Monday, December 12, 2005

Farewell, Richard Pryor

I am sure there must be some anti-Richard Pryor people somewhere, but I have never met one. Like all great comics, Pryor tapped into material that affects everyone, makes everyone uncomfortable, and makes everyone laugh out loud. He seemed such a gentle soul, too--someone I would like to have met.

I almost did meet him. In 1977, I was working for a company that sometimes did P.A. (public appearance) tours for Warner Bros. Pryor had just made Greased Lightning, the premiere was held in New Orleans, and he and producer Hannah Weinstein came to town for it. I dealt with Weinstein, and didn't actually see Pryor until the night of the premiere. At the time, I admired him as an entertainer, but hadn't yet grasped the importance of who he was.

I was accustomed to meeting celebrities because of this job, but I had no direct dealings with him, and therefore had no reason to speak with him. He looked shy and withdrawn. I sat a couple of rows behind him in the theater. Three years later, he set himself on fire. Now he is gone, and it is our great loss.

Interestingly, my failure, in 1977, to fully appreciate Pryor, was nothing compared with my failure to fully appreciate Weinstein. I knew she was a film producer and Paula Weinstein's mother. I helped her ship some seafood to Lillian Hellman, who was living on Martha's Vineyard. (Hellman was Paula Weinstein's godmother, and Paula Weinstein is Jane Fonda's best friend; Fonda played the role of Lillian Hellman in Julia, one of my favorite films of all time.) What I didn't know at the time is that she was also an American hero.

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