Richard Pryor Remembered

It is somewhat depressing that only a short month after writing about the death of Moustapha Akkad, here I am again paying my respects to one of the world's greatest comedians.

It is impossible to do Pryor's wide and varied career the justice that it deserves in the small space here, or to really emphasise his influence on a whole new generation of comedians, which includes Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy and Will Smith - among so many others. However, as with most children of the eighties, I came to know Pryor's work through his time as an A-list actor - headlining such classic comedies as 1976's Silver Streak and, especially, 1980's Stir Crazy; both of which also featured Gene Wilder. In his autobiography entitled Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences Pryor sheds little light on this time of his life - prefering (perhaps understandably) to talk in detail about his amazing career as a stand up comedian - but he does at least reveal that, when doing Stir Crazy, he lived in low rent conditions in order to 'get into' the part of Harry Monroe, the wrongly convicted, working class drifter. Pryor would team again with Wilder for 1989's See No Evil, Hear No Evil - which he claims to have done solely for the pay cheque although the film is actually an enjoyable romp - and 1991's Another You, where his deteriorating health was all too obvious.

Pryor's other film highlights include writing the screenplay to Mel Brook's masterpiece Blazing Saddles (1974), his supporting roles in the cult hit Car Wash (1976) and the ambitious The Wiz (1978), as well as his promiment appearance in the otherwise bland sequel Superman 3 (I983).

If we're being brutally honest, the films that he choose as his starring projects were usually disappointing and certainly not suited to such a huge talent. Few laughs were to be had with failed comedies such as 1982's The Toy, 1985's thoroughly mediocre Brewster's Millions, 1987's Critical Condition and 1988's Moving. Furthermore, whilst his 1989 appearance opposite his heir apparent Eddie Murphy should have beena dream made in Hollywood, the end result was a disaster.

Even so, on the back Stir Crazy (one of the best films of the eighties. Period) and his lively, incredibly political and emotionally charged stand up appearances (the best of which is captured in his 1979 Richard Pryor, Live in Concert document) he will be forever remembered as an incredible comedy talent.

As with so many huge talents, Pryor also had his dark side - which included being raised in poverty (and a brothel) drug addiction, wife beating and his notorious attempt at suicide via lighting himself on fire. Such information makes his comical demeanour and - especially - his comparitively light hearted comedy film outings from the eighties all the harder to fully comprehend. For those who wish to attempt to do, then his aforementioned autobiography is as a good a place as anywhere to start.

In the meantime, RIP to a comic genius.

Calum Waddell

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