Richard Prior Dies at age 65

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Richard Prior Dies at age 65

From the Times Online
RICHARD PRYOR, one of America’s most caustic and perceptive comedians who was once renowned for his hedonistic drug-fuelled lifestyle, has died of a heart attack aged 65, it was announced last night.

Pryor, who had suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years, died in hospital in Los Angeles, according to his business manager of 14 years, Karen Finch.

Pryor had been a straight stand-up club comic working in New York and living in the shadow of Bill Cosby during the 1960s until, disgusted with the way his career was going, he dropped out in 1970 and spent two years in Berkeley, California, then the counter-culture capital of America.

When he emerged he was a changed man. He brokered a revolutionary style of humour dredged from the ghetto and laced with street profanities. It was explosive cutting-edge material and it startled America, portraying the despair and disillusionment that black people felt. His sellout shows ridiculed and commented on the circumstances under which black Americans lived.

Building up a huge following at clubs such as the Comedy Store on LA’s Sunset Strip and writing for several of America’s leading comedy programmes, he was eventually given his own television platform on NBC in 1977.

Show producers and the censor winced at his deliveries until after only five programmes they pulled the plug. Pryor was undeterred and capitalised on his popularity with cinema audiences, taking his undiluted concert films to an international audience.

Throughout his career he focused on racial inequality, noting as host of the 1977 Academy Awards that Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier were the only black members of the Academy.

But he was not bitter, noting: “I live in racist America and I’m uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it. You can’t do much better than that.”

He became one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood, one of the first black performers to have enough leverage to negotiate his own Hollywood deals. In 1983 he signed a $40m five-year contract with Columbia Pictures.

His successful films included Stir Crazy, Silver Streak, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, Which Way Is Up? and Car Wash. His records, three of which won Grammys, included That Nigger’s Crazy, Bicentennial Nigger, Reverend Du Rite, Is It Something I Said? and Live on the Sunset Strip.

Fame and fortune brought a libertine lifestyle, with Pryor becoming addicted to cocaine, sex and alcohol. He became suicidal and made several attempts on his life.

In 1980 he almost succeeded when in a drug-induced frenzy while freebasing on cocaine he doused himself in cognac and set fire to himself, suffering third degree burns to half his body.

In 1986 he was diagnosed with MS, an incurable disease that affects motor skills and balance, and five years later he underwent quadruple bypass surgery.

Speaking of his MS he joked: “To be diagnosed was the hardest thing because I didn’t know what they were talking about. And the doctor said, ‘Don’t worry, in three months you’ll know’. So I went about my business and then, one day, it jumped me.

I couldn’t get up . . . Your muscles trick you; they did me.”
 
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