Richard Pryor passed away this weekend at the age of 65. Pryor, who had suffered for years from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, died at a Los Angeles hospital from a heart attack.
A comedian, a film star, a raconteur, an entertainer, Pryor was an iconoclast whose material showed us that comedy could not just make us laugh, but could also make us think. Pryor covered race, sex and power in a way that no comedian ever had. His style was a breakthrough, and he opened the door for a generation of comedians who came after him.
Pryor grew up in Peoria, Illinois, raised by his parents and grandmother who ran bars and brothels. His early experience in the bordellos, surrounded by a world of winos, prostitutes, pimps, junkies and pool hustlers, would shape his view on life and his comedy later in life.
He started playing bars and clubs in Peoria, later toured the chitlin circuit and finally made his way to New York. His early style was more Bill Cosby than the quintessential Richard Pryor that the public would come to know later in life. But his clean humor made him a household name nationwide within the space of two years and led to appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."