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Profile of Richard Pryor
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||1st December 1940
|Place of Birth:
||Peoria, Illinois, USA
Richard Franklin Lenox Thomas Pryor (born December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois) is an American comedian and actor.
A gifted storyteller known for unflinching examinations of race and custom in modern life, Pryor shattered many barriers for African American stand-up comedians. Though he frequently used colorful language, vulgarities, as well as racial epithets (such as "nigger"), he reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations. Pryor is often ranked among the best stand-up comedians.
Richard was at his best when he took the tragic events that happened during his life and made them a part of his on stage routine in concert movies and recordings such as "Richard Pryor: Live & Smokin'" (1971), "That Nigger's Crazy" (1974), "Bicentennial Nigger" (1976), "Richard Pryor: Wanted – Live In Concert" (1979) and "Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip" (1982).
Early in his career, Pryor was a more middlebrow, nonthreatening 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 embryonic stage.
In September 1967, 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 fuck am I doing here?", and walked off the stage. Afterward, Pryor began working at least mild profanity and the "N" word 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 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 Nigger'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 Nigger'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, "motherfucker", remains a term of endearment on his official website to this day.)
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.
The freebasing incident and its aftermath
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 Cognac 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, 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.
Living with MS
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 shit about me not talking... not true... good days, bad days... but I still am a talkin' motherfucker!"
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 remastered 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, 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.
- Richard Pryor (Dove/Reprise, 1968)
- Craps (After Hours) (Laff Records, 1971, reissued 1993 by Loose Cannon/Island)
- That Nigger's Crazy, (Partee/Stax, 1974, reissued 1975 by Reprise)
- ...Is It Someting I Said?, (Reprise, 1975, reissued 1991 on CD by Warner Archives)
- Bicentennial Nigger, (Reprise, 1976)
- L.A. Jail, (Tiger Lily, 1977)
- Are You Serious???, (Laff, 1977)
- Who Me? I'm Not Him, (Laff, 1977)
- Black Ben The Blacksmith, (Laff, 1978)
- The title track was first issued as "Prison Play" on Richard Pryor, in spite of Warner Bros.' ownership of that particular master recording.
- The Wizard Of Comedy, (Laff, 1978])
- Wanted/Richard Pryor - Live In Concert (2-LP set), (Warner Bros., 1978)
- Outrageous, (Laff, 1979)
- Insane, (Laff, 1980])
- Holy Smoke!, (Laff, 1980])
- Rev. Du Rite, (Laff, 1981)
- Live On The Sunset Strip (Warner Bros., 1982)
- Richard Pryor Live! (picture disc), (Phoenix/Audiofidelity, 1982)
- Supernigger, (Laff. 1983)
- Here And Now, (Warner Bros., 1983)
Compilations and repackagings
- Pryor Goes Foxx Hunting, (Laff. 1973)
- Split LP with Redd Foxx, containing previously released tracks from Craps (After Hours)
- Down And Dirty, (Laff. 1975)
- Split LP with Redd Foxx, containing previously released tracks from Craps (After Hours)
- Richard Pryor Meets... Richard & Willie And... The SLA!!, (Laff. 1976)
- Split LP with black ventriloquist act Richard And Willie, containing previously released tracks from Craps (After Hours)
- Richard Pryor's Greatest Hits, (Warner Bros., 1977)
- Contains tracks from Craps (After Hours), That Nigger's Crazy, and ...Is It Something I Said?, plus a previously unreleased track from 1975, "Ali".
- Blackjack, (Laff. 1983)
- Repackaged and retitled reissue of Craps (After Hours).
- Show Biz, (Laff. 1983)
- Repackaged and retitled reissue of Black Ben The Blacksmith.
- Richard Pryor Live!, (Laff. 1983)
- Repackaged reissue of the Phoenix/Audiofidelity picture disc from 1982. The album lists two tracks ("Vegas" and "Negro") that only appear on the picture disc, despite the fact that they are listed on the disc label of the Laff release.
- ...And It's Deep Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992) (9-CD box set) (Warner Bros./Rhino, 2000)
- Box set collection of Richard Pryor, That Nigger's Crazy, ...Is It Something I Said? (with "Ali" from Richard Pryor's Greatest Hits appended as a bonus track), Bicentennial Nigger, Wanted/Richard Pryor - Live In Concert (on 2 CDs), Live On The Sunset Strip, Here And Now (with a previously unreleased 1983 interview appended as a bonus track), and That African-American Is Still Crazy: Good Shit From The Vaults (an entire disc of previously unissued material from 1973 to 1992 exclusive to the box).
- The Anthology (1968-1992) (2-CD set) (Warner Bros./Rhino], 2002 in music/2002)
- Highlights culled from the albums collected in the ...And It's Deep Too! box set.
- Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974) (2-CD set) (Warner Bros./Rhino], 2005 in music/2005)
- Pryor-authorized compilation of material released on Laff, including the entire Craps (After Hours) album.
- The Busy Body (1967)
- Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales (1968) (unfinished)
- Wild in the Streets (1968)
- The Phynx (1970)
- You've Got to Talk It Like You Walk It or You'll Loose That Beat (1971)
- Dynamite Chicken (1972)
- Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
- The Mack (1973)
- Wattstax (1973) (documentary)
- Hit! (1973)
- Some Call It Loving (1973)
- Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
- The Lion Roars Again (1975) (short subject)
- Adios Amigo (1976)
- Car Wash (1976)
- The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
- Silver Streak (1976)
- Which Way Is Up? (1977)
- Greased Lightning (1977)
- Blue Collar (1978)
- The Wiz (1978)
- California Suite (1978)
- Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) (documentary)
- The Muppet Movie (1979) (cameo)
- Wholly Moses (1980)
- In God We Tru$t (1980)
- Stir Crazy (1980)
- Bustin' Loose (1981)
- Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) (documentary)
- Some Kind of Hero (1982)
- The Toy (1982)
- Superman III (1983)
- Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983) (documentary)
- Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin' (1985) (documentary)
- Brewster's Millions (1985)
- Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986) (also director)
- Critical Condition (1987)
- Moving (1988)
- See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
- Harlem Nights (1989)
- The Three Muscatels (1991)
- Another You (1991)
- A Century of Cinema (1994) (documentary)
- Mad Dog Time (1996)
- Lost Highway (1997)
- Bitter Jester (2003) (documentary)
- Official website
- Richard Pryor at the Internet Movie Database
- Interview with Pryor's wife, Jennifer Lee Pryor - The Times, June 5, 2005.
- Post by Richard Pryor on his official website rebutting voice-loss rumors
|Richard Pryor discography
|Albums supervised by Pryor: Richard Pryor | Craps (After Hours) | That Nigger's Crazy | ...Is It Something I Said? | Bicentennial Nigger | Wanted/Richard Pryor - Live In Concert | Live On The Sunset Strip | Here And Now | That African-American Is Still Crazy: Good Shit From The Vaults
|Authorized compilation albums: Richard Pryor's Greatest Hits | ...And It's Deep Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992) | The Anthology (1968-1992) | Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974)
|Unauthorized Laff Records Releases: Pryor Goes Foxx Hunting | Down And Dirty | Richard Pryor Meets... Richard & Willie And... The SLA!! | L.A. Jail | Are You Serious??? | Who Me? I'm Not Him | Black Ben The Blacksmith | The Wizard Of Comedy | Outrageous | Insane | Holy Smoke! | Rev. Du Rite | Richard Pryor Live! (1982 picture disc) | Supernigger | Blackjack | Show Biz | Richard Pryor Live! (1983)
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