Richard Pryor: A comedian who told it like it is
Published Dec 15, 2005 11:31 PM
Richard Pryor, recognized as one of the greatest
comedians to take the stage, died from a heart attack on Dec. 10. He was only 65
years old and had suffered with multiple sclerosis for 20 years.
Richard Pryor in 1977.
the news articles that have appeared surrounding the comedian’s death,
Pryor’s history of drug addiction along with other troubles is dredged up
along with interspersed acknow ledgment of the comedian’s unique talent.
Though everything that Pryor did and said and every mistake made by him were
part of who he was, there was no need to addle articles with tales of mistakes
or addiction. His life was always an open book and he never shied away from
Very simply put, Richard Pryor was ingenious. He was the embodiment of
the struggle of Black people for justice in the United States. Like Paul
Robeson, with his booming baritone voice; or John Coltrane’s abstract jazz
improvisation that soared, breaking form, almost imprinting the clouds; or
hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, whose life ended too soon, exclaiming the many
degradations of being Black in North American society but who left an indelible
mark on the consciousness of so many young Black males—Richard Pryor was
able to communicate the Black struggle for self-determination with humor devoid
of being self-effacing. Comedian Chris Rock stated, “Richard Pryor was the
Rosa Parks of comedy.”
Pryor was born in Peoria, Ill., in 1940 in a
brothel owned by his grandmother. He started stand-up comedy as a teenager. He
began to find himself and his act in the late 1960s, and by the early to
mid-1970s he was in full stride. His act began to reflect his frustrations, and
those of Black people in general, as he remarked on racist police brutality and
the Black community’s distrust of the police, which can never be
rectified. He commented on the Vietnam War as well and on Richard Nixon,
remarking, “If you can pardon Nixon, you can pardon
Pryor didn’t tell jokes. He told stories about
unforgettable characters, many of whom he grew up with, that lingered in the
mind. He was great at it and drew endless laughter, but the stories could just
as easily make a person cry. His talent was that he would make people double
over laughing until tears welled up in their eyes and, even while being
entertaining, at the same time make observations from a Black
Richard Pryor will be remembered for his groundbreaking
material and how it sprang from outrage and hurt and combined both entertainment
and social commentary. He will forever be remembered as one of a number of Black
artists who brilliantly expressed the anger and determination of an oppressed
people through culture.
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