I just read the news an hour ago.
His passing just breaks my heart even as I’m certain there is an aspect of mercy to it.
I discovered Richard Pryor by watching his show on NBC in 1977. I would have been 13 or 14 at the time. I haven’t seen those episodes since they originally aired but I could still tell you some of the bits over a quarter century later.
What I remember about the bits that stuck with me was that they steered away from humor and into what I guess one might call experimental theatre.
The two I’m thinking of are a scene in which Pryor started in playing a drunk husband coming home, ranting and bitching like a typical sketch comedy wino, and then passing out on the couch.
You’d think the scene would end there except it went on with an actress playing his wife doing a beautiful monologue over her unconscious spouse, mourning the man and the husband he had been before succumbing to alcoholism.
To this day thinking about it kind of chokes me up.
The other bit featured a line of beautiful black women in evening gowns standing along a flight of stairs. Each of them was a different shade of black, ranging from pure African to near-white. Each of them had one line, beginning with a description of their skin tone and going on to say why it was beautiful. It was basically a performed love poem by black women for black women. I don’t think Pryor appeared in it at all.
Putting aside his lesser stuff which even he admitted was paycheck driven crap, if you look at his best work you’ve got a man of his time and circumstance doing extraordinarily brave, original, and honest work.
It is a huge loss that his illness prevented him from doing more such stuff in the past and sadder still that we will never enjoy what he might have written in years to come.
At his best he left every other comedian I’ve ever seen in the dust.
I just went to his website.
It hasn’t been updated since this morning. You can tell by the caption “I ain’t dead yet, mother@#$%!”
I hope they leave it as is for a while. And I’m ordering those NBC shows.
Rest In Peace.