American actor, writer, and stand-up comedian Richard Pryor, who had his heyday in the 1980s, died at 65 of a third heart attack on December 10, 2005.
Richard Pryor was married seven times with seven kids and also suffered multiple sclerosis for several years. One of the greatest comedians of his time, he was known for his monologues’ aggressive and often provocative content.
He greatly influenced comedians such as Robin Williams, David Letterman, Whoopi Goldberg, and Eddie Murphy, and we’re looking at the facts of his life.
Richard Pryor was born in Illinois in December 1940. His grandmother, with whom he lived, ran bars and brothel businesses.
Pryor had a tumultuous childhood and was a victim of sexual abuse by a man in his neighborhood at 6. By the time he was 10, his parents had separated, and he began to live with his grandmother fully.
He attended Catholic grammar school, which was a predominantly white school. His career as a comedian began when he realized he could make his family laugh.
He took this trait with him to high school and became the class clown. Finally, he made a deal with one of his teachers: if he stops joking during class, the teacher will let him do his show in front of his classmates once a week.
By the time he was 14, he was expelled from school once the nuns found out about the nature of his family business. He started doing odd jobs, and to escape his reality, he enlisted in the army in 1958.
He served in the West German military until 1960. He was imprisoned after stabbing and assaulting a white soldier on racial grounds.
He relocated to New York in 1963 and started by performing in clubs and opening shows like he did for Nina Simone.
In a flash, he started appearing on television shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
By 1968, he had made waves in Las Vegas and released his first comedy album titled “Richard Pryor.” He had walked out of a Las Vegas show and started working profanity into his acts.
He was among the first African Americans to use the n-word, paving the way for subsequent generations of rappers and comedians. To hone his voice, he moved to Berkeley, California.
In the 70s, he began writing for television shows and even shared an Emmy Award for the 1973 “Lily Tomlin” special. He moved on to larger screens when he debuted in the 1967 movie “The Busy Body.”
More movies followed, including “Wild in the Streets,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Some Call It Loving,” “Silver Streak,” “The Toy,” “Superman III,” and more.
In 1975, Pryor became the first black person to host “Saturday Night Live.” In the same year, he received a gold certificate from the RIAA while winning the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album at the 1975 Grammy Awards.
He did not hesitate to tackle the taboo subjects, and his success on stage made him one of the highest-paid artists in America in the 80s.
Most comedians admired and emulated him. People loved his materials as much as they despised them for their fearlessness in confronting himself and racism in America.
He discussed anything and everything. He also had the unique ability to turn his tragedies into hilarious jokes and gags. His wife, Jennifer Lee Pryor, said
“He was able to turn pain into comedy. He let the world see it, and that was his inspiration, too.”
Pryor’s work earned him awards and honors, such as being the first-ever recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1998. In 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Before his death, Pryor won an Emmy, five Grammys, the Writers Guild of America, and two American Academy of Humor awards.
He was number one on Comedy Central’s list of all-time greatest stand-up comedians, and in 2017, he was number one on the Rolling Stone list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.
In 2020, MGM won a film rights auction for a movie on him. They will partner with Kenya Barris to make his directorial debut on the film he will write.
The film will be produced by Jennifer Lee Pryor, Tory Metzger, and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, with executive producers Adam Rosenberg and Renee Witt.
Pryor had only five wives but was married seven times. He was married to Patricia Price from 1960 to 1961. He married Shelley R. Bonus in 1968, and they divorced in 1969.
In 1977, he married Deborah McGuire, and they split up in 1978. He then married Jennifer Lee in 1981, and they divorced in 1982.
In 1986, he married Flynn Belaine, and they got divorced in 1987. They remarried again in 1990 but only lasted another year before their divorce.
On June 29, 2001, he remarried Jennifer Lee, and they were together till his death in 2005. He was accused of physical abuse, violence, being manipulative, and self-destructive.
Even though he had five wives, he had seven children by six different women. At 16, his first child Renée Pryor was born on February 13, 1957.
Price bore him a son Richard Jr. on July 31, 1962. His third child, Elizabeth Ann, was born on April 28, 1967, by Maxine Anderson, his girlfriend.
Bonus gave him a daughter, Rain, born on July 16, 1969. He had two children Steven and Kelsey, born on August 1, 1984, and October 25, 1987, respectively, with Belaine.
Before Kelsey was born, he had an affair with Geraldine Mason, who bore him a son, Franklin, born on April 11, 1987. He and his children were never close.
Following his divorce from McGuire, though, his children became the most significant aspect of his life. Renée lived with him, and even though he said there wasn’t enough daddy to go around, he spent the summer of 1977 in Europe with all of his children.
Despite the mild heart attack in 1977, near-fatal burns from a 1980 suicide attempt, and his abuse of drugs, Pryor believed that being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in August 1986 would not be his death.
He continued performing, but his condition started to go downhill in 1990. In March of the same year, he suffered his second heart attack while on vacation in Australia.
In the Fall of 1990, it got to a point where he couldn’t get out of bed and was given two weeks to walk again. Being a fighter, he called in a trainer and was back on his feet again.
In 1991, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery, and by 1992, he had started using a wheelchair. However, he was still seen making jokes about his afflictions and his chair. He said,
“We take so much for granted, but man, lose the movement of your legs, and you begin to take a closer look at life.”
Before he died, people peddled rumors of his death, but he always let them know he was still alive. Though he might be slower on some days, some days were better than others. He did not survive another heart attack.