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From the Archives: Actor and Comedian Richard Pryor on His Health and Career.

Interview with comedian Richard Pryor (Rebroadcast of 5/22/1995)

09:42

Other segments from the episode on October 27, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 27, 2000: Interview with Ray Davies; Interview with Richard Pryor; Review of the film "Book of Shadows: The Blair Witch 2."

Transcript

DATE October 27, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Comedian Richard Pryor discusses dealing with the
disease multiple sclerosis
TERRY GROSS, host:

A new nine-CD box set collects the comedy recordings that Richard Pryor made
for Warner Bros. from 1968 to '92. Richard Pryor started his career by
imitating Bill Cosby, but he later said he knew his days of pretending to be
as slick and colorless as Cosby were numbered. There was a world of junkies
and winos, pool hustlers and prostitutes, friends and family screaming inside
his head, trying to be heard. His comedy was filled with his perceptions
about being black in America, and he took his personal crises, like his heart
attack, and transformed them into comedy.

Mr. RICHARD PRYOR (Comedian): Anybody here ever had a heart attack?

Unidentified Audience Member: No.

Mr. PRYOR: No (censored) never admit they had a heart attack, right? They go
`No, sir, I never did. I had indigestion one time.' I don't care what nobody
tell your ass. I was walking in the yard and someone said, `Don't breathe no
more.' I said, `Huh?' I said, `Don't breathe no (censored) more. You heard
me.' `OK, I won't breathe. I won't breathe.' And I tried to ease a little
air inside of my mouth, and they said, `Say, didn't I tell you not to
breathe?' `You told me not to breathe. You told me not to breathe.' `Well,
where you going? Why you walking? Stand still.' `OK, I'll stand still.'
`Get your ass down.' `OK, I'm down. I'm down. I'm down. Don't hurt me,
don't hurt me, don't hurt me.' `Shut the (censored) up. You thinking about
dying now, ain't you?' `Yeah, yeah, yeah.' `Why didn't you think about that
when you was eating that pork, (censored)?'

GROSS: Richard Pryor's performing career was ended by multiple sclerosis,
which was first diagnosed in 1986. In 1998, when he was given the first
Kennedy Center Honor for humor, he was unable to rise from his wheelchair for
a bow. He could barely say thank you. He had a little more stamina when I
spoke with him in 1995. I was in our Philadelphia studio; he was in the NPR
studio in Los Angeles. He told me about his physical therapy.

Mr. PRYOR: This lady, I think her name is Marie, she's my therapist. She
comes three times a week.

GROSS: What's the therapy like?

Mr. PRYOR: Oh, man, some days it's like, I don't feel good, you know, and so
I don't want to do it, but she says, `Well, you have to do it.' So three
times a week, that's what I put up with.

GROSS: Was it like moving arms and legs and things like that?

Mr. PRYOR: Man, there was a time when I couldn't move any of them. I was in
bed like that for a while. I couldn't move.

GROSS: What did you do to pass the time while you were in bed and couldn't
move?

Mr. PRYOR: Good question. I'm trying to think, what did I do? Oh, I
remember, I smoked some base. No, I did.

GROSS: Did you really, are you...

Mr. PRYOR: No, I'm serious. And my ex-wife, Flynn, came to visit me, and
she walked through my stuff and she found it and she said, `What is this?' I
had a rock, you know? She said, `What's this?' And I didn't tell her,
because I was scared. And she said, `Is this dope?' `Nah.' I said, `It just
looks like it, but it's not really.' And she threw it out.

GROSS: So have you stopped?

Mr. PRYOR: Yes.

GROSS: Was there a turning point that got you to stop?

Mr. PRYOR: Yes.

GROSS: What was it?

Mr. PRYOR: It's called being broke.

GROSS: Now let me ask you an odd question, I mean, about freebasing. It's
bad for your health--Right?--but I mean, your health isn't good anyway. So
would it being bad for your health not be likely to inspire you to stop? Do
you know what I'm saying?

Mr. PRYOR: Yeah, you're making sense is what you're saying. And if I was
that type of person that made sense, I wouldn't be where I am. Because I
never made no sense. You know, it's like life to me was, like, not supposed
to make sense, because, hey, I don't care how you slice it, you ain't getting
out of life, so enjoy as much as you can.

GROSS: You know, it's funny--I mean, some of the things you did were really
self-destructive--the freebasing, setting yourself on fire.

Mr. PRYOR: That was a definite...

GROSS: Definitely self-destructive, yeah.

Mr. PRYOR: Yeah.

GROSS: So, but, you know, and it's the kind of behavior that you're warned is
going, you know, to really kill you, and you survived all of that, and now you
have a disease, MS, that has absolutely nothing, as far as I know, to deal
with, you know, quote, "bad behavior." Do you know what I'm saying? So it
just seems like such an irony that all of the things people warned you would
really hurt you...

Mr. PRYOR: It was the MS.

GROSS: Yeah, it had nothing to do with you getting MS.

Mr. PRYOR: No, it's just like God said, `Oh, really? OK, here. Boom.' He
said, `Try that on.'

GROSS: Do you think it's God punishing you for things you've done, is that
what you're saying?

Mr. PRYOR: No.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. PRYOR: God don't work like that.

GROSS: Yeah, so--I mean, you could have lived this absolutely exemplary life
and still gotten MS.

Mr. PRYOR: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. PRYOR: It's a blessing, though.

GROSS: Getting MS?

Mr. PRYOR: Yeah.

GROSS: How so?

Mr. PRYOR: Because it pushes me forward. I'm going through the therapy, and
I'm understanding some things about life I never understood.

GROSS: Anything you'd care to talk about, or is that too personal to discuss?

Mr. PRYOR: There's nothing so personal as when you can't walk the way you
want to, and then you have to depend on others to help you. And I go, `Oh, my
God.' And that's what it is, it's depending on people. And you have to learn
to trust them, which is very hard for me, very hard. But here I am.

GROSS: You are so important to so many people. I mean, so many people have,
like, looked up to you for so long. Do you feel that you have to try to
handle your illness now as, like, a role model? Do you know what I mean?
Like when you're a public person like yourself and people are looking at you,
do you feel like, yeah, that you need to do it like a role model? Not that
you've been a traditional role model to anybody in the past.

Mr. PRYOR: Well, it's like God...

GROSS: Not that you've taught us to behave in socially accepted ways in the
past.

Mr. PRYOR: Yeah. Hey, God gave me this, and I'm going to say this
truthfully. God gave me just a little bit of it, you know? He said, `Slow
down for a minute. Take a break. You know, take a break and look at things
differently.' So I do. `Richard's not a bad person. Look at things
differently.' So I do. `Richard's not a bad person,' and this disease is
just a disease, and I have it. So that's what I deal with.

GROSS: I know you keep a gun next to your bed?

Mr. PRYOR: Yeah.

GROSS: What for?

Mr. PRYOR: Because the bogeyman might come in some night.

GROSS: Who are you expecting?

Mr. PRYOR: The bogeyman. I mean, come on, there are such terrible things
going on in the world. People are crazy. They got--they're serious about
whatever craziness it is, and I don't want to be caught in no trap and not be
able to get off one shot.

GROSS: I mean, excuse me for asking this, but would you be able to even use
the gun if you had cause to?

Mr. PRYOR: No. I think the hard thing I'd do is having to cock it, because
it's a 9mm, and the bolt is real hard for me. So they would--I'll say, `Wait
a minute, please. Just a minute.'

GROSS: Right, `Help me out here.'

Mr. PRYOR: Yeah. `I'll be with you in a minute.' Yeah.

GROSS: Oh, gosh. Thank you very, very much.

Mr. PRYOR: Thank you.

GROSS: Richard Pryor, recorded in 1995. His comedy recordings are collected
on a new nine-CD box set.

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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