Richard Pryor’s award-winning comedy sold out shows all across the world, broke records, made people think and broke down many barriers. His death at age 65 marked the end of one of the most influential careers in comedy and entertainment. Looking back over his life, he left us with many gems that we all can learn from, including his decision to never calling another person the n-word ever again.
In his autobiography, “Pryor Convictions,” legendary comedian Richard Pryor said, “N Word”. And so this one night I decided to make it my own. N___er. I decided to take the sting out of it. N-Word. As if saying it over and over again would numb me and everybody else to its wretchedness. N-Word. Said it over and over like a preacher singing hallelujah.”
Pryor claimed, “Saying it changed me, yes it did. It gave me strength, let me rise above, etc and so on…”
And yes Pryor did rise to commercial stardom. His third official commercial album was entitled, “That N___er’s Crazy.” It was recorded live at Don Cornelius’ Soul Train nightclub in early 1974 and it even won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album for 1974.
But as time went on, it was evident that embracing the N-word did not give Pryor the strength to rise above demons such as drug abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism and more. His childhood of growing up in a whorehouse in Peoria, Illinois, followed him to Hollywood where drug binges and threats to wives at gunpoint became commonplace for Pryor.
Yet it was Pryor’s trip to Kenya in 1979 that made him start to look at things a little differently (video below).
The trip to Africa was recommended to him by his psychiatrist after his wife Jennifer literally dragged him out of a house full of hookers and drugs.
After touring Kenya’s national museum, Pryor sat in a hotel lobby and he said a voice in his head told him to look around and tell me what you see. He said, he told the voice, “I see all colors of people doing everything.” And the the voice asked, “Do you see any n___rs?” And Pryor responded, “No.” And the voice responded saying, “Because they aren’t any.”
Pryor went on to describe that he started crying and said “I was wrong. I ain’t gonna never call another Black Man a (n-word) ever again.”
In Pryor Convictions, Pryor said that he left Africa “regretting ever having uttered the word on a stage or off it. It was a wretched word. Its connotations weren’t funny, even when people laughed.”
“To this day I wish I’d never said the word. I felt its lameness. It was misunderstood by people. They didn’t get what I was talking about. Neither did I. … So I vowed never to say it again.”