Born December 1, 1940 – Peoria, Illinois
Uncompromising. Influential. Fearless. Controversial. Hilarious. And one of the most honest voices ever to be heard on a stand-up stage.
Leaving behind the remnants of a deeply troubled upbringing in Peoria, in the early 1960’s Pryor made his way to New York, and the Village coffeehouse stages where the likes of Woody Allen and Bob Dylan were also trying to find their way. A cleaner style in his early years got him early bookings on shows including On Broadway Tonight, The Joey Bishop and Pat Boone Shows, not to mention 15 Ed Sullivan Show and 45 Merv Griffin Show appearances.
The country was changing, and his stand-up grew to reflect it. More socially aware, more challenging, more profanity to be sure, and more truth as he viewed it. This was evident in his live appearances, and on the albums that followed, and the audiences took notice. From 1975 to 1983 he would win the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording five times, and his album success opened other doors. An in-demand writer, he would work on a wide range of projects, from co-writing the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles, to sharing an Emmy Award for his work on Lily, a Lily Tomlin TV special. At the same time, smaller film roles in Uptown Saturday Night, Car Wash, and The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings grew to starring roles in Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, Superman III, and Brewster’s Millions, and his concert film Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip took in the largest box office numbers of any concert film released to that time. His last film of note was Harlem Nights that brought together three generations of comedy giants, Redd Foxx, Pryor, and his disciple Eddie Murphy.
His career began to wind down due to health problems, but his contributions to the world of comedy did not go unnoticed. In 1998 the Kennedy Center presented its first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and out of all the ground-breaking talent that had come to that point, they selected Pryor as the inaugural recipient.
In polls selecting the best stand-ups of all time, Pryor routinely stands at the top.
Died December 10, 2005 – Los Angeles, California