Richard Pryor’s official website is subtitled “I ain’t dead yet, M*therF@ck%r!!”
We guess they'll have to change that.
We don't like marking deaths. Obits and death anniversaries take up too much space. But deaths of the great ones are signposts along the way, as we get closer.
Anyway, Richard Pryor:
When we were kids growing up in the Sixties, he was one of the comedians on the Ed Sullivan Show, alongside Jackie Vernon and London Lee and George Carlin.
He was a skinny guy in a suit and he was really funny.
He was in Wild in The Streets.
Big influence, in a Monkees kind of way.
Those of us who hung out in record stores remember the album cover, where he was naked with the ring in his nose, holding a bow and arrow, like a tribesman.
We didn't buy the album.
But the cover was up there.
His comedy concert movies were scary and funny as hell. They were embarrassing and real and in the end made everyone in the audience feel like they were united somehow. We used to watch them on 42nd Street so we could hear people talk back to the screen.
About ten years ago, we were leaving the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip when we noticed the marquee at the Comedy Store was advertising Richard Pryor. He was deep into multiple sclerosis at the time. We investigated. Tickets were seven dollars. “Is this THE Richard Pryor?” we asked the guy at the ticket window. He shrugged.
It wasn’t even the main room. There was a Jewish comic, a Latin comic and a black comic. Or maybe another Jewish comic. They all cursed a lot, did sex jokes and ended their acts by thanking Richard Pryor, the man who made it possible. Then sometime before midnight, they wheeled Richard Pryor into the back of the room. A big man carried him onto the stage, plopped him on a chair and he sat there. Everyone cheered. A lot of people were crying.
Pryor was game. He went right for the multiple sclerosis stories. “I’m in my car. (long pause) In traffic. (long pause) And I look over. (long pause) And there’s this really beautiful woman in the next car. (long pause) And she’s waving to me. (long pause) And I look down. (long pause) And I realize, (pause) I was covered in piss! I peed myself…”
Pryor was "there all week” as they say. I called Steve Dunleavy and I think he did a column in the Post about the shows and what happened to Richard Pryor. We all figured it was historic and the guy would be dead by the end of the month.
We're surprised he lasted another decade (and Dunleavy’s still alive and kicking).
It was Pryor’s ex-wife Jennifer Lee who’d gotten him back on stage. They were married in the Seventies. He beat her and performed other cruel acts, and she was apparently lucky to get out alive. Then, after he got sick, she came back into his life. Took it over. Some say it was to exact revenge. In any case, she set him up in a house in the Valley, and took control of his legacy. He remarried her in 2001.
A couple of years ago, Chaunce Hayden interviewed Pryor’s daughter, Rain. She complained she and her sister were only allowed to see their father once a month:
“Put it this way. If you’re a women who this man used to beat up for years and years and years. Like even his children watched him beat her up, right? And than all of a sudden when he’s at his sickest, sickest, sickest moment and can’t speak you marry him? Why? What’s the motive? And now your name is on everything. When there’s something about him, your name is on it and his children don’t exist. You don’t talk about his children. It’s like none of us were ever born. That’s a horrible situation. That’s tragic. But he’s not tragic.
“…She has hired wonderful caretakers to take care of him. They clean the house and they live with him. They make sure his feeding tubes are in and out and they love him… On the surface everything looks really fine and dandy and wow, isn’t she doing a great job. But she hired people to do a great job for her…”
Prepare for the Pryor family feud.