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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 December 2005, 15:30 GMT
Comics mourn 'trailblazer' Pryor
Richard Pryor
Pryor led the way for many young black comedians
Fellow performers have paid tribute to US comedian and actor Richard Pryor, who died of heart failure on Saturday.

Pryor, 65, best known for his frank and uncompromising stand-up routines of the 1970s and 1980s, had lived for almost 20 years with multiple sclerosis.

Director Spike Lee told CNN that Pryor was "an innovator, a trailblazer", and added: "It's a great loss."

British comedian Lenny Henry told the BBC: "He was one of the greatest comedians who ever drew breath."

Pryor's insights into race relations and modern living made him an inspiration to both black and white performers, from Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock to Robin Williams and David Letterman.

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.

Suffered abuse

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

He documented every pain, every abuse that he'd ever suffered in his life and he made it funny
Lenny Henry

Born in 1940 in his grandmother's brothel in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor suffered abuse as a child and battled drug and alcohol addictions for many years.

Henry said he became a fan after being introduced to his album That Nigger's Crazy in 1977.

"He documented every pain, every abuse that he'd ever suffered in his life and he made it funny," he said.

"He was a character comedian on a par with [Charlie] Chaplin - he could do things with his body that Rowan Atkinson could only dream of."

'He did not suffer'

Pryor died on Saturday after being taken to a hospital in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino, where medical staff tried in vain to resuscitate him.

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

He will be missed, but will forever live in thousands and thousands of hearts
Jennifer Lee Pryor

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

"He will be missed, but will forever live in thousands and thousands of hearts and continue to impact and inspire people with his truth and his pain, which he turned into comedy brilliantly."

Pryor's material was peppered with obscenities, leading him to be fired by one Las Vegas hotel in 1970, while he stormed off stage at another Vegas show, leaving the audience staring at an empty stage.

In 1977 he threatened to cancel his contract with TV network NBC after it objected to a skit in which he appeared naked, save for a flesh-coloured loincloth which suggested he was emasculated.

"I wish that every new and young comedian would understand what Richard was about and not confuse his genius with his language usage," comedian Bill Cosby said.

'So brilliant'

Richard Pryor's Hollywood star
Fans left tributes on Hollywood's Walk of Fame
Fellow comic Damon Wayans said: "There are many different kinds of comedians - the observational humorist, the impressionist, the character creator, the physical comedian, the self-deprecator, and the dirty-joke teller.

"What made Richard Pryor so brilliant is he was able to incorporate all these styles at once."

Music producer Quincy Jones said: "He was the Charlie Parker of comedy, a master of telling the truth that influenced every comedian that came after him. The legacy he leaves will forever be with us."

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