Although it’s been almost fourteen years since his passing, Richard Pryor is still hailed as the greatest comedian of all-time. His uncompromising perspective on race, religion, relationships, sex, and everything else under the sun catapulted him as arguably the most influential stand-up comedian. Among the comedians that Pryor influenced are Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, and many more.
Born on December 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois, Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor in the brothel run by his grandmother, Marie Carter. His mother, Gertrude L. (née Thomas), was a prostitute and his father, LeRoy “Buck Carter” Pryor), was a former boxer and all-around hustler. Pryor’s upbringing became the impetus for his unabashed style of comedy in which he openly talked about his life growing up.
Pryor’s work as a comedian is second to none. His recordings include Richard Pryor: Live & Smokin’ (1971), That Nigger’s Crazy (1974), …Is It Something I Said? (1975), Bicentennial Nigger (1976), Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979), Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), and Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983). Many of his comedic work was in collaboration with another comedy icon Paul Mooney. Because of the length and breadth of his career, Pryor’s reputation as the best stand-up ever is cemented in stone.
Pryor also starred in many films such as Lady Sings the Blues (1972), The Mack (1973), Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Silver Streak (1976), Car Wash (1976), Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976), Which Way Is Up? (1977), Greased Lightning (1977), Blue Collar (1978), The Muppet Movie (1979), Superman III (1983), and the semi-autobiographical Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986). He also wrote the classic Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks in 1973.
Pryor was commercially successful and critically acclaimed as an artist. He won an Emmy Award (1973) and five Grammy Awards (1974, 1975, 1976, 1981, and 1982). In 1974, he also won two American Academy of Humor awards and the Writers Guild of America Award. He won the first-ever Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was presented in 1998. He ranked number one on Comedy Central’s list of all-time greatest stand-up comedians and in 2017, Rolling Stone ranked him first on its list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.
After a long struggle with multiple sclerosis, Pryor passed away December 10, 2005.