15 Trivia Tidbits About Richard Pryor
“What I’m saying might be profane,” Richard Pryor once said, “but it’s also profound.”
Comedy nerds agree, with lists from everyone from Comedy Central to Rolling Stone ranking Pryor as the top stand-up of all time. Here are 15 tidbits of trivia about the man who deserves to have his face carved in the Comedy Mount Rushmore…
He Was the First-Ever Recipient of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Award for American Humor in 1998
Lots of comedians have taken home this award (including Adam Sandler later this month), but only one could be the inaugural winner. “I feel great about accepting this prize,” he said on his big night. “It is nice to be regarded on par with a great white man — now that’s funny!”
He Won Three Consecutive Grammys and Was Nominated for Nine Consecutive Years
All told, Pryor won five Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Album, including three straight from 1975-1977. He was nominated every year from 1975 through 1983, bookending that streak with another back-to-back win.
He Grew Up in a Brothel Run By His Grandmother
As a boy in Peoria, Illinois, he was essentially raised by his grandmother Marie in her downtown brothel.
He Spent Nearly His Entire Army Stint in a Military Prison
When his troop was watching Imitation of Life, a movie about a young, light-skinned Black woman passing for white, one of Pryor’s fellow soldiers “laughed at the wrong spots.” One of Pryor’s friends started throwing punches, a fight ensued and Pryor stabbed the offending soldier with a knife. MPs threw him in the stockade, where he spent most of his time before discharge.
He and George Carlin Guest-Starred on a Summer Variety Series
Before either comic became a countercultural icon, Pryor and Carlin appeared together on the Kraft Summer Music Hall with squeaky-clean host John Davidson.
Bill Cosby Accused Him of Stealing Jokes. Cosby Was Probably Right
Young Pryor was enamored with Cosby’s style and began emulating his act. A 1964 review in the New York Herald Tribune said, “Richard Pryor has got guts. He uses Bill Cosby’s style, mannerisms, inflections and much of Cosby’s material without batting an eyelash.”
He Walked Off a Stage in Vegas Mid-Show and Completely Changed His Act
There are many variations of the story courtesy of Pryor himself, but here’s the gist of it: In a moment of existential crisis, Pryor surveyed the audience at his high-paying casino/hotel gig and asked, “What the fuck am I doing here?” Without telling a joke, he left the stage, intent on reinventing himself as the comic we knew from the 1970s.
He Won an Emmy Writing for Lily Tomlin
Pryor wrote and acted on Tomlin’s 1973 comedy special and earned himself a writing Emmy for his trouble.
He May Have Had an Affair with Marlon Brando
Though Pryor wasn’t around to confirm the story, producer Quincy Jones put the story out there that Pryor and Brando had a dalliance. Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee, confirmed the story: “It was the ’70s! Drugs were still good, especially Quaaludes. If you did enough cocaine, you’d f*** a radiator and send it flowers in the morning.”
He Was Supposed to Play Bart in ‘Blazing Saddles’ But the Production Studio Wouldn’t Insure Him
Pryor wrote the script along with Mel Brooks and his team of comedy writers, all with the idea that the comic would play Black Bart. Despite Brooks swearing that he begged Warner Bros. “on bended knee” to give the part to Pryor, the studio wouldn’t budge. His notorious relationship with cocaine made it impossible to get the film insured.
‘Saturday Night Live’ Had to Use a Tape Delay When Pryor Hosted During Its First Season
“When Richard Pryor hosted, NBC wanted a five-second delay because they thought Pryor might say something filthy,” remembered comedy manager Bernie Brillstein. “We ended up with a three-second delay, I think.” That was at least a compromise — Lorne Michaels claims to have resigned when NBC told him “you can’t have Pryor.” It was one of several Michaels “resignations” in those days, but in the end, he got Pryor as host.
He Hosted His Own Saturday Morning Kids Show, With a Theme Song by Ray “Ghostbusters” Parker Jr.
It’s a bop.
He Stopped Using the N-Word After a Visit to Kenya
After three weeks in Africa, Pryor realized he’d not only not said the word for his entire visit, but he hadn’t even thought it. It made him think, “Oh my God, I’ve been wrong,” vowing to never call a Black man by that name ever again.
He Was the First Black Actor to Earn $1 Million for a Single Film
Pryor re-teamed with Gene Wilder for Stir Crazy, earning a cool million for the gig. In a few years, he’d make $4 million for his supporting role in Superman III — more than Christopher Reeve got to wear the cape.
His Last Film Appearance Was in David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’
Pryor battled MS toward the end of his life, using a motorized scooter to get around. His last role ever was this brief cameo in, of all things, a David Lynch weirdfest.