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Black History Month Bio: Richard Pryor

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When you watch a comedian on tv, you’re witnessing an influence of Richard Pryor. Whether the comedian is black, white, Hispanic, or other, Pryor has had a hand in helping comedians’ style and material. His work broke ground and paved the way for other black comedians, like Eddie Murphy, Mike Epps and Kevin Hart.

Richard Pryor was born on the first of December 1940 in Illinois.  His mother worked as a prostitute from time to time and his father was a boxer and served during World War 2. While his mother went to work, Richard would stay with his grandmother. Pryor would then suffer from sexual abuse at a young age.


To escape the harsh reality that he was dealing with, he would often attend the movies. Known for being the class clown, he was expelled from school at the age of 14 and would find work as a young actor until 1958. In ’58 he would then join the military and serve for only two years, being discharged for fighting with another soldier.


Upon his return, he wedded Patricia Price and soon divorced her after the birth of his first child. Three years later, he travelled to New York to pursue a career in in entertainment. Richard Pryor made his television debut on On Broadway Tonight; he would then guest star on The Merv Griffin Show and the Ed Sullivan Show. Around 1968 he appeared in bit parts in two movies and released his first comedy album.


Pryor co-starred in Lady Sings the Blues in 1972, along with Diana Ross and earned his first Emmy nomination as a writer on the Lily Tomlin Show. Pryor would also write for The Flip Wilson Show and Sanford and Son. His work garnered the attention of Mel Brooks; they would both go on to co-write Blazing Saddles.


His routines on stage as a stand-up comedian dealt with personal matters and observational humor. Here is where he had the free reign to speak his mind about everything from situations he’s been involved in to poking at the racial divide at the time.


Though he was at the top of his game, during the 1980s he began a downward spiral that began with drugs and ended with him lighting himself ablaze. In 1986, Richard was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Pryor continued to have a thriving career up until his death in 2005 from a heart attack.

Jonathan Silva is a graduate and current student at Full Sail University going for his Master's Degree in Journalism. When he isn't writing for film blogs like Get The Big Picture or listening to music, he's either watching movies or playing video games. His love for all things entertainment shine through in his writing.