5 Times Richard Pryor was the GOAT of Wild Celeb Stories
A quick trip through Page Six gives us the celebrity gossip of the day: A singer cancels a tour to take a mental health break. An influencer denies an affair with a tech billionaire. A former child star apologizes to a current child star for hurting her feelings.
Are you serious? Stand-up superstar Richard Pryor pulled more crazy-ass stunts on a daily basis than all of today’s celebs combined. Here are five times Pryor would have blown up the Internet.
He drove around in a sportscar with Pam Grier. And a freaking horse.
We have to start here: Richard Pryor owned a miniature horse.
Because of course he did! He was Richard Pryor! But unfortunately, there came a day when a pack of Pryor’s dogs attacked his tiny, tiny horse. The guy owned a lot of animals and, what can we say, they didn’t always get along.
In a panic, Richard called his girlfriend, 70s blaxploitation icon Pam Grier. Pryor was in one of his brief sober periods, but Grier knew if the minuscule horse didn’t make it, Richard was going to fall off the wagon again.
“He was sobbing from the core of his body,” remembers Grier. “He was in his bathrobe, and he was so distraught. I said, ‘We gotta go. The vet can’t come. We’ve got to put Ginger (the teeny steed) in the back seat.’”
Pryor protested -- how would they get a horse, even a puny one, into her Jaguar? But somehow they figured it out, Ginger’s head poking out one window, tail out the back. It was off to the freeway, where any car in the next lane had a view of Pam Grier behind the wheel, Richard Pryor crying in a bathrobe, and a horse tail waving from the back seat.
The happy ending: The entire veterinary staff met them in the parking lot, anxious to see a horse hanging in a sportscar. After some surgery and stitches, both Pryor and Ginger lived to tell the tale.
Young Pryor pretended to work security for Sammy Davis Jr.
When he was just 22 years old, Richard was scraping for performing gigs in Pittsburgh. When he found out that his idol Sammy Davis Jr. had just played the local civic center, Richard decided to track down Davis for advice. And maybe even a job.
Pryor somehow found the hotel where Davis was staying and snuck up to his room. Just one problem: Davis’s representative wouldn’t open the door. And when the persistent Pryor pulled up a chair in the hallway, Davis’s guy called the cops.
That didn’t deter Richard. When two officers arrived, the young comic deepened his voice, posed as the handler, and assured them the situation was under control. “Officer, about that young fellow—he has lit out, so take it easy. But if he comes back, I’ll give you a call.”
The police bought it, allowing Pryor to wait patiently until Davis finally emerged hours later. Pryor asked for work but got a bummed cigarette and advice instead. It was Sammy-style wisdom, but we’re not sure how helpful it was to young Richard:
“Daddy, swing—take it easy.”
He got busy with Marlon Brando.
Quincy Jones broke this story well after Pryor passed away, mouthing off about Brando’s sexual adventures in a New York Magazine interview:
“(Brando) would f*** anything. Anything! He’d f*** a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye.”
Whoa! Still, that’s just second-hand gossip, right? Well, Richard’s widow Jennifer confirmed it was true. She guessed that the openly bisexual Pryor would be “cracking up” if he knew that the story about his dalliances with Brando made it to print.
“It was the 70s! Drugs were still good, especially Quaaludes, she told TMZ. “If you did enough cocaine, you’d f*** a radiator and send it flowers in the morning.”
He destroyed his own independent film
Inspired by the low-budget success of late 1960s movies like Easy Rider, Pryor decided to write, direct, produce, and star in Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales, a flick in which “the black revolution and the sexual revolution (would) meet and strike up sparks.”
Pryor had little acting experience at the time. Writing, directing, producing? Even less. But he did have thirty grand in the bank, courtesy of a wedding gift from his in-laws, so at least he had a budget (and pissed-off in-laws). It would all be based on a screenplay described as “an odd mixture of pornography, black comedy, and Black Power agitprop.”
Production was a mess. Inebriated filming made for aimless continuity. But Pryor got lucky when he went to the UCLA campus to recruit cheap talent. He found a young editor who would try to make sense of his disjointed footage -- Penelope Spheeris, the woman who’d go on to direct Wayne’s World and other successful films.
But editing with Pryor wasn’t a barrel of laughs. Spheeris edited on a Moviola in Pryor’s home, 12-hour days spent trying to salvage a story. It probably didn’t help that Pryor was throwing out ideas in his bathrobe, receiving creative inspiration from Courvoisier and cocaine.
Things finally went south when Pryor’s wife Shelley screamed that she was sick of his movie and sick of him not paying attention to his wife and child. In response, Pryor attacked the editing machine, shredding every bit of the 2,000 feet of film. Spheeris was speechless -- months of work ripped to bits.
That should have been the end of Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales, but a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby (!) helped Spheeris piece the film back together. Once Spheeris had a working print, Pryor screened it for Cosby. His reaction?
“Hey, this s*** is weird.”
The movie never saw the light of day.
He found a way to make blackface work
Richard Pryor’s breakthrough screen role was as Gene Wilder’s partner in Silver Streak, a film made much better once Pryor rewrote all his lines. He also re-engineered what would have been an extremely problematic scene, one in which Wilder tries to escape a sticky situation -- in blackface.
20th Century Fox
In the original version, a white dude walks into a bathroom to find Wilder’s character, George, in his blackface camouflage. With a little stereotypical strutting, George convincingly pulls off his black man charade.
Pryor hated the scene and went to Wilder’s hotel room with a better idea. In the new version, a black man enters the bathroom and isn’t fooled for an instant. Instead, he gives advice: “You might be in pretty big trouble, fella, but for God’s sake, learn to keep time.”
While filming, Pryor kept on rewriting. When George applies shoe polish to his face, Pryor’s character, Grover, was supposed to wisecrack, “Instant suntan!” Instead, George now hesitated to apply the dark tones. Grover’s new retort: “What? Are you afraid it won’t come off?”
In the revised scene, Wilder stops halfway through his make-up work, a white man looking in the mirror and, for a moment, imagining what it would be like to lose his whiteness. Pryor biographer Scott Saul argues the rewrite made blackface a perfect disguise for George precisely because white people preferred not to look too closely at the world around them. Pryor transformed a white screenwriter’s hamfisted attempt at comedy into a hard look at the complexity of race in America.
Richard came up with one other pointed gag that sadly was cut from the movie. At one point, George cried that Grover gave him the wrong shade of shoe polish. Pryor knows that it won’t matter: “All the police look for is to see if you got color, any color.”
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
For ComedyNerd exclusive content and more, subscribe to our fancy newsletter:
Top image: Special Event Entertainment