'Dolemite' Star Rudy Ray Moore Dead At 81

Blaxploitation pioneer's influential comedy has been sampled by Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, 2 Live Crew and more.

Rudy Ray Moore, the comedian whose style, swagger and downright salacious subject matter made him a cult figure in the world of hip-hop, died on Sunday of complications from diabetes at the age of 81.

Moore starred in dozens of films but is best known for 1975's "Dolemite," a low-budget mix of kung fu and bawdy humor that he wrote, produced and starred in as the titular wisecracking pimp. The film was a huge hit, spawned many knockoffs (not to mention a few sequels of its own) and was declared — many years later, of course — to be "the 'Citizen Kane' of blaxploitation films" by The New York Times.

Through late-night screenings, the film would eventually become a cult favorite and influenced an entire generation of hip-hop artists, including Snoop Dogg, the Beastie Boys, 2 Live Crew, Busta Rhymes and Big Daddy Kane, all of whom would feature Moore on their albums. Clips from the film are also used in Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money" video. A sample from one of Moore's records is used to famous effect on the song "Deeez Nuuuts" from Dr. Dre's The Chronic.

Moore's unique brand of "toasts" — rhyming jokes that usually disguised fabulously dirty material about sex — are often cited as early examples of rapping and were on display not just in "Dolemite," but in the close to 30 comedy albums he released in his career. Two of those early albums, Below the Belt and The Beatnik Scene, were branded "Adults Only" and were therefore not allowed to be sold in stores. But thanks to under-the-counter deals and Moore's own marketing ploys (he'd drive through city neighborhoods with the records stuffed in his trunk), they became hits, opening doors for the likes of Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx and Eddie Murphy.

Moore was born March 17, 1927, in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The oldest of seven children, he had to develop his extroverted personality just to be noticed. When he was 15, his family moved to Cleveland, where he began singing in church, eventually graduating to the city's rhythm and blues clubs. He later took his act to Los Angeles, where he worked as a DJ and began touring on the famed "Chitlin' Scene" as a stand-up comedian.

Moore is survived by four of his siblings, his daughter Yvette "Rusty" Wesson and his 98-year-old mother, Lucille.