To put it simply: Richard Pryor was one of the greatest comedic talents of all time. When he passed away earlier this week, just nine days after his 65th birthday, he left a rich legacy of trails blazed, bridges burned and the deafening roar of laughter. Pryor, along with Lenny Bruce, was the most important and influential comedian of the past 50 years. The opportunities enjoyed today by comedians—especially African-American comedians like Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle and Whoopi Goldberg—owe everything to Pryor.
More of a storyteller than a comedian, Pryor had a life filled with personal tragedies, which often made for his funniest material. He candidly talked about his legendary drug addiction, string of broken marriages and violent outbursts, and that's what drew people to him—there were no secrets about Richard. Even without knowing him personally, we all knew someone just like him, someone we loved despite their self-destructive nature.
Like those of many other great comedians, Pryor's movie star would come to eclipse his standup star, and most people remember him for a string of films like The Toy and Brewster's Millions that never did justice to his real talents. Ironically, Pryor's best film roles were dramatic, with Lady Sings the Blues, The Mack and the brilliant Blue Collar ranking among his best work. The best of his comedic work includes Which Way Is Up?, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy and scene-stealing cameos in Car Wash and The Muppet Movie. And even in flawed films like Bustin' Loose, there are moments of greatness. But the best work by Pryor (not including his albums) will always be his legendary appearance on Saturday Night Live (the single funniest episode the show ever produced), and his concert films, especially Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979). Talking about everything from his first heart attack to his pet monkey that would fuck him in the ear (eek! eek! eek!), this is arguably the best of Pryor's four concert films, 78 minutes of poignant brilliance.
There is no measure to the importance and impact Richard Pryor had on our lives. Among the greatest lessons he taught us was that even in pain, there is laughter to be found. And even though he is gone, he will never stop making us laugh. Thank you, Richard.