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Remembering Richard Pryor

A look back on the influential comedy career of Richard Pryor, who died Saturday at the age of 65.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Richard Pryor was outrageous.

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    I don't know, something happens to white people when you start drinking and you hear one of them go yeeeee-haww!

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And he was always very, very funny.

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    I mean it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up because I know what's next.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Bob Newhart once called Pryor the single most seminal comedic influence of the last 50 years. For black comedians the influence was even more direct and personal. One, Keenan Ivory Wayans, once said that Pryor demonstrated you can be black and have a black voice and be successful.

    Pryor's storytelling made his audiences laugh but also think about race in America, as here in his 1981 concert film "Live on Sunset Strip."

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    I live in — I wanted to go to a place where there was no people and I found the place. There's 500 people live where I live and they're brown. I like that because you can sleep at night.

    You know, because you live around white people in the country and anything can happen. Not that I don't trust white people. It's just that in the night. You know what I mean?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In his early years, Pryor made explicit use of the most charged of racial insults but later changed his mind — and his act — after an eye-opening trip to Africa.

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    And I was sitting in the hotel and a voice said to me, and said, look around. What do you see? And I said I see all colors of people doing everything. And the voice said do you see any niggers? And I said no. He said, You know why? — because there aren't any.

    And it hit me like a shot, man. I started crying and ****, you know, sitting there. I said, yeah, I've been here three weeks. I haven't seen said it. I haven't even thought it. And it made me say, oh, my God, I've been wrong.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Richard Pryor was born in 1940 in Peoria, Illinois and raised in a brothel his grandmother ran. He dropped out of high school and served two years in the Army.

    He got his start in the early 1960s but later said it wasn't until 1970 that he found his true voice. He would win Grammys for his comedy albums —

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    I can't ski.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    — and star in a string of movies. Here he is with frequent co-star Gene Wilder from the 1980 film "Stir Crazy."

  • GENE WILDER:

    What are you doing?

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    I'm getting bad. You better get bad, Jack, because if you ain't bad, you're going to get ******. If you're bad they don't mess with you. Hey, get down!

  • ACTOR:

    Hey!

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    You are a little too bad, aren't you? Do some of these. Right on.

  • ACTOR:

    All right, all right. Here we go.

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    That's right. That's right. We're bad. That's right.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Pryor once described himself as a paranoid, lonely, sad and frustrated comedian. His drug use nearly killed him in 1980 when he sustained third degree burns while free basing cocaine. Typically the incident found its way into his act.

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    Strike the match like this. What is that? Richard Pryor running down the street.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Pryor also endured a debilitating battle with Multiple Sclerosis, beginning in the mid 1980s. That also was fodder for the stage.

  • RICHARD PRYOR:

    You know, I said, hey, all these diseases around, Richard finally it's caught up with you. You have one of them. And you're going to die.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It all caught up with him on Saturday, when he died of a heart attack. Richard Pryor was 65-years-old.

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