Richard Pryor, comedian and film actor, dies at 65

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The Independent US

Richard Pryor, the irreverent yet perceptive American actor-comedian who lived dangerously close to the edge on stage and off, has died.

Pryor, who had celebrated his 65th birthday earlier this month, died in a Los Angeles hospital shortly before 8am yesterday, following a heart attack. He had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for almost 20 years.

Talking to CNN yesterday, his wife, Jennifer Pryor, said: "He was my treasure. His comedy is unparalleled. They say that you are not a comic unless you imitate Richard Pryor ... He was able to turn his pain into comedy."

While he appeared in many films, it was Pryor's stand-up comedy act that made him a controversial star. Racism was a major component of his routine and he even joked about an incident in 1980 in which he managed to set himself on fire while using cocaine.

"He was an extraordinary man, as you know," his wife said. "He enjoyed life right up until the end. He went quickly, at the end there was a smile on his face." Pryor, whose audacious style influenced an array of stand-up artists, was regarded early in his career as one of the most foul-mouthed comics in the business. He gained a wide following for his expletive-filled but personal insights into modern life and race relations.

He was born in 1940 in Peoria, Illinois - his father was a construction worker - and he grew up in a brothel his grandmother ran and where his mother worked. His first professional performance came at the age of seven, when he played drums at a night club.

A series of hit comedies in the Seventies and Eighties helped to make Pryor one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. He appeared in more than 30 films, including Stir Crazy, Superman 3 and Brewster's Millions. He will also be remembered for a number of high-profile cinema collaborations with fellow comedy actor Gene Wilder, includingSilver Streak. Pryor co-wrote the script for the cult film Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks.

He was married seven times, including twice to Jennifer Pryor and twice to Flynn Belaine, and had seven children.

In his last film, the 1991 bomb Another You, Pryor's poor health was clearly evident. He made a comeback attempt the following year, returning to stand-up comedy in clubs and on television while looking thin and frail. In 1995, he played an embittered multiple sclerosis patient in an episode of the television series Chicago Hope. The role earned him an Emmy nomination.