Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » Pryor, Richard(1940–2005) - Comedian, actor, screenwriter, Chronology, Begins Performing Career on Local Stage

Joins Military, Returns, and Continues Performing

pryor stage film talent

From 1958 to 1960 Pryor served in the U.S. Army, stationed at one point in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany. He was involved in an altercation in which he came to the assistance of another black soldier in a bar fight with a white soldier, but avoided being jailed for his actions. Pryor returned to Peoria when he was discharged from the army, and shortly afterward he began working at Harold’s Club, trying to sing and play piano, and quickly discovered that the audience preferred his jokes over his musical efforts. In 1960 he married Patricia Price, but this union ended the following year. His first son, Richard Jr., was also born in 1961.

Pryor experienced his first taste of professional success and drugs, including marijuana and amphetamines, when he began working beyond Peoria as a comic act in nightclubs throughout the Midwest and parts of Canada. Inspired by other black comedians, such as Bill Cosby, Dick Gregory, and Redd Foxx, who had received recognition for their talent beyond the African American community, Pryor moved to New York in 1963 and began to attract national attention.

In New York, Pryor became part of the downtown Greenwich Village entertainment scene, sharing stages with musicians such as Bob Dylan and Richie Havens and being influenced by other working comedians such as Woody Allen, Flip Wilson, George Carlin, and Joan Rivers. He also worked uptown at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, long known as a proving ground for black entertainers. At this point, he patterned his performances after other comedians, which made his acts quite different from the radical approach he came to be known for later, a style which was already being used with mixed success by the controversial comedian Lenny Bruce.

Pryor’s private life continued to be tumultuous: he began using cocaine while dating a prostitute, one of his various and numerous sexual liaisons. Despite the erratic unpredictability of his behavior off-stage, Pryor’s talent on stage opened the door for his first national television appearance, on August 31, 1964. After his performance as part of the On Broadway Tonight program with Rudy Vallee, Pryor worked on other shows such as the Kraft Summer Music Hall , and made the first of numerous appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson , and The Merv Griffin Show .

Unfortunately, Pryor’s success provided more money for his addictions, philandering, and other personal excesses. Nevertheless, his talent continued to keep him in demand, and by 1967 Pryor was working in Las Vegas venues such as the Flamingo Hotel, where he opened for singer/actor Bobby Darin. The same year Pryor landed his first movie role, a small part in The Busy Body , a film starring comedy legend Sid Caesar. Pryor also fathered another daughter, Elizabeth, married for the second time to Shelly Bonus, and received word that his mother had died before the year ended.

In 1968 he appeared in another film, Wild in the Streets , and began making comedy album recordings, in which he exercised the freedom to use profanity in graphic, yet funny and honest descriptions of his life and the lifestyles of others. The long-playing (LP) record format enabled Pryor to go far beyond the acceptable fare and limited time frames of most of his television, film, and Las Vegas stage performances, which were as frustrating as they were lucrative. His father also passed away during the year, leaving his grandmother as his closest relative.

The following year, Pryor suffered a nervous breakdown and walked off the stage during a show in Las Vegas. His second marriage also ended during 1969, and he fathered another daughter, Rain, who would eventually follow her father into the entertainment business.

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or