ichard Pryor – born Dec. 1, 1940 and died Dec. 10, 2005 – was, let's face it, one of the funniest motherfuckers on the planet. And we might as well drop the MF bomb in the first sentence, because, after all, if Richard wasn't afraid to use it, why should we?

Pryor had a way with a story, but, as noted, he also had a way with wicked words, throwing out racial epithets – "honky," "nigger," and "cracker" are just three that leap immediately to mind – without a second thought. In a world where rappers are throwing out the N-word so often that it barely registers anymore, the effect might be muted somewhat today, but, in the early '70s, Pryor's act would regularly make white America cringe. He started off much like his peer, Bill Cosby, telling tales of his childhood, but it didn't take long for him to switch gears and fall into the racially-charged routines that would make him a legend.

In addition to his stand-up, Pryor's movie career kept him in the public eye in the '70s, starring in "Uptown Saturday Night," "Car Wash," and his first of four collaborations with Gene Wilder, "Silver Streak." (He also co-wrote "Blazing Saddles" with Mel Brooks, which is often forgotten, since he's not actually in the film.) After a successful prime-time special, in 1977, Pryor was given a ten-week commitment by NBC for his own show, but his attempts to bring his brand of comedy to network television were ultimately futile. For one, NBC decided to put the show on at 8 PM, up against "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley," which were ABC's big-league blockbusters at the time…#1 and #2 in the ratings, respectively. The biggest issue, however, was that Pryor had to battle with the censors constantly…which, while probably not a shock to anyone else, managed to surprise and depress Pryor, who had no desire to dilute his comedy. (He later told Ebony that "the problem with censors is that they don't like for people to communicate.") When the show was cancelled after only five episode aired, Pryor gladly returned to film, appearing in "The Wiz," "Which Way Is Up?," and arguably his funniest (non-concert) film, "Stir Crazy."

Pryor also battled with drug addiction during the late '70s, which leads one to wonder if he was flying high when he made his '79 cameo as the balloon seller in "The Muppet Movie." In 1980, he set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine; there are mixed reports as to whether it was an accident or a suicide attempt, but, whatever the case, Pryor treated the stage as a confessional and, in 1982's classic Live on the Sunset Strip, he spoke of the event, adding, "When you're running down the street on fire, people get out of your way!" Pryor got his act together – combustion tends to do that to you – and got back into the business of making movies, but, unfortunately, they weren't what you'd call all-time classics. ("Superman III," anyone?) In the mid-'80s, he even made a return to television…hosting a Saturday morning children's show! Unfortunately, "Pryor's Place," as it was called, didn't last a great deal longer than the earlier foray into prime time, even with the help of Sid and Marty Krofft.

In 1986, Pryor announced that he was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. He did a few more films after that, including two more with Gene Wilder as well as "Harlem Nights," which teamed him with both Eddie Murphy and Redd Foxx, but the debilitation on his body grew more evident; his last film, David Lynch's "Lost Highway," found him in a wheelchair. Still, Pryor kept up the fight, regularly receiving tributes, including a Comedy Central special, appropriately entitled "I Ain't Dead Yet, #*%$@!!" Unfortunately…and given the M.S., inevitably…Pryor passed away in late 2005, but the path his comedy paved for Murphy, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and so many others means that he'll never be forgotten.

Essential Albums

First and foremost, get Live on the Sunset Strip and accept no substitutes. Beyond that, you get into personal preference, but …Is It Something I Said? features the Mudbone routine about "little feets," That Nigger's Crazy has his classic discussion of "The Exorcist," and you can't really go wrong with the title cut of Supernigger. If you expand to the compilations, however, you might do a little better. There are a pair of 2-disc collections – Evolution/Revolution, which covers Pryor's early, more traditional stand-up routines, and The Anthology, which tackles the seminal material from the '70s and early '80s. And if you're really inspired, there's the nine-disc set, …And It's Deep, Too!, which contains all of Pryor's Warner Brothers recordings.

Comedy Discography

Richard Pryor (1968)

Craps (After Hours) (1971)

That Nigger's Crazy (1974)

…Is It Something I Said? (1975)

L.A. Jail (1976)

Bicentennial Nigger (1976)

Are You Serious??? (1977)

Who, Me? I'm Not Him (1977)

Black Ben the Blacksmith (1978)

The Wizard of Comedy (1978)

Wanted / Richard Pryor –
Live in Concert

Outrageous (1979)

Insane (1980)

Holy Smoke (1980)

Rev. Do Rite (1981)

Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

Richard Pryor Live! (1983)

Supernigger (1983)

Here and Now (1983)


"The Busy Body" (1967)

"Wild in the Streets" (1968)

"You've Got To Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat" (1971)

"Lady Sings the Blues" (1972)

"The Mack" (1973)

"Hit!" (1973)

"Some Call It Loving" (1973)

"Uptown Saturday Night" (1974)

"Adios Amigo" (1976)

"Car Wash" (1976)

"The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars
& Motor Kings
" (1976)

"Silver Streak" (1976)

"Which Way Is Up?" (1977)

"Greased Lightning" (1977)

"Blue Collar" (1978)

"The Wiz" (1978)

"California Suite" (1978)

"Richard Pryor: Live in Concert" (1979)

"The Muppet Movie" (1979)

"Wholly Moses!" (1980)

"In God We Tru$t" (1980)

"Stir Crazy" (1980)

"Bustin' Loose" (1981)

"Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip" (1982)

"Some Kind of Hero" (1982)

"The Toy" (1982)

"Superman III" (1983)

"Richard Pryor: Here and Now" (1983)

"Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin'" (1985)

"Brewster's Millions" (1985)

"Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" (1986)

"Critical Condition" (1987)

"Moving" (1988)

"See No Evil, Hear No Evil" (1989)

"Harlem Nights" (1989)

"The Three Muscatels" (1991)

"Another You" (1991)

"Mad Dog Time" (1996)

"Lost Highway" (1997)

TV SeriesMovies

The Richard Pryor Show (1977)

Pryor's Place (1984)

"Richard Pryor: The Man Behind the Laughter" (1981)

"Richard Pryor: Black and Blue: The Unauthorized Biography" (1984)

"If I Stop I'll Die: The Comedy and
Tragedy of Richard Pryor
" (1993)

"Pryor Convictions: and Other Life Sentences" (1997)

"Jokes My Father Never Taught Me : Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor" (2006)

Famous Last Words

I'd like to make you laugh for about ten minutes…though I'm gonna be on for an hour.

I believe in the institution of marriage, and I intend to keep trying till I get it right.

It's the people you meet after you been drunk, that remember shit you don't remember. 'Hey Rich, don't you remember that time we went out, we got fucked up, and you stuck your arm up that elephant's ass? Don't you remember that? Elephant tightened his ass up and went walking down the street with you? Don't you remember that? Man, you looked like a turd with a hat on.'

I went to Zimbabwe...and I know how white people feel in America now: relaxed! 'Cause when I heard the police car, I knew they weren't coming after me! But I went through every phone book in Africa…and I didn't find one god damned Pryor!

When that fire hit your ass, it will sober your ass up quick! I saw something, I went, 'Well, that's a pretty blue. You know what? That looks like…FIRE!" Fire is inspirational. They should use it in the Olympics, because I ran the 100 in 4.3.

I went to a penitentiary one time…not me personally, but me and Gene (Wilder) went there for a movie. Arizona State Penitentiary. Population: 90 percent black people. But there are no black people in Arizona; they have to bus motherfuckers in!

See, there wouldn't have been no ('Exorcist') if there'd've been niggers in it. That movie would've been about seven minutes long. Soon as the devil spoke. 'Hello?' Goodbye! See, a nigger would've handled that movie differently. He'd've walked into the house and said, 'What is that funky smell?!? And all that racket upstairs! Is the girl crazy? Smell like shit in here…and some devilish shit, at that!' And you walk in the room and go, 'Bitch, what's wrong with you? Get up out the bed and go wash yo ass! You're stinking up the whole motherfucking house!'

I like makin' love myself…and I can make love for about three minutes. I do about three minutes of serious fuckin', then I need eight hours sleep…and a bowl of Wheaties!

It's so much easier for me to talk about my life in front of two thousand people than it is one-to-one. I'm a real defensive person, because if you were sensitive in my neighborhood, you were something to eat.

I live in racist America and I'm uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it. You can't do much better than that.