From Peoria, Illinois poverty to Hollywood affluence. From abandonment by his mother to adoration from millions of fans. From a childhood in a brothel to eight marriages (twice to the same woman) and seven children. From tragedy to triumph and back again, Richard Pryor has earned the status of Legend as a masterful storyteller, a multi-talented entertainer, a comic of acerbic wit, and a survivor with no self-pity.
Born December 1, 1940, Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III became one of the most influential comedians in the history of comedy. Few comics today will talk about their own careers without mentioning the inspiration they received from Pryor. A talented yet controversial man, most people either love him unconditionally or hate him passionately, but few ignore him.
One of four children raised in his grandmother's brothel, Richard experienced rape at the age of six (by a teenaged neighbor) and molestation by a Catholic priest during catechism. He watched his mother perform sexual acts with Peoria's mayor. One way the young boy escaped from these traumatic experiences was to attend the movies. Seated in the "black seats" at his local cinema, Pryor consumed the screen worlds of such heroes as John Ford and Howard Hawks, stirring within a wild ambition to become a star like them. He was expelled from school for a petty offense at age 14, and began working as janitor at a local strip club, work as shoe-shine and "careers" as drummer, meat packer, truck driver, and billiard hall attendant combined to pre-ordain a perspective of the black underclass in 1950s America that Pryor translated into honest and hilarious routines.
Several brushes with the country's penal system gave him first-hand knowledge of the treatment of blacks within it. Ask anyone who has followed Pryor's comedy and the word authentic comes up. But, as the Grateful Dead sang, "What a long, strange road it's been" for the 65 years that Pryor blessed this earth. And, as Richard says, "I ain't dead yet, Muther Fucka!"
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