Richard Pryor dies at 65
December 10, 2005
(CNN) -- Just days after his 65th birthday, groundbreaking comedian
Richard Pryor died Saturday of a heart attack, his wife told CNN.
Pryor, who had been ill with multiple sclerosis, died at Encino Hospital
near Los Angeles at 7:58 a.m. PT. Jennifer Lee Pryor tried to revive
him at their home before paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital,
"He enjoyed life right up until the end," she said, adding
that Pryor had been laughing a lot and was in good spirits in the two
weeks preceding his death. "At the end, there was a smile on his
Jennifer Lee and Richard remarried in June 2001, 19 years after they
Born Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor in Peoria, Illinois, on December
1, 1940, the funnyman had long suffered from health problems at the
time of his death. In addition to his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in
1986, he suffered a massive heart attack and underwent triple-bypass
surgery in 1990.
Pryor was known for his raunchy stand-up comedy and a variety of acting
roles, including in "Superman III," "The Toy" and
"Harlem Nights," in which he starred with his comedic predecessor,
Redd Foxx, and his heir apparent, Eddie Murphy.
Though Pryor was known as a comic, Oscar-nominated director Spike Lee
said he also was capable of serious roles, such as in 1972's "Lady
Sings the Blues," a movie that earned five Academy Award nominations.
Lee also noted that it was Pryor who gave several entertainers license
to inject social commentary into their comedy, acting or art. Lee, best
known for his socially charged "Do the Right Thing," said
he was "definitely" one of those entertainers.
"For me, Richard was a great. He was an innovator. He was a trailblazer,
and the way he showed social commentary in his humor opened up a universe
for other comics to follow in his footsteps," Lee said.
Pryor was arguably the biggest name in stand-up comedy during the 1970s,
earning Grammy Awards for his comedy albums.
In addition to appearances in almost 40 films, Pryor also was part of
the team that created the script for the Mel Brooks comedy, "Blazing
He also directed himself in a semi-autobiographical film, "Jo Jo
Dancer Your Life is Calling," in the mid-1980s, a film he says
refused to be written as a comedy.
But despite his achievements on the screen and on stage, Pryor is often
remembered for seriously burning over half his body while freebasing
cocaine -- an incident he later dubbed a suicide attempt.
Even that made its way into his comedy, which his wife said was a common
theme in his life -- being able to turn crisis into comedy -- and one
that scored big with audiences at his stand-up shows.
As his disease became more and more debilitating, Pryor refused to abandon
his career. He continued to do stand-up -- sitting down. Many have called
it remarkable that he was so determined to keep performing despite his
One is director Martin Scorsese, who said Pryor's resilience was inspiring.
"It's a very savage kind of humor, it comes out of a great deal
of pain," Scorsese said.
Jennifer Lee Pryor said her husband inspired many people by being candid
about his own strife.
"He was able to turn pain into comedy," she said. "He
let the world see it, and that was his inspiration, too.
"People said, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' "
Pryor was married seven times to five different women and has seven
children, Renee, Richard Jr., Elizabeth, Stephen Michael, Kelsey, Franklin