How Richard Pryor Overcame His Tragic Origins

How Richard Pryor Overcame His Tragic Origins

2020/06/24

For many years, Richard Pryor seemed to subsist on what was described in The New Yorker as "cocaine and Courvoisier." He wasn't exactly secret about that lifestyle either, with him talking about drugs during his stand-up routines. He also was once interviewed in 1980 on the set of Stir Crazy obviously as high as a kite. And Pryor said in his memoir that Jackie Gleason "asked me to get him some grass." And away we go, indeed. He also got high with Miles Davis, among others. (Maybe the question was who didn't Pryor do drugs with back then.)



But while Pryor was riding high in more ways than one in the 1970s, with great career successes, he lost out on one big role—Black Bart, the sheriff in Mel Brooks's 1974 hit comedy Blazing Saddles. Brooks hired him to help write the film and desperately wanted him to play the part.


But Pryor's drugs doomed that. The New Yorker said, "On his first day in the writers' room" for the movie, "he broke out his stash of coke, snorted, and invited the others to share. ('Never before lunch,' Brooks said gamely.)"


Brooks said the drug use kept him from hiring Brooks to act in the movie. "Warner Bros. said, 'No, he has a drug habit. We've done some research. We can't get insurance on Richard Pryor, blah, blah, blah.'" Brooks threatened to quit the film, but Pryor talked him out of it.



Pryor also had a hand in the ultimate casting of Cleavon Little for the role. "Richard really picked him," Brooks shared. "He said, 'Look at that guy. He is really black. He would scare the s*** out of the entire West.'" Blazing Saddles is a classic movie, but it's interesting to wonder what Pryor would have been like in that role.















How Richard Pryor Overcame His Tragic Origins

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