Richard Pryor was a groundbreaking African American comedian and one of the top entertainers of the 1970s and 1980s. As talented as he was, he did have some personal problems that interfered with his professional life. Did you know why he was reconsidered in the casting of Sheriff Bart on Blazing Saddles?
Richard Pryor co-wrote Blazing Saddles and was set to play Sheriff Bart, but the studio turned him down because of his drug use.
The Comedic Genius and Troubled Personal Life
Richard Pryor, a class clown in school and a community theater actor in his teens, became a successful stand-up comedian, television writer, and movie actor, appearing in films such as Stir Crazy and Greased Lightning.
Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986, but he continued to perform for several years. In 2005, he died of a heart attack.
Pryor had a long history of substance abuse and turbulent relationships on and off the set. In the early 1970s, he was charged with failing to file tax returns from 1967 to 1970.
Pryor was arrested again in 1978 after shooting his estranged wife’s car. He was sentenced to probation, fined, and ordered to seek psychiatric treatment as well as make restitution.
Pryor’s health began deteriorating, and he had his first heart attack in 1978. Following his health crisis, Pryor started working on what many critics consider his best performance.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) received widespread acclaim and sold out many urban movie theaters. That year, Pryor visited Kenya and announced that he would no longer use the n-word in his act.
Pryor and Wilder reunited for the popular crime comedy Stir Crazy (1980), directed by Sidney Poitier. The film was a box office smash, grossing more than $100 million. (Source: Biography)
The Comedian and the Drug Abuse
However, the actor’s drug use spiraled out of control the following year. In June 1980, after several days of freebasing cocaine, he attempted suicide by setting himself on fire. It was initially reported as an accident, but he later admitted in his autobiography that he did it on purpose while under the influence of drugs.
Pryor had third-degree burns on more than half of his body. In typical Pryor fashion, he found humor in his own suffering:
You know what I noticed? When you run down the street on fire, people move out of your way.Richard Pryor, Actor
Richard Pryor’s Lasting Legacy
Pryor died of a heart attack on December 10, 2005, in a hospital in the Los Angeles area. He paved the way for African American comedians like Murphy and Chris Rock to make their mark by providing audiences with both hilarious and moving performances.
Pryor started it all. He made the blueprint for the progressive thinking of Black comedians, unlocking that irreverent style.Chris Rock, Comedian
In 2016, it was revealed that Tracy Morgan was in talks to star in a Pryor biopic, with Lee Daniels on board to direct.
Pryor’s widow Jennifer Lee confirmed that tidbit to TMZ two years later, after Quincy Jones raised eyebrows by telling Vulture that Pryor had slept with actor Marlon Brando. She explained that Pryor was open about his bisexuality, which he wrote about in diaries she hoped to publish.(Source: Biography)
Image from NPR