That Time Richard Pryor Flame-Broiled Burger King for Unethical Animal Treatment

The vegetarian comic changed your Triple Whopper forever
That Time Richard Pryor Flame-Broiled Burger King for Unethical Animal Treatment

In the early 2000s, Burger King received the Whopper treatment, getting flame-broiled for using meat sources that employed less-than-humane practices. We’ll spare you the details on the animal abuse, but let’s just say it wasn’t royal treatment. A year earlier, McDonald’s had instituted new guidelines to ensure creatures were treated well (or as well as can be expected under the circumstances). Now, PETA was grilling Burger King with a campaign subtly named Murder King, a cause it advanced with the help of Richard Pryor.

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Pryor supported protests that targeted individual Burger King franchises and took part in a letter-writing campaign to the people who owned and operated them. PETA also enlisted James Cromwell of lovable pig Babe fame to personally send a letter to Burger King’s CEO, urging him to “ponder that life for millions of chickens, pigs and cows raised and killed for Burger King continues to be hideously cruel.” (The letter appeared in a full-page ad in the CEO’s local newspaper — we’re sure that sat well with the neighbors.)

The pressure, led by Pryor, Cromwell and Alec Baldwin, worked. Burger King agreed to a number of new guidelines that seem like the least it could have done, including:

  • Unannounced inspections of its slaughterhouses, and taking action against facilities that failed those inspections 
  • New animal-handling guidelines
  • More cage space for laying hens that gave them enough room to stand fully upright
  • More water drinkers per cage
  • Pork purchases from farms that didn’t confine sows to stalls

Good for animals and good for fast-food consumers, but of all people, why was Pryor working as a cow crusader? It’s actually not that much of a mystery. 

“Richard always loved animals,” his two-time wife Jennifer Lee Pryor told National Geographic’s Jordan Schaul and celebrity animal lovers the Barbi Twins, citing the comedian’s virtual menagerie that included a miniature pony, monkeys and at least three dogs. “Richard mimicked animals in his comedy routines (like) a deer in the woods, and he gave a voice to a neighbor’s German Shepherd who took pity on Richard during a heartbreak. Richard had a deep well of empathy and compassion. It was a wonderful bond we shared. He had two companion dogs, Homer and Spirit, that were with him throughout the last years of his life.”

The comic’s love for animals lives on at Pryor’s Planet, a nonprofit in Pryor’s name dedicated to “saving lives, providing sanctuary and making the world a better place for all creatures.”

He also helped change Burger King forever, ironic since Pryor was a vegetarian and therefore an unlikely customer. “I was standing at the corner of 42nd Street, and this man came up to me and said, ‘Rise, and go forth and be a vegetarian,’” he told the New Yorker. “Vegetables are funny. They have a great sense of humor. You drop their seeds in the ground and they rub around in the dirt and then they grow up and you can eat them.” 

As far as we know, neither the seeds nor the vegetables mind at all.

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