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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 December 2005, 23:54 GMT
Comedian Richard Pryor dead at 65
Richard Pryor
Nothing was off limits for Richard Pryor
Groundbreaking black US comedian Richard Pryor has died after almost 20 years with multiple sclerosis.

He died at the age of 65 of a heart attack at Encino hospital near Los Angeles, his wife Jennifer Pryor said.

A series of hit comedies in the 1970s and 1980s - including Stir Crazy and Silver Streak - helped make him one of Hollywood's highest-paid stars.

He blazed a trail for black performers, earning enough clout to negotiate his own deals in Hollywood.

A five-year contract with Columbia Pictures in 1983 earned him $40m (23m).

Foul-mouthed

But he first came to prominence as a pioneering stand-up comic.

His uncompromising, foul-mouthed brand of humour focused on his personal insights into modern life and race relations.

"I live in racist America and I'm uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it. You can't do much better than that," he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY
He could make you laugh so hard that it hurt
James, Warrenton

His comedy influenced black artists such as Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and Damon Wayans, as well as Robin Williams, David Letterman and others.

His health also became material for his stand-up routines.

In 1992 he asked an audience: "Is there a doctor in the audience?"

Finally, when a hand went up, he said: "Doctor, I need to know one thing. What the [expletive deleted] is MS?"

The condition he wanted described is a degenerative disease of the nervous system.

In 1995, he played an embittered multiple sclerosis patient in an episode of TV series Chicago Hope. The role earned him an Emmy nomination as best guest actor in a drama series.

'I got greedy'

He also became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

In 1980, he suffered serious burns over about half his body when he set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine - dissolving it over a flame and inhaling the fumes.

He later said the incident was actually a suicide attempt.

But he later incorporated the event into his routine, joking that igniting yourself "sobers you up pretty fast".

He admitted that some of his later films were weaker than his earlier ones.

"I didn't think Brewster's Millions [1985] was good to begin with," he said. "I'm sorry, but they offered us the money. I was a pig, I got greedy."

He followed that film with the autobiographical work Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is calling, which he also directed and co-wrote.

His wife Jennifer said he was not in pain when he died.

"He did not suffer, he went quickly and at the end there was a smile on his face," she said.

"I'm honoured now that I have an opportunity to protect and continue his legacy because he's a very, very, very amazing man and he opened doors to so many people."



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