Thursday, December 10, 2009

Richard Pryor Died On This Day In 2005

Richard Pryor died on this date in 2005. He's obviously a comedy legend, and was a hugely influential stand-up comedian. But how and why did such a ground-breaking performer make so many terrible movies?

I was only 11 years old when Live on the Sunset Strip was released in 1982, and therefore was way too young to see it then, or to have known anything about his infamous freebasing accident in 1980, which he discussed at length in the film. As a kid I knew Richard Pryor only as the buffoonish star of some pretty bad movies, like 1981's Bustin' Loose, 1982's The Toy, and 1985's Brewster's Millions, all of which I saw on TV later.
So I cringed (as did many of his adult fans, probably) when it was announced that he was to star in the 1983 film Superman III (as "the world's greatest computer genius," no less). I had loved the first two Superman films starring Christopher Reeve, which made how predictably terrible the third one was all the more painful. In case you've forgotten about it and have 3 minutes to waste, I have embedded the trailer for the film below. ("This time Richard Pryor has come to Metropolis," the narrator intones in this trailer, as a taxi door 'hilariously' hits him in the groin.)
Perhaps less known is that Richard Pryor also starred in a very short-lived TV variety show on NBC in 1977 called The Richard Pryor Show. If you watch the 5 minute clip from that show that I've also embedded below, you'll quickly understand why it was cancelled after only four episodes. The clip is a Star Wars parody, in which Richard Pryor plays the bartender at the creature cantina. Amazingly, the show somehow got a hold of the real, original creature costumes. So Pryor interacts with all of the same aliens from that scene in the real film. That amazing coup makes how incredibly un-funny the clip is all the more amazing. (It also shows how times have changed over the last 32 years. Pryor uses the "n word" in this clip (only once, but very casually), which was aired on broadcast television in 1977, apparently with no problem at all.)