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Friday, 11 August, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Comedy pioneer Pryor honoured
Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor was diagnosed with MS in 1986
Legendary comedian Richard Pryor has been presented with a lifetime achievement award at the première of Spike Lee's new movie.

The ailing Hollywood comedian, who is battling multiple sclerosis, made a rare appearance at the first showing of The Original Kings of Comedy in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Lee and the four stars of his film presented Pryor with an MTV astronaut statuette dubbing him The Original King of Comedy' during the event in Hollywood.

Pryor, 59, was forced to give up performing soon after going public about his disease in 1991, but was able to write an acclaimed autobiography.

Muhammad Ali with daughters May May and Hanna
Muhammad Ali with daughters May May and Hanna
Producer David Gale praised Pryor's enormous influence on the comedy scene.

"It's been acknowledged by everyone involved in this film how influential Pryor has been in breaking down barriers for all comedians today,'' he said.

Celebrated former boxer Muhammad Ali, who has Parkinson's disease, was also at the première.

Tribute

The star of over 40 films including Stir Crazy and Brewster's Millions, Pryor is widely credited with pioneering the comedy concert tour.

Paying tribute to him and the other artists, Lee said: "It's like a boxing match, I mean, when you get in the ring with somebody, you're in there naked with somebody else and these guys use the same analogy.

Spike Lee
Spike Lee's latest film is a comedy tour documentary
"All they have is the mic. That's it. So, I mean, you're up there naked, a microphone, all right, make me laugh. That's a very hard thing to do and when you can do that and do that well, you'll sell out the Forum and Madison Square Garden on multiple nights."

Recordings of Pryor's stand-up comedy performances sold by the million, and a whole generation of comedians learned from his timing and relentless honesty.

The $4m he was paid for appearing in Superman III in 1983 was the most that a black actor had ever received. But as his success grew he increasingly turned to drugs and alcohol.

Depression

Six times married, the comic's greatest successes were accompanied by excruciating bouts of depression.

Married six times to women he repeatedly abused, Pryor often lost control of himself. He once shot at a wife's Mercedes with a Magnum .357 when she threatened to leave him.

Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor
Recently he was embroiled in a legal dispute when his estranged son tried to take over the comic's financial affairs.

Richard Pryor Jr accused his father's former wife Jennifer Lee - who now manages his money - of making financial decisions without the comedian's consent.

Lee's film captures the 1999 Kings of Comedy stand-up festival which received relatively little publicity but became the most successful comedy tour ever, earning $37m (£25m).

Black comics D.L. Hughley, Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer are captured entertaining the crowds and backstage.

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