Richard Pryor, December 1, 1940 – December 10, 2005, was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, and actor. Pryor was known for uncompromising examinations of racism and topical contemporary issues, which employed colorful vulgarities and profanity, as well as racial epithets. He reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations and storytelling style. He is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential stand-up comedians of all time: Jerry Seinfeldcalled Pryor "The Picasso of our profession" and Bob Newhart heralded Pryor as "the seminal comedian of the last 50 years".This legacy can be attributed, in part, to the unusual degree of intimacy Pryor brought to bear on his comedy. As Bill Cosby reportedly once said, "Richard Pryor drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it."
Born on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor grew up in his grandmother's brothel, where his mother, Gertrude L., practiced prostitution. His father, LeRoy "Buck Carter" Pryor, was a former boxer and hustler. After his alcoholic mother abandoned him when he was 10, Pryor was raised primarily by his grandmother Marie Carter, a tall, violent woman who would beat him for any of his eccentricities. Pryor was one of four children raised in his grandmother's brothel and was sexually abused at age seven. He was expelled from school at the age of 14.
In 1963, Pryor moved to New York City and began performing regularly in clubs alongside performers such as Bob Dylan andWoody Allen. On one of his first nights, he opened for singer and pianist Nina Simone at New York's Village Gate. Simone recalls Pryor's bout of performance anxiety:
He shook like he had malaria, he was so nervous. I couldn't bear to watch him shiver, so I put my arms around him there in the dark and rocked him like a baby until he calmed down. The next night was the same, and the next, and I rocked him each time.