“A Pryor Engagement,” is a film celebration of comedian Richard Pryor’s life. This week, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) will show six Pryor films: “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings,” “Bustin’ Loose,” “Brewster's Millions,” “Which Way Is Up?,” “Richard Pryor... Here and Now” and “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling.”
Richard Pryor Jr., 50, the comedian’s firstborn and a performer himself, was invited to introduce his father’s films. Before we get to the interview, here is some of his family history. His dad, born Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III (1940–2005), had six children and a thriving career. He had tremendous success as a standup comic, actor (more than 40 films), and writer. The man had so much to live for yet in 1980, during the filming of “Bustin’ Loose,” Pryor poured 151 rum all over his body and set himself on fire. His PR people told the press it was an accident but later the comic admitted it was a suicide attempt.
In 1986, Pryor wrote and directed the fictionalized account of his life, “Jo Jo Dancer,” which revolved around that 1980 freebasing incident.
The man battled a host of demons and it’s easy to see why. He was raised in his grandmother’s brothel, where his mother prostituted. At age 10, his mother abandoned him and left Pryor to be raised by his violent grandmother who beat him frequently. And, as if that isn’t enough, he was also molested as a child.
Pryor took years of pain and turned it into comedy. In his words, “The great comics all have a hole in their chest where their heart should be. Somebody yanked their heart out when they were just kids, and they’ve been spending their whole lives trying to fill that hole.”
In 1976, Pryor earned $25,000 for the movie, “Car Wash.” In 1983, he earned $4,000,000 for “Superman III.” In Pryor’s words, “I had some great things and I had some bad things. The best and the worst. In other words, I had a life.”
Today, Examiner Dorri Olds sat down for a candid interview with Richard Pryor, Jr.
Dorri Olds: How does it feel to watch your father on the big screen?
Richard Pryor, Jr.: This week has been more emotional than I thought it was going to be. I have never seen these movies on the big screen. I couldn’t watch films in public in Peoria where I lived because I was well known there and people watched me more than the film. It was uncomfortable. Now I know how lucky I am to be able to watch a parent who’s no longer with me. I don’t take that for granted. Most people just have photos. To see my Dad on screen, to be able to watch him and hear his voice is amazing.
Do you have fond childhood memories?
I grew up off and on with my dad. I was with my dad for vacations and summers and got to go on the road and tour with him, too. It was an unbelievable experience but I didn’t know that until I was older. When you’re young you don’t look at your life as unusual. I didn’t think of my dad as a celebrity. He was just my dad. I wasn’t at all starstruck by him like I was about meeting Billy Dee Williams. That was a thrill. Touring with my dad and introducing him on stage felt like the norm. Now I cherish those memories.
How old were you when your Dad landed in the hospital from his freebasing incident?
It was a week after my high school graduation.
Did you know then that it wasn’t an accident?
I knew it was a suicide attempt. He had so many demons.
Did you struggle with addiction, too?
Yeah, I went through all that. I crashed and burned. When I was old enough, I moved to L.A. and went club-wild. Drank anything, smoked anything, took anything. There was one time when I worked on one of my dad’s films and I was so high that my dad flew me from the set to a rehab. On the flight I remember waking up and each time I was given a pill to stay calm so they could get me into the rehab. At the rehab they saw me as so high on drugs that they gave me something to calm me. I nearly had a heart attack, in the hospital I flatlined.
Showtimes for "A Pryor Engagement" at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
Tues, Feb. 19: 1 ticket pays for both films. "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings" is playing at 5:30pm and 9:30pm. "Bustin' Loose" is at 7:40pm.
Wed, Feb. 20, 1 ticket pays for both films. "Brewster's Millions" is at 5:30pm and 9:30pm. "Which Way Is Up?" is at 7:25pm.
Thurs, Feb. 21: 1 ticket pays for both films. "Richard Pryor: Here and Now" is at 5:30pm and 9:30pm. "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" is at 7:15pm.