December 10, 2005

Comedian Richard Pryor dead: wife

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Actor-comedian Richard Pryor, who
helped transform comedy with biting commentary on race and his
own shortcomings, died on Saturday at age 65 after a long
illness, his wife told CNN.

"He was my treasure," Jennifer Pryor said in a telephone
interview. "His comedy is unparalleled. They say that you are
not a comic unless you imitate Richard Pryor. ... He was able
to turn his pain into comedy."

Pryor's wife said he died of cardiac arrest at 7:58 a.m.
PST after her efforts to resuscitate him failed and after he
was taken to a hospital in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino.
Pryor had been suffering from multiple sclerosis, a
degenerative nervous system disease, for almost 20 years.

While he appeared in many successful movies, it was Pryor's
stand-up comedy act, in which nothing was off-limits, that made
him a controversial star. Racism was a major component of his
routine and he even joked about a 1980 incident in which he
nearly died after setting himself on fire while free-basing

Pryor marked his 65th birthday on December 1.

"He's been so strong for so many years," Jennifer Pryor
told CNN. "He's had this disease (multiple sclerosis) since
1986 ... He's had beyond nine lives. We used to joke he's going
to outlive everybody.

"He was an extraordinary man, as you know. He enjoyed life
right up until the end. He did not suffer, he went quickly, at
the end there was a smile on his face ... he's a very, very,
very amazing man and he opened doors to so many people."

Pryor was married seven times, including twice to Jennifer
and twice to Flynn Belaine, and had seven children.

Pryor grew up in the Peoria, Illinois, brothel run by his
grandmother. After a stint in the Army, he pursued a comedy
career that landed him spots on the Ed Sullivan and Merv
Griffin shows in the 1960s.

He eventually grew unhappy with the "white bread" humor
those shows sought and revamped his act with inspiration from
the hustlers, pimps and other characters he had encountered at
his grandmother's whorehouse. The result was a routine that was
both profound and profane.

"He had a courage and a heart and a spirit that was
unmatchable and, of course, he was controversial," Jennifer
Pryor said. "That was wonderful Richard. He told the truth,
didn't he? ... he told the truth and he was very proud.

"Bigoted rednecks came up to Richard and told him, 'Thank
you for opening my eyes,' because he was so in touch with the
truth and only spoke the truth ... people respond to that."

Pryor won Grammy Awards for his comedy albums and portrayed
Billie Holiday's piano player in the 1972 Oscar-nominated film
"Lady Sings the Blues."

His other movies included "Uptown Saturday Night," "The
Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings," "Blue Collar,"
"Stir Crazy," "Superman III" and "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is
Calling," which was based loosely on his life.

"He was an innovator, a trailblazer," director Spike Lee
told CNN. "It's a great loss."