Often described as one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time. Pryor was a highly influential personality known for his colourful language in comedy and generally fast-paced life.
This great comedian had a rough start, child of Gertrude L. and Leroy ‘Buck Carter’ Pryor. His mother worked as a prostitute in a brothel owned by Leroy’s mother- Marie Carter. His father Leroy was a boxer and a hustler. He also served in the military during World War II. Pryor’s parents married when he was 3 years old but the marriage did not last. His mother, later abandoned him at the age of 10, to be raised by his grandmother in the brothel.
His grandmother Marie was a tall, violent woman who would beat Pryor at the slightest provocation. He was sexually abused when he was 7; first by a teenage neighbour and later by a neighbourhood preacher. He often played the class clown while in school. By the time he was 14, he was expelled.
The young Pryor developed an interest in movies and made frequent visits to the movie theatre’s in his area. He also started working several jobs including as a meat packer, and truck driver. Later he joined the army for a brief time of 2 years. He performed some amateur shows during that time but later got into a fight with a white soldier who had shown amusement for racially charged scenes in a film. He spent his remaining time with the army in prison.
After leaving the army, Pryor tried singing in small local clubs, but quickly discovered he excelled in humour. He spent time in New York and Las Vegas improving his skills and searching for opportunities. When these places yielded nothing, Pryor went to Los Angeles. In 1964 he made his debut on the film On Broadway Tonight. Pryor got opportunities for film and stand-up comedies which he used to speed up his career. He incorporated profanities into his performance by using the words ‘nigger’ more often. His parents died around 1967 and 1968.
As his career took off his personal life continued its rocky pace. Pryor married Patricia Price in 1960, but the couple divorced after one child. He married Shelly Bonus in 1967 and divorced in 1969 after one child together. He married three more women different times equally divorcing them not long after. He only remarried Jennifer Lee, and they stayed together till his death.
The comedian struggled with drug abuse and suffered a cocaine-related burn accident. He was diagnosed in 1986 of multiple sclerosis. He died of a heart attack nine days after his 65th birthday.
Richard Pryor received several awards and honours including the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour. He remains a role model in the heart of several modern comedians.