Richard Pryor: Troubled comedian starred in box office hits Silver Streak & Stir Crazy
Actor Richard Pryor died of a heart attack on Dec. 11 at a Los Angeles hospital. Pryor (born on Dec. 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois) was 65.
One of the most popular Hollywood comedians during the second half of the 1970s and at the start of the 1980s, Pryor’s box office hits included Arthur Hiller’s Silver Streak (1976) and Sidney Poitier’s Stir Crazy (1980), both action comedies co-starring Gene Wilder (who, notably, dons blackface in the former title).
The comedian was also known for his popular “stand-up” movies, chiefly, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979), Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), and Richard Pryor… Here and Now (1983).
More Richard Pryor movies
Among the other Richard Pryor movies of the 1970s were:
- Michael Schultz’s urban comedy Car Wash (1976), featuring a mostly black cast, ranging from veteran Clarence Muse (Safe in Hell, Prestige) to The Pointer Sisters.
- Schultz’s Which Way Is Up? (1977), a remake of Lina Wertmüller’s The Seduction of Mimi, with Richard Pryor in the old Giancarlo Giannini role – in addition to two other characters.
- Herbert Ross’ California Suite (1978), with Pryor featured opposite Bill Cosby in the weakest segment of the omnibus, all-star comedy-drama also featuring Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Elaine May, Walter Matthau, and eventual Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Maggie Smith.
- Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz (1978), a $24 million-budgeted (approx. $77 million in 2005), all-black remake of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz – and a major box office bomb. In the cast: Diana Ross in the old Judy Garland role; Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow; and Lena Horne as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. Richard Pryor had the title role (Frank Morgan in the 1939 original).
- Gary Weis’ Wholly Moses! (1980), a Biblical spoof along the lines of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, starring Dudley Moore as an ancient, unwitting (false) prophet. Pryor was cast as the Pharaoh.
Lastly, Mel Brooks’ comedy blockbuster Blazing Saddles (1974), starring Gene Wilder and featuring Richard Pryor not as an actor but as a screenwriter. He collaborated on the script alongside Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, and Alan Uger, eventually getting shortlisted for a British Academy Award (Best Screenplay) and a Writers Guild Award (Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen).
Richard Pryor in the 1980s: Drug-induced personal crisis & professional downfall
Richard Pryor’s film career took a tumble in the early 1980s, following a near-fatal, cocaine-induced suicide attempt during the making of Stir Crazy – a professional situation not helped by the box office disappointments Bustin’ Loose (1981), Some Kind of Hero (1982), and Superman III (1983), starring Christopher Reeve and featuring Pryor in a Razzie-nominated performance as a clumsy computer genius.
The two successful exceptions during that period were Richard Donner’s The Toy (1983), with Jackie Gleason, and Walter Hill’s Brewster’s Millions (1985), with John Candy.
‘Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling’ & end of stardom
Richard Pryor’s drug problems were depicted in the semi-autobiographical 8½-like drama Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986), a commercial disappointment that he also co-wrote, directed, produced.
By that time, Pryor’s career had taken a marked downturn. Both of his two post-1985 bona fide box office hits came out in 1989:
- Eddie Murphy’s period crime comedy Harlem Nights (1988), which, however successful ($95 million in the U.S. and Canada), was seen as a star vehicle for multitasker Murphy, at the time at the peak of his fame.
- See No Evil, Hear No Evil, which reunited Richard Pryor with Gene Wilder and their Silver Streak director Arthur Hiller. Even so, See No Evil, Hear No Evil grossed $46.9 million at the domestic box office – or less than half the amount collected by Stir Crazy ($101 million) and, despite higher ticket prices, less than Silver Streak ($51.1 million) as well.
On the downside, his two other late 1980s star vehicles were critical and commercial duds: Michael Apted’s Critical Condition (1987), featuring Rachel Ticotin, Rubén Blades, and Sylvia Miles, and Alan Metter’s Moving (1988), featuring Beverly Todd and Stacey Dash.
In the last 15 years, Richard Pryor made only sporadic film appearances, most notably in Maurice Phillips’ $17 million-budget Another You – his fourth and final pairing with Gene Wilder, and both a critical and a box office bomb, taking in a mere $2.9 million.
He was last seen in a supporting role in David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), featuring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette.
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor Stir Crazy image: Columbia Pictures.
Paula Kelly and Richard Pryor Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling image: Columbia Pictures.
“Richard Pryor: Stand-Up Comedian + Silver Streak & Stir Crazy Actor” last updated in January 2019.