Richard Pryor: 1940-2005

Comedian Richard Pryor dies at 65
Saturday, December 10, 2005; Posted: 6:16 p.m. EST (23:16 GMT)
(CNN) — Just days after his 65th birthday, groundbreaking comedian Richard Pryor died Saturday of a heart attack, his wife told CNN.

I hope others have comments to add on this.
Richard Pryor was a performer who made it easier for a country white boy like me to engage questions of race and justice as I was growing up in the ’70s. I lived in an awfully white place and went to a semi-rural school where the population was something like 99.5% white (that’s the real number, not an exaggeration), and we didn’t know much about blacks. What we thought we knew was borne of ignorance and fear, and nothing quite inspires a false sense of superiority than a bad stereotype.

I had a lot to learn – still do – but Pryor was one of the first public figures I saw who was willing to get up in the face of those stereotypes. What I think I mean to say here is that the only perspectives I ever had on blacks were from the white side of the tracks. I hadn’t really encountered much in the way of honest black autonomy, but Pryor seemed intent on defining himself instead of waiting for whites to do it for him. I don’t know if I’m making very good sense here, and if I’m not I apologize. Maybe it’s like what Dave Chapelle said not too long ago, something to the effect that he wanted to make sure he was dancing, not shuffling – I imagine Pryor had that conversation with himself, too.

I don’t mean to make this about Pryor’s race instead of his genius, because he was damn sure a genius by any measure. Take this for what it is – a personal reflection on the place a great American filled in one boy’s life.


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