LOS ANGELES Dec 10, 2005 — Richard Pryor, the groundbreaking comedian whose profanely personal insights into race relations and modern life made him one of Hollywood's biggest stars, died of a heart attack Saturday. He was 65.
Pryor died after being taken to a hospital from his home in the San Fernando Valley, said his business manager, Karen Finch. He had been ill for years with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system.
Music producer Quincy Jones described Pryor as a true pioneer of his art.
"He was the Charlie Parker of comedy, a master of telling the truth that influenced every comedian that came after him," Jones said in a statement. "The legacy that he leaves will forever be with us."
Pryor lived dangerously close to the edge, both on stage and off.
He was regarded early in his career as one of the most foul-mouthed comics in the business, but he gained a wide following for his universal and frequently personal routines. After nearly losing his life in 1980 when he caught on fire while freebasing cocaine, he incorporated the ordeal into his later routines.
His audacious style influenced generations of stand-up artists, from Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock to Robin Williams and David Letterman, among others.
"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," comedian Damon Wayans wrote on Pryor's Web site.
A series of hit comedies and concert films in the '70s and '80s helped make Pryor one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood, and he was one of the first black performers to have enough leverage to cut his own deals. In 1983, he signed a $40 million, five-year contract with Columbia Pictures.
His films included "Stir Crazy," "Silver Streak," "Which Way Is Up?" and "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip."
Throughout his career, Pryor focused on racial inequality, once joking as the host of the Academy Awards in 1977 that Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier were the only black members of the Academy.
SOME PEOPLE TRY TO TURN BACK THEIR ODOMETERS. NOT ME. I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW WHY I LOOK THIS WAY. I'VE TRAVELED A LONG WAY, AND SOME OF THE ROADS WEREN'T PAVED. ~ Will Rogers