by Sean Croxton
I used to love Richard Pryor.
Still do, in fact.
I imagine it was my father who turned me on to him. At the time, I didn’t really understand his stand-up comedy routine — jokes about sex, women, and cocaine kinda go over a 6-year-old’s head, ya know.
I just remember my Mom covering my miniature-sized ears while he cursed up a storm on stage.
But that just made him cooler, Mom.
Off-stage and on the silver screen there was a lighter side to the potty-mouthed comic. The Toy — co-starring the great Jackie Gleason — is still one of my favorite movies. And who can forget his roles in Brewster’s Millions with John Candy, Superman III with Christopher Reeve, and the hilarious Hear No Evil, See No Evil with sidekick Gene Wilder.
I may have been 9-years-old when I first heard the bad news of Pryor’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition he battled for 17 years.
Like his comedy act, I was then too young to fully understand the outlook and implications of an MS diagnosis. It was not until I watched the movie Harlem Nights that it finally clicked.
Right away I knew that something wasn’t right with Richard. His speech was slightly slurred. His coordination seemed a bit off. His facial expressions weren’t the same ones I was used to.
He was deteriorating.
Over the next decade I would watch his condition progress further as he struggled through television interviews. Eventually, his wife did most of the talking for him.
The man who once strutted back and forth on stage had been confined to a wheelchair.
The man who made a living with his BIG mouth was rendered nearly speechless.
In 2005, he was gone.
The laughter had ended. MS is no joke.