Richard Pryor Biography

Richard Pryor was an African-American actor and comedian. This biography profiles his childhood, life, career, achievements, timeline, and other facts.

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 1, 1940

Nationality: American

Famous: Quotes By Richard Pryor Actors

Died At Age: 65

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Also Known As: Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor

Born in: Peoria, Illinois, United States

Famous as: Comedian


Spouse/Ex-: Patricia Price (m. 1960; div. 1961); Shelley R. Bonus

father: LeRoy

mother: Gertrude L. (née Thomas)

Died on: December 10, 2005

place of death: Encino, Los Angeles, California, U.S.

Grouping of People: Black Men

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

U.S. State: Illinois

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Richard Pryor was an African-American stand-up comedian, actor, television writer, and a social critic. A highly-acclaimed comedy star, he was as renowned for his hilarious improvisations during his live comedy shows as for his dashing lifestyle, many affairs, and a lifelong battle with drug addiction. He influenced many up and coming, modern comic artists with his flair for captivating the audience through minute observations and skillful storytelling. Considered as one of the brightest stars of his generation, Pryor influenced generations of stand-up comedians and was referred to as ‘The Picasso of our Profession’, and ‘The Seminal Comedian of the Last 50 Years' by his colleagues. Pryor was one of the top entertainers of the 1970s and 1980s and holds the honor of being listed at the top spot on Comedy Central's list of ‘All-Time Greatest Stand-Up Comedians’ and Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘Fifty Best Stand-Up Comedians of All Time’. Pryor was an animal rights activist and campaigned for the protection of elephants.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Richard Pryor was born Richard Franklin Lennox Pryor the Third, on December 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois, Chicago to Gertrude L. (Thomas), and LeRoy "Buck Carter" Pryor, a former boxer and hustler who also served the military during World War II.
  • His mother abandoned him when he was ten years old and he was raised by his grandmother, Marie Carter, in a brothel. His upbringing was stern and unforgiving, resulting in beatings for the smallest of eccentricities.
  • Pryor was one of the four children raised in his grandmother's brothel and was sexually abused at age seven by a teenage neighbor and later by a childhood preacher.
  • Despite these circumstances, he played the part of class clown at school and discovered his acting skills in his early teens.
  • He was expelled from school at the age of 14and ended up working a string of jobs until he joined the military.
  • Pryor served in the army for only two years, as he was discharged for fighting with another soldier.
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  • After his stint in the military, Richard Pryor moved to New York City to try his luck in acting in 1963 and began performing acts in various clubs in New York.
  • In 1964, he made his television debut on the variety show 'On Broadway Tonight'.
  • He debuted on the big screen in 1967with ‘The Busy Body’ and followed through with ‘Wild In The Streets’ in 1968.Pryor’s first, self-titled comedy album released in 1968 as well, which was inspired by those turbulent years of his life.
  • The early 1970s were majorly successful for Pryor. He released his second album ‘Craps (After Hours)’. The major breakthrough came due to his role in ‘Wattstax’, a tragi-comic documentary.
  • Pryor’s original content then started attracting a lot of attention. His comedy was like a breath of fresh air, despite, or perhaps because of its X-rated content. Richard’s third comedy album ‘That Nigger’s Crazy’ sold extremely well and won the ‘Grammy Award for Best Comedic Recording’ in 1976. The era of the late 1970ssaw him create a thriving career as an actor, with acclaimed performances in 11 films.
  • The first major blow his career suffered was because of his drinking, smoking, and drug habits. After this health crisis, hepicked himself up and started working on what later came to be known as his finest performance.The film 'Richard Pryor: Live in Concert'(1979) garnered a lot of praise and was sold out in many urban movie theaters.
  • In 1980, Richard Pryor allegedly tried to commit suicide by pouring rum all over himself and lighting himself on fire. He was restrained by the police while running thus on the street and taken to the hospital for treatment of severe burns.
  • After a lengthy recovery, he returned to stand-up comedy and acting. In 1983, Pryor became one of the highest-paid African-American actors, reportedly charging $4 million to play an evil henchman in Superman III.
  • In the autobiographical film ‘Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling’ (1986), he used his own life experience to play a popular stand-up comic who takes a look at his life while recuperating in a hospital. The film was not successful.
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  • In 1986, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis he did his best to remain active, starring in several movies. By theearly 1990s, he was confined to a wheelchair; still he kept performing stand-up comedy and acting. His last film appearance was in 'Lost Highway'(1997).
Major Work
  • Richard Pryor’s first major success was his third album, ‘That Nigger’s Crazy’, which released in 1974 and became a certified Gold hit. His next two albums, ‘….Is It Something I Said?’ and ‘Bicentennial Nigger’ enjoyed similar critical and commercial success.
  • He starred in 12 movies during the 1970s-80s, including box office hits such as ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ (1972), 'Silver Streak'(1976) with Gene Wilder, ‘Blue Collar’ (1978), and more.
  • Pryor reteamed with Gene Wilder for the popular crime comedy 'Stir Crazy'(1980); the film was a huge hit at the box office, earning more than $100 million.
  • The comedian wrote the autobiography 'Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences' with Todd Gold, earning critical acclaim upon its release in 1995.
Awards & Achievements
  • He won an Emmy Award in 1973 (Best Writing in Comedy in collaboration with Lily Tomlin) for his work on 'The Lily Tomlin Show'.
  • He won three consecutive Grammy Awards from 1974 to 1976 and others in 1981, 1982 for ‘Best Writing in Comedy’.
  • Pryor co-hosted the ‘Academy Award’ twice - in 1977, and in 1983.
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  • He has also won two ‘American Academy of Humor Awards’ and ‘Writers Guild of America Award’ for his humor portrayed in his stand-up comedy acts.
  • The first-ever ‘Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor’ was presented to him in 1998.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Pryor married seven times to five women and fathered seven children.
  • His first daughter was Renee Pryor, born in 1957, when he was 17, to his then girlfriend Susan.
  • He married Patricia Pryor in 1960 and had a son, Richard Pryor Jr., in 1961. He divorced Patricia the following year.
  • His third child was Elizabeth Ann, born in April 1967 to his girlfriend, Maxie Anderson.
  • He then married Shelley Bonis in 1967 and divorced her in 1969. The couple had a child, Rain Pryor, born in April 1969.
  • On 22nd September 1977, he married Deborah McGuire and they divorced the following year.
  • He married Jennifer Lee in August 1981 and divorced the next year but later remarried in June 2001 and remained married until his death.
  • He married his fifth wife, Flynn Belaine in October 1986 and divorced the next year but later remarried in April 1990, unfortunately divorcing again in July 1991. The couple had two kids; Steven, born in 1984, and Kelsey, born in October 1987.
  • He also fathered a child, Franklin, born in 1987, with actress and model, Geraldine Mason.
  • He had relationships with actresses Pam Grier and Margot Kidder.
  • He died at age 65, on December 10, 2005, suffering a heart attack in Los Angeles.
  • He was second cousin of actor and rapper, Ludacris.
  • Unknown to many, he was a longtime advocate against animal cruelty.

1. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)

  (Comedy, Documentary)

2. Blazing Saddles (1974)

  (Western, Comedy)

3. Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

  (Comedy, Documentary)

4. Blue Collar (1978)

  (Crime, Drama)

5. The Muppet Movie (1979)

  (Musical, Family, Comedy, Adventure)

6. Richard Pryor... Here and Now (1983)

  (Comedy, Documentary)

7. The Richard Pryor Special? (1977)


8. Lost Highway (1997)

  (Mystery, Thriller)


Primetime Emmy Awards
1974 Best Writing in Comedy-Variety, Variety or Music Lily (1973)
Grammy Awards
2002 Best Album Notes Winner
1983 Best Comedy Recording Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)
1982 Best Comedy Recording Winner
1977 Best Comedy Recording Winner
1976 Best Comedy Recording Winner
1975 Best Comedy Recording Winner

See the events in life of Richard Pryor in Chronological Order

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Last Updated
- September 02, 2017
Richard Pryor

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