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RICHARD PRYOR, 1940 – 2005

Richard Pryor died today of a heart attack in California. To those old enough to remember his stand-up routines and many TV appearances preceding his string of hit movies, Pryor was both a cultural pioneer, the comedian who made so many other careers possible, as well as an entirely original and never imitated cultural voice. Even at his angriest and most sardonic, a vulnerability and hurt laced his stage persona, a pain that cut against his outrageous satire and made it all feel sometimes too real. Over at Firedoglake one linked commentator (I”m sorry, the blog doesn’t make clear who) has it dead right:

“There is an entire generation or two around today that don’t really know Pryor in his prime, and it’s hard to explain in retrospect. Sure, he brought the ‘N’ word” to vogue; but that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the magic. He came off as a God child; angry and remorseful about the state of race relations, but at the same time amused and dismissive of it – he grasped the absurdity of it, and threw it back out there for people to see.”

And here’s Jill Nelson in an older profile at Salon::

“What is most wonderful and most missed about the humor of Richard Pryor is his simultaneous rage and vulnerability — that sense of being mad as hell yet still yearning for and believing in acceptance and reconciliation, whether he was riffing about black folks, white folks, women, politics, black male macho or drug addiction. For Pryor, humor and talking much shit was a way to reveal not only his, but our collective psyche. In the process he used his voice, body and mind to turn himself into, not them, but us: the old man Mudbone, an angry black woman doing that head thing only we can do, his dick, assorted animals, a junkie getting off, an awkward white guy, his own heart in the middle of a mutinous attack on his much-abused body.”

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