Stand-up comedian and movie star Richard Pyror was born on Dec. 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois. His father was a bartender and a World War II veteran. His mother abandoned Richard when he was ten. He was one of four children raised by his grandmother in a house of ill repute that she owned. Richard would escape some of the traumatic experiences of his childhood by going to the movies as often as he could to see westerns and other adventure films.
According to Richard Pryor's website, his first opportunity to perform in public came at the age of 12. Juliette Whitaker was a supervisor at a public recreational program in Peoria. She cast Richard in a performance of Rumplestiltskin and the audience was impressed by his comic faces and stage presence. Richard attended public schools in Peoria and served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960 where he also performed in some amateur shows. After the Army, he performed both songs and comedy at Harold's Club in Peoria. His comedy routine was more popular than his singing so he transformed the act and took it on the road to many clubs throughout the midwest.
In 1963 several younger black comics were gaining recognition on the national stage. One was Dick Gregory in Chicago, another was Bill Cosby. Richard borrowed inspriation from many of these comics and went to New York that year. In 1966, several invitations to appear on variety TV shows helped Richard gain momentum. His appearances include The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, Kraft Summer Theater, and Rudy Vallee's On Broadway Tonight.
During the late 1960s Pryor performed as an opening act for Bobby Darin at The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. He left Las Vegas in 1969 to break into movies. Richard earned a lot of money in the movies but was never overly proud on an artistic level of what he considered to be assembly line and formula comedies. His work on TV and stage was highly acclaimed by fellow artists who admired the way he turned the pain of his childhood into creative and authentic comedic performances.
Richard was married five times and had seven children by various marriages. He appeared in forty-two feature films during his career. Click here to see a list of Richad Pyror movies and TV shows.
Richard won an Emmy Award for his role in a TV special with Lilly Tomlin in 1973 and a Writers' Guild Award for his contributions to the screenplay for Blazing Saddles in 1974.
Richard Pyror died just last year of a heart attack on Dec. 10, 2005, ten days past his 65th birthday. DVD collections of Richard's comedy shows can be found on his website by clicking here.