Richard Pryor’s wife told the press that when her beloved husband passed away on Saturday morning, he had a smile on his face. It was a fitting end to a legend who kept millions laughing for decades.
If you ask today’s funniest comedians who they consider their greatest influences to be, Pryor will undoubtedly be the first name on plenty of those lists (see “Comedian Richard Pryor Dies” ). He’s arguably one of the greatest comedians of all time, sitting at the round table with icons like Jackie Gleason, Lenny Bruce and Redd Foxx.
Mary J. Blige speaks for many when she says, “It’s sad. He will be missed.”
“Richard Pryor was the Rosa Parks of comedy,” Chris Rock said in a statement Monday (December 12). “He took risks and chances that made it possible for a whole generation of comics to exist. No one ever rocked the mic like Richard Pryor, the true ‘King of Comedy.’ ”
Michael Jackson seconded Rock’s notion in as many words: “Richard Pryor was the true ‘King of Comedy,’ ” Jackson said in a statement, “there will never be another like him. He was a trailblazer whose extraordinary talent and genius provided the blueprint for others to follow.”
“Anytime you can look at a man and laugh before he opens his mouth, you’re dealing with some top-shelf sh–,” Bernie Mac said. “Richard Pryor was the best stand-up ever, hands down. The strength and fortitude that Richard had to deal with his condition for over 20 years tells you why he was as powerful a stand-up as he was. Without Richard, there would be no me.”
“Richard Pryor meant so much to my life and to our lives,” Common said. “His creativity, his spirit and his truth was unparalleled. He definitely is the greatest to ever do it … I feel like he was a part of my family.”
Before hip-hop started booming out of the ghetto, or punk-rock served as the soundtrack for rebellious teens, Pryor was the ultimate rags-to-riches, do-it-my-way story in entertainment. He spent most of his childhood in a bordello where his mother was paid to have sex. He overcame such hardships as poverty and being molested at a young age to emerge at the forefront of comedy.
As part of his routine, when Pryor would first come onstage, he looked a little unsure, a little awkward with his body gestures and facial expressions. But to hear him speak, it was clear he knew exactly what he was doing and what he was talking about. He was able to break down social situations — oftentimes while excessively using the word “n—–” — and translate them on the mic to make his audiences laugh and think.
Pryor’s magic was grounded in speaking his mind with no regard for the consequences. Think of the audacity of Tupac and the irreverence of Eminem and combine them. He was one of the most honest voices in entertainment in the last 40 years.
Comedians like Steve Harvey cite Pryor as being one of the first black comedians they ever saw on television. Pryor was able to break through and tell his personal side of black America at a time when names like Red Buttons were still prevalent.
It didn’t take long, though, for Pryor to touch on subjects that were affecting the country as a whole. He didn’t just speak to blacks or whites, old or young. He had something for just about everybody.
As funny as Pryor was, he was also a brilliant actor. Regardless of the film, he always lit up the screen. It didn’t matter if he was standing next to Superman or Diana Ross or playing four characters at once. Whether it was smaller parts in classic films like “The Mack” and “Car Wash” or carrying a whole movie like “Bustin’ Loose,” “Which Way Is Up?” and “The Toy,” his genius shone through. He showed even more versatility by directing himself and writing two of his movies, the stand-up film “Richard Pryor Here and Now” and the semi-autobiographical “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling.”
“Because of Richard, these doors were open for people like me to come in and open other doors for people after me,” actor Anthony Anderson said. “It is a tremendous loss both personally and professionally for us all because Richard Pryor meant so much to us all across the board.”
Anderson was among the multitude of fans who actually got a chance to meet Pryor over the years.
“I was able to meet and thank him personally for what he did and what he accomplished and in doing so, allowing me to accomplish what I have so far,” Anderson continued.
Soul legend Patti LaBelle knew the comedic great more intimately.
“Richard was like an everyman,” she said. “He was a big brother, a friend and a counselor. For me, losing him is like losing my other brothers, Luther Vandross and [LaBelle's music director] Budd Ellison. He always gave great advice and kept me laughing. … He was the funniest man I’ve ever known!”
LaBelle vividly recalls stories of how Pryor made her laugh to tears and how he used to buy her “wonderful” gifts like a brand-new car when they toured together many years ago.
“That’s the kind of person he was,” she continued. “He had such a big heart.”
“He’s one of the best comedians to ever do it,” Ice Cube said. “Lots of people making a lot of money today off of what Richard did. He’s a big influence on my life, even in my music with early N.W.A. We couldn’t be anywhere we could be without Richard Pryor, so it’s real sad, but he’s in a better place.”
“The king passed away today,” “Scrubs” actor Donald Faison said. “If there were a family tree of comedy it would start with Richard Pryor, and everything after that would be because of him. It was very disturbing to hear that he passed away but I’m gonna celebrate his life because he’s the reason that I’m here.”
“Richard was the gold standard, a true genius who influenced not only me, but every comedian that took the stage after him,” a saddened Eddie Murphy said in a statement. Murphy starred with Pryor in “Harlem Nights,” one of Pryor’s last films before the debilitating disease multiple sclerosis started to slow him down.
“I feel fortunate to have been able to call him not only my inspiration as a young comic, but my friend,” Murphy added. “I will miss him terribly, but I will take comfort in knowing that his legacy will last forever.”
That legacy includes almost 40 films and an array of stand-up albums.
Earlier this year, Mike Epps signed on to play Pryor in an upcoming biopic (see “Mike Epps Compares Upcoming Richard Pryor Movie To ‘Ray’ “ ).
“I’m just trying to go into it humble, represent that man the best I can,” Epps said in September. “People really love him. My own mama told me, ‘You better do it right.’ ”
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