On June 9, 1980, comedian Richard Pryor lit himself on fire and suffered near-fatal burns. Here are 5 things you probably didn't know about this popular stand-up comedian and movie star…
A Deal With His Teacher Gave Pryor His First Audience
Richard Pryor’s first gig was in sixth grade and was made possible by his school teacher Mrs. Yinst. Pryor had a bad habit of being late for class. Sensing Richard’s love of performing, Mrs. Yingst struck a deal with the boy: if he arrived to class on time, she would give him ten minutes every Friday afternoon to do his comedy routines in front of the class. Richard jumped at the chance and was rarely late for school again.
He Drove Lorne Michaels To Quit SNL - Almost
In 1975, Saturday Night Live was in its first season and Lorne Michaels wasn't quite the big shot he is today. It was still the first season of the show and Lorne desperately wanted Pryor to host. NBC was understandably hesitant—Pryor wasn't known for having the "cleanest" mouth in show business and a live show was a big risk. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famous foulmouthed comic to appear. The network agreed to let him host, but Lorne was required to put in a 5-second buffer on the live stream in case Pryor went off-script.
He Lost The Co-Starring Role In Blazing Saddles
Mel Brooks was a big fan of Richard Pryor's, so much so that Brooks tagged Pryor to help co-write and star in possibly his most iconic film, Blazing Saddles. Brooks wanted Pryor to play one of the film's lead roles: Sheriff Bart. However, when Brooks went around to the studios to gather funding for production, no one was willing to commit money to the film with Pryor attached to it. His drug use and often raunchy comedic style were too much of a risk for big movie executives and so Brooks was left with no choice but to cast someone else—Cleavon Little—for the role. Pryor still earned a writing credit for the film, but this is just one instance of Pryor's drug habit costing him a big opportunity.
He Set Himself On Fire In A Suicide Attempt
While Pryor was in the middle of making the movie Bustin’ Loose, he was known to spend time freebasing cocaine at his home. In a film documentary entitled Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, he admitted to the interviewer that catching himself on fire was a suicide attempt, not an accident. In an incident fraught in mystery and conflicting versions, Pryor claimed had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself on fire. Help was called and he was found running down the street ablaze. After being taken to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks, his physician reported that he had third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body. However, he survived against the odds. He was in the hospital for six weeks.
Getting Married Was A Hobby For Pryor Pryor married a whopping seven times to five different women throughout his 65 years. One of his groomsmen recalls Pryor walking into his hotel room mere hours after his first wedding to Jennifer Lee and proclaiming he wanted a divorce. Despite their separation, Lee was the true love of Pryor's life. The two rekindled their relationship 19 years later and stayed together until Pryor's death in 2005.