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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Richard Pryor - 1940-2005

Richard Pryor took the pain of a poverty-stricken childhood, the indignities of a black man coming of age in the pre-civil rights era, the demons that plagued him even as he confronted his pain with drugs and sexual excess - slammed them in the faces of his audience with invectives laced with seething humor - and got the audience to laugh. And that was his ultimate genius. He could pounce the truth on people, entertain them even as he made them uncomfortable - and have them come back for more.

I blogged about Lenny Bruce a while back, telling how Bruce opened the door for today's comics. That was true: Lenny cracked the door - but Richard Pryor slammed it all the way open. He exposed himself as few other comics could or would. The monologue was often abrasive, abusive and yeah, damn funny.

So irreverent was Pryor at his zenith that Saturday Night Live, already edging the constraints of censorship in the 70's, instituted the five-second delay just for the raunchy comedian. A timeless sketch from the show featured Pryor with Chevy Chase, playing a job applicant and the interviewer, respectively. As recounted by Michael Ventre in a tribute: "Chase engaged [Pryor] in a word association test. But as each word became more racist than the next, Pryor became more agitated. Near the end, Chase tossed out another racist pejorative, to which Pryor replied, “Honky.” When Chase followed that with the “N” word, Pryor answered ominously, “Dead honky.” It remains one of the signature moments in SNL history."

Pryor once marveled at his luck: "...I live in racist America and I’m uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it. You can’t do much better than that."

Despite his successes, Pryor never seemed to be able to outrun his demons. Even two decades after his near destruction from free-basing and a decade after a near fatal heart attack, he was struck down with multiple sclerosis that robbed him of his trademark abrasiveness and vitality. And yesterday morning, the demons silenced him at last.

May he find the peace that seemed to evade him on this earth.

RIP Richard.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 12/11/2005 12:05:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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