Football Legend Jim Brown Was Immortalized in Richard Pryor’s Greatest Comedy Concert

Brown was the only one with the guts to ask Pryor, ‘What you gonna do?’
Football Legend Jim Brown Was Immortalized in Richard Pryor’s Greatest Comedy Concert

Jim Brown, the NFL legend who passed away last week at age 87, was a man of many talents. In addition to being the NFL’s all-time leading rusher for several years before Walter Payton, then Emmitt Smith took his title, he became a Hollywood leading man at a time when Black actors had trouble getting roles of any kind. The Dirty Dozen star even ran a movie production company with comedian Richard Pryor, who immortalized Brown in his iconic concert film, Live on the Sunset Strip.

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As Pryor tells the story, he was nearing the low point of his drug addiction when his wife called Brown to talk some sense into the comic. Pryor responded with bravado: “Fuck Jim Brown! I’ll show Jim Brown. I don’t give a fuck. Nobody afraid of Jim Brown here.” That was, until Brown arrived at Pryor’s front door armed with questions Pryor wasn’t expecting: “You want to go roller skating?” Pryor pointed to his pipe — it was clear he was busy getting high. But that didn’t deter Brown: “Maybe you want to go for a ride.”

Pryor didn’t want to do any of that, so Brown laid it on the line: “You ain’t no movie star to me. I ain’t scared of you, motherfucker. I’m your friend. What you gonna do? You gonna get well, or you gonna end our friendship? What you gonna do?” 

No matter how Pryor and his pipe fought back, Brown returned to the same argument: “What you gonna do?”

“He was free-basing, he had guns around. I almost got him in the hospital, but he didn’t show up,” Brown said later. “And I think that very night was when he lit himself. He called for me in the hospital.”

Brown says he took over Pryor’s affairs, according to The Stacks Reader: “People wanted the combination to his safe, I kept that from happening. With his feeble hand, I got him to write a check so his family could have money for the house. I worked closely with the doctors.” 

The two men were such close friends that Pryor made Brown the head of his new film company, Indigo Productions. Unfortunately, the business relationship didn’t last long. “One afternoon, Richard asked me to come by,” Brown wrote in his autobiography, Out of Bounds. “Richard was upset, I asked him, what’s up? He said, ‘Well, look, I don’t think I really need you anymore. I think my family can take care of everything.’ My mouth fell slightly open, when I regained my composure, I said okay and left.”

In Pryor’s version, he told Essence that Brown was a bully: “And there was a point when I had to say, ‘All you can do is kill me, but you can’t be the president of my company, because I’m not going to take any more of this shit.’” 

Unfortunately, both men could be unreliable narrators so it’s hard to say who was truly responsible for the end of their friendship. But they each agree on one thing: Brown showed up on the comic’s most fateful night and tried to help. It’s likely no one ever asked Pryor a more pointed question, one that he had to answer from that night forward every time he was tempted by his pipe: “What you gonna do?”

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