Afterlives of the Rich and Famous

Richard Pryor

On December 1, 1940, comedian, actor, and writer Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III was born in Peoria, Illinois. His mother, Gertrude, a prostitute, worked in his grandmother’s brothel, and his father was said to be a boxer and bartender to whom his mother was briefly married when Richard was three years old. Richard was raised in the brothel and abused throughout his childhood—beaten by his violent grandmother for even the slightest disobedience, raped by a teenage neighbor when he was six years old, and molested by a priest. He found his emotional escape and inspiration in the darkened movie theater near his chaotic, cruel home.

He was first “discovered” at the age of twelve by Juliette Whittaker, who supervised a public recreational facility. Recognizing his natural comedic performing ability, she cast him in a local production of Rumpelstiltskin and arranged talent shows specifically for the purpose of shining a spotlight on this hilarious, edgy little boy. She remained an important influence on Richard until the end of his career.

His formal education ended with expulsion when he was fourteen, launching him into a succession of professions: strip-club janitor, shoe-shine boy, drummer, meat packer, truck driver, billiard hall attendant, and occasional juvenile offender. His military career was limited to two years in the army from 1958 to 1960, most of which he spent in an army prison for an assault charge while he was briefly stationed in Germany.

After his discharge from the military, he spent just enough time at a cabaret in Peoria to discover that his talents did not lie in the areas of singing and accompanying himself on the piano, and he quickly switched to professional stand-up comedy in clubs throughout the Midwest. It was also in 1960 that he married Patricia Price, the mother of his first child, Richard Jr., who was born in 1961. The marriage ended in divorce a year later.

Richard moved to New York in 1963, drawn there by one of his great inspirations, Bill Cosby, and quickly rose through the ranks of club comedians until he found himself appearing with such seminal performers as Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, and Woody Allen. Television came calling in 1966, and he gained national exposure thanks to, among others, The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. And from there it was off to Las Vegas, where he was the opening act for Bobby Darin at the Flamingo Hotel. But before long, performing in relatively middle-of-the-road Las Vegas became too confining for his more outrageous sensibilities, and in September 1969 he walked out on his scheduled performance at the Aladdin Hotel with a rhetorical, “What the f*** am I doing here?” Before leaving Las Vegas he recorded his first album, Richard Pryor, in 1968; he broke into film with small roles in The Busy Body (1967) and Wild in the Streets (1968); and he became a father again, twice—
he had his second child, Elizabeth, with his girlfriend Maxine Anderson in 1967, and his two-year marriage to Shelly Bonus produced his third child, his daughter Rain, in 1969.

Richard headed from Las Vegas to Berkeley, California, where he took a hiatus from comedy and sharpened his wit, his edge, and his perspective in the free-spirited, outspoken counterculture atmosphere of Berkeley in the late 1960s. He recorded his second album, Craps (After Hours), in 1971 and began writing for television, including Sanford and Son, The Flip Wilson Show,
and a Lily Tomlin special for which he shared a Best Writing Emmy. He also won critical acclaim for his role in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross.

His career was thriving by 1974, when he cowrote the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles and released his hilarious Grammy Award–winning album That Nigger’s Crazy. Eager to break into more mainstream television appearances, he was a guest host on the first season of the groundbreaking series Saturday Night Live in 1975 and starred in The Richard Pryor Show, an NBC variety series that lasted for only four episodes in 1977 before it was cancelled. But for the most part, his popularity in both television and film never faltered from the 1970s through the 1990s, with some fifty movies, guest appearances, and specials to his credit, not to mention the nineteen comedy albums he recorded in his lifetime.

At the same time, his personal life was proving to be as turbulent as his childhood, clouded by substance abuse, legal problems, and relationship dramas. There was a tax-evasion arrest in 1974 for which he served ten days in jail. There was his one-year marriage to actress Deborah McGuire in 1977, punctuated by his shooting her car and being ordered into psychiatric treatment after paying fines and restitution. But the most dramatic, frightening, and widely publicized event in his life occurred on June 9, 1980. After several days of free-basing cocaine, Richard poured 151-proof rum on himself and set himself on fire. In flames, he ran out of his house and down the street until the police managed to subdue him, and he spent six weeks in the hospital recovering from burns over 50 percent of his body. It was considered to be a horrible accident at the time, but in his subsequent autobiography, Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences, which he wrote with author Todd Gold in 1995, he admitted that it was the deliberate act of a man in an insane drug haze.

In 1981 Richard married actress Jennifer Lee, whom he divorced a year later. Richard’s fourth child, Steven, was born in 1984 to his girlfriend Flynn Belaine, whom he married in October 1986 and divorced in 1987, shortly after Richard’s sixth child, Kelsey, was conceived—she wasn’t born until October 1987, preceded six months earlier by his fifth child, Franklin, whose mother was Richard’s girlfriend Geraldine Mason.

In 1986, in the midst of this personal chaos and a career that was still showing no signs of slowing down, Richard Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He continued to work, even after being confined to a wheelchair in the early 1990s, but finally, in 2001, he remarried Jennifer Lee and withdrew with her into the privacy of his home near Los Angeles, where one of his final charitable acts was the establishment of Pryor’s Planet for the benefit of animals and their rights and care.

On December 10, 2005, Richard Pryor was rushed to an Encino, California, hospital with Jennifer Lee Pryor at his side. He died at 7:58 a.m. of cardiac arrest, leaving behind an extraordinary body of work and an impact on the world of comedy that will continue to resonate for decades to come.

From Francine

Richard remained earthbound for almost four years in your time, in Los Angeles, which he’d come to think of as home. He wandered back and forth from his Encino house to the backstage areas of the Improv and the Comedy Store, two of the most popular clubs in the area, to watch fellow comedians perform. He suspects that several employees saw, heard, or sensed him there, and that his voice and presence must have been too indistinct to understand. Richard’s refusal to acknowledge the tunnel was a deliberate choice on his part, for a common, heartbreaking reason: not for a moment did he believe God would accept him after the flawed, sometimes violent, often self-destructive life he’d lived, especially when he’d been given such an uncommon wealth of gifts. “What a waste,” he kept saying. “What a weak, stupid waste.”

Finally, on Christmas Day 2008 according to your calendar, Richard’s Spirit Guide, Rhima, and his soulmate, a woman named Ashur, retrieved him from his sad, lost state of limbo and brought him Home. His body and mind were too severely debilitated for him to understand where, or even who, he was. And, as happens in cases in which more intensive treatment than cocooning is needed, Rhima and Ashur gently guided Richard past the masses of concerned, loving spirits and animals waiting to greet him and took him directly to the Towers.

When spirits arrive on the Other Side from such extreme circumstances as Richard’s physiological illness compounded by his decades of substance abuse, which are beyond the healing therapy that cocooning has to offer, they’re embraced by a team of highly advanced physical and psychiatric experts for a form of what you on earth might call “deprogramming.” The ailing spirit is led through a slow, compassionate restoration process, at the end of which its body is thriving again and its mind has successfully processed and released its darkness into the white light of the Holy Spirit and clarified the full impact of the powerful, inspiring, and positive legacy it left behind.Richard is still experiencing “deprogramming,” surrounded by infinite love and support, and I’m told he’s making extraordinary progress.

I’m also told that he’s already announced his intention to reincarnate. “Tell everyone I’ll be back,” he’s quoted as saying. “And by the time I’m through, every child will have a safe place to go and someone to believe in them from the minute they’re born.”
He’s hard at work on a book called The Vanity of Man in which he’s outlining specific plans for finally making the world a safe, nourishing place for the animal kingdom, and he’ll be activating those plans when he returns to earth.

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