Richard Pryor Doc Explores the Late Comic's Psychological Bruises

'They wanted him to be the next black voice,' widow says of 'Omit the Logic,' 'and he didn't want the job'

April 26, 2013 12:05 PM ET
Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor
Bob Riha Jr/WireImage

Jennifer Lee Pryor, the fourth and seventh wife of comedian Richard Pryor, was concerned her late husband might remembered simply as "the guy that said motherfucker all the time." So she dug into the estate archives. She pulled photographs, located video footage and helped secure interviews for the bio-doc Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, which premieres on Showtime May 31st.

"There've been a lot of pseudo documentaries," Jennifer Lee Pryor told Rolling Stone. "E! True Hollywood stuff that was never satisfactory to Richard or myself. Very superficial, instead of something that was in depth and authorized by the estate. People think about Richard in terms of cocaine, the fire, women. And indeed it is sensational, but there was much more to him. He was an artist, and he had a lot of struggles and challenges in his life, starting from childhood."

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World-premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, Omit the Logic charts Richard from his beginnings in well-fitting suits and skinny ties on grayscale television to his prime in bellbottoms and silk shirts on, well, kilos of cocaine. Directed by Marina Zenovich (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired), the film shows archival footage of his radical humor, chronicles his tumultuous time in Hollywood and explores his impact on the field of comedy, with toasts from Bob Newhart, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams and Dave Chappelle. Most interestingly, it looks at Pryor's psychological bruises.

"For Richard, you have to omit the logic because of the way he was raised," Zenovich said. "He didn't have a normal life – he was raised in a brothel, his mother was a hooker, and his uncle and dad were pimps. That makes you see the world in a completely different way. I think he had very different rules."

To Jennifer Lee Pryor, those rules included turning the stresses of his childhood, his race and his time in Hollywood into comedy.

"He felt an enormous burden with celebrity and the pressure of having to always better himself, and having all these talking heads around him – lawyers and mangers and studios," she said. "It became a real powderkeg for him. There were also the pressures of the black community. They wanted to elevate him to be the next black voice, and he didn't want the job. It was too much. This is a man who was just trying to be an artist and use his voice in a positive way, for himself and for us, and the pressures led to the serious drugs and destruction."

Pryor's widow, who feels there is enough content for a second documentary, is currently producing a narrative biopic on Pryor directed by Forest Whitaker. (She's eyeing Michael B. Jordan of Friday Night Lights and this summer's Fruitvale Station to play the comedian.)

"I'd like to see a relative unknown, someone who's got good chops, who's been around the block a little but not someone who is a star, because Richard, and the material, is really the star."

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