Richard Pryor was the Sly Stone of comedy - a brilliant performer whose career flamed out thanks to crack cocaine.
At the time of his most maniacal use, it was called freebase. Only the wealthy could afford it in the '70s. Pryor, a movie star and comedian, had plenty of money and stuffed most of it up his nose.
In Marina Zenovich's Showtime doc, Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, we follow his sad demise. Once a stellar standup and comic actor, Pryor was reduced to a pitiful addict who could no longer perform.
"If you are a sensitive type, you self-medicate," says Whoopi Goldberg, herself a former addict. "It's easier to self-medicate."
At various times during the doc, Pryor explains: "I snorted cocaine for about 15 years. I must've snorted up Peru" and "I don't like cocaine. I love it. And that's why I have to keep away from it."
What drove Pryor to his addiction? Was it growing up in a brothel? Dealing with Hollywood racism? The high cost of fame? Zenovich doesn't quite know; she just lays it all out and lets viewers come to their on conclusions.
One thing is clear: Pryor tried to kill himself when he caught fire while freebasing in 1980. A former manager explains, "He said, 'No no, I did it on purpose. I poured the rum on myself and lit myself on fire.' He definitely deliberately set himself on fire."
Pryor had been watching footage of a monk dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire on TV and did the same thing. "I tried to commit suicide," Pryor admits. "I killed the old Richard Pryor. The other person's dead. He was a horrible guy."
He went back to standup, but heart attacks and MS would debilitate him until his death in 2005.
Like Lenny Bruce, Pryor built his reputation by using foul language - words that were previously unacceptable on stage. Pryor's two big words were nigger and motherfucker. But after going to Africa, he said he'd stop using the n-word. It was an epiphany that unfortunately didn't on catch on with many African Americans.
Pryor was way ahead of his time. He paved the way for every scatological comic who followed him. He also suffered profoundly for his sins, as we see in Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic.
Watch Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic on Showtime On Demand.