Richard Pryor, the comedian whose animated, rapid-fire delivery and powerful touch with taboo subject matter created a body of influence that extended far beyond comedy, reportedly passed away on Saturday (December 10). He was 65.
Pryor died at approximately 8 a.m. at a hospital near his home in California’s San Fernando Valley, according to The Associated Press. He had long suffered from multiple sclerosis after being diagnosed in the 1990s.
“He did not suffer, he went quickly and at the end there was a smile on his face,” his wife, Jennifer Pryor, told the AP. “I’m honored now that I have an opportunity to protect and continue his legacy because he’s a very, very, very amazing man and he opened doors to so many people.”
Pryor elevated the art of stand-up to new heights, creating a form of celebrity that was part rock star, part movie star and part social critic. His mix of wit, flash and keen insight set the template for a generation of comedians that included Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, Bernie Mac and countless others.
Pryor’s renegade stand-up style earned him a reputation as one of the most filthy comics of the 1970s. It also made him wildly popular, and turned a mainstream audience on to his deeper subject matter, which helped push ideas about racial inequity to the forefront.
He went Hollywood, like so many comedians who would follow, starring in a string of hits including “Stir Crazy” and “Silver Streak.” His stand-up film “Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip” set the form that others from Murphy to Eddie Griffin to Andew Dice Clay would later emulate.
He also became known for his offstage dramas as well. He fought a long and well-documented battle with drugs and alcohol, one that left him with severe burns following a freebasing accident. He emerged even more acute, more focused and more driven onstage.
While his material was jarring at the time, Pryor was eventually recognized as an important force in comedy. He was even honored with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ first-ever Mark Twain Prize for humor in 1998.
For more information on multiple sclerosis, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society online at nationalmssociety.org.