Richard Pryor, 1940-2005
The great Richard Pryor died today:
There is an entire generation or two around today that don’t really know Pryor in his prime, and it’s hard to explain in retrospect. Sure, he brought the "N word" to vogue; but that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the magic. He came off as a God child; angry and remorseful about the state of race relations, but at the same time amused and dismissive of it – he grasped the absurdity of it, and threw it back out there for people to see.
"Why they never have a hero – a black hero? I always wanted to go in the movies and see a black hero. I figured out maybe some day on television they’ll have it, man – like you see on the television, they come out, ‘Look- up in the sky! It’s a crow! It’s a bat! No – it’s Supernigger! Yes, friends, Supernigger! Able to leap tall buildings with a single bound! Faster than a bowl of chitlins! We find Supernigger with his X-ray vision, that enables him to see through everything except whitey."
To say that Pryor’s career skyrocketed would be an understatement. If all the researched dates are right, he would have reappeared in ’72, went straight into "Lady Sings the Blues," for which he received an Oscar nomination, helped write Lily Tomlin’s legendary TV special, was then up for the lead in "Blazing Saddles" but couldn’t be used because of the controversial nature of his stand-up act, and instead co-wrote the film with Mel Brooks, then wrote for -and appeared on – "The Flip Wilson Show." Then he recorded his act and released "That Nigger’s Crazy" in 1974, and busted the charts. The next year, he recorded live again and put out "Is It Something I Said?," and busted the charts. Again. The next year he felt patriotic and released "Bicentennial Nigger," and busted the charts yet again.
Then, in succession "Car Wash," "Silver Streak," "Which Way is Up?," "Blue Collar," "The Wiz," "Stir Crazy," "Bustin’ Loose" and finally his amazing "Live on Sunset Strip" in 1982. Richard Pryor had done more than capture the attention of America; he had unlocked the door. The man who was "too controversial" to star in "Blazing Saddles" in 1974 had hosted the Oscars twice, appeared as a presenter twice more and guested on Johnny Carson three times. No matter what well-earned reputation he has in the pantheon of comedy, it has to be remembered how much he contributed towards the "normalization" of blacks in Hollywood.
Richard Pryor always knew better than to become too respectable, and maybe that was simply due to a massive self-destructive streak, I don’t know. But one of the mistakes he never made was to become what he despised.
Sixty five years was just way too short.
Digby has more.