getting praise for writing comedy for Mel Brooks and Lily Tomlin. A live wire on stage, Pryor raised eyebrows with his profane stand-up routines, wherein he discussed racial issues, politics, bodily functions and his own personal life in language both obscene and hilarious. He also acted, teaming with Gene Wilder for four films, including Silver Streak (1976) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Richard Pryor also appeared in dramatic roles in movies, including in Lady Sings the Blues (1972, starring Diana Ross) and Blue Collar (1978), all the while releasing hit comedy records (That Nigger is Crazy and Bicentennial Nigger) and successful concert films (1979's Richard Pryor: Live in Concert). Half his body was seriously burned in his 1980 drug accident, but Pryor recovered and continued to work. His 1982 album Live on the Sunset Strip is considered by many to be his masterpiece. In 1986, Richard Pryor announced he had multiple sclerosis; he began to work less frequently and his health declined until his death in 2005. His other films included The Wiz (1978, with Pryor as the Wizard of Oz and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow), Superman III (1983, starring Christopher Reeve) and David Lynch's Lost Highway (1997).
Richard Pryor was the first recipient of the Mark Twain Humor Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He got the award in 1988… His 1986 film, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, is an almost-autobiographical revue in the same vein as Bob Fosse‘s film All That Jazz… According to his obituary in The Washington Post, Richard Pryor “was married and divorced six times. Survivors include at least six children and an unknown number of grandchildren.”
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