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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 December 2005, 13:42 GMT
Pryor 'was one of the greatest'
By Lenny Henry
Comedian and actor

Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor died on Saturday of heart failure
British comedian Lenny Henry spoke to BBC Radio Five Live about the influence Richard Pryor, who has died aged 65, had on his career.

I never got to meet Richard Pryor but I did a TV documentary on him about 10 years ago.

I wanted to meet him but he had multiple sclerosis and he was living in his house in Los Angeles in a dark room, not wanting to speak to anybody, and we thought we'd best respect his wishes.

I thought he was one of the greatest comedians who ever drew breath. I started listening to him in 1977, when a guy in a record shop had this album called That Nigger's Crazy. He showed it to me and I was going to punch him, but he said, "Listen to it, that guy's really funny".

Apart from the use of the word "nigger", apart from the prodigious swearing, I thought, "This guy's a genius". He documented every pain, every abuse he'd ever suffered in his life, and he made it funny.

One of my favourite albums has a picture of him on the front, and there's hooded men, obviously in the Ku Klux Klan, holding torches and dancing around a stake. It's called Is It Something I Said?

Lenny Henry
He was an incredibly sad figure, but throughout it all he kept a live comedic journal and he shared it with the audience
Lenny Henry on Richard Pryor
I listened to that a lot and thought, "This guy's brilliant - his finger's on the pulse, he hates Richard Nixon, he talks about pimps, pushers, prostitutes, winos and junkies, he tells it like it is and he's from the street".

In the way that young comedians worship the preacher-like coruscating act of Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor did all that and more for me.

He made several films. The best is Live In Concert. It was filmed in Long Beach, California. When I saw it I wanted to pack it in, because I thought, "Oh God, this guy's a genius".

When you see him perform, he is a character comedian on a par with Chaplin. He could do things with his body Rowan Atkinson could only dream of.

When he was on stage, it gave him strength. The people's love and laughter gave him the strength to be incredibly confessional. He had a terrible childhood. He was sexually abused by an uncle as a little boy, his mother was a prostitute and he saw her with white customers.

He was beaten prodigiously by his father and grandmother. He was an incredibly sad figure. But throughout it all he kept a live comedic journal and he shared it with the audience.

I just feel very privileged that I was alive at the same time as him. He was a brilliant comedian.



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