Obituaries

And Richard Pryor. And Eugene McCarthy.

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It must be dying season. The latest casualties: one of the great stand-up comedians, and one of the few politicians I admired.

As far as Pryor's concerned, I'll point out that while his film career rarely was as impressive as his stand-up work, he did co-write Blazing Saddles. And was great in Paul Schrader's first and best movie, Blue Collar. And helmed one of the better sketch shows of the '70s, the short-lived Richard Pryor Show. I was showing my father a skit from one of my Richard Pryor Show DVDs just this afternoon, in fact, completely unaware that the star had died.

And McCarthy? He was one of the few genuinely principled men in politics, and one of the few true wits in the field as well. It's hard to imagine myself voting in a Democratic primary, but if I'd been alive and 21 in 1968, I would have happily pulled the lever for him. (I'm fond of his quirky and quixotic later campaigns as well.)

Rest in peace, both of you.

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  1. McCarthy was able to launch his campaign because he had the backing of a few wealthy but committed backers. If the campaign finance laws that exist today had been in effect then, there is little chance that McCarthy could have ever launched a serious campaign. My guess is most of the people who back these laws in the name of “cleaning up politics and bringing better people into the process” are probably pretty big admirers of McCarthy. They threw out the old system that gave us FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower and replaced it just because it gave us Nixon. Shortsighted foolishness.

    My favorite Pryor movie is Which Way is Up, where he plays like three characters, one of which is entirely done as Mudbone. It is awesome. What a shame he is gone.

  2. In his 1968 challenge and for decades thereafter, Mr. McCarthy played the self-outcast of the Democratic Party, even shunning Jimmy Carter to endorse Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate for president in 1980.

    McCarthy, at least, had independent tendencies. Bobby Kennedy finally came to the same anti-war position on Vietnam as McCarthy for the 68 election. But Kennedy’s real reason seemed to be political considerations. McCarthy pointed out the hypocrisy and awaiting disaster of Kennedy’s hawkish position on US tax money for the Israeli government.

    I remember an interview with McCarthy, maybe 10-15 years ago. The guy asked him what led him to endorse Reagan over Carter in 80. “Clean Gene” answered that his thought process probably started at the 68 Democratic convention where the cops attacked and savagely beat the demonstrating kids. McCarthy said that it stuck with him, how much harm that government could do right here at home.

  3. Pryor definitely chipped away at my early delusions about drugs, approaching crack with a sense of humor and reality and all that..”It’s Richard Pryor, running down the street!”… His wife said he went with a smile on his face, god bless him. Bring on the tributes and reruns..my Tivo is ready.

  4. I disagree with your assessment of his movie career. I think Pryor and Wilder are one of the best comedy teams of recent times and their films are really underappreciated.

  5. I agree Stormy. Sitr Crazy, Which Way is Up and Blazing Saddles are classics. Some of his later work wasn’t that great but it still wasn’t bad. I mean hell, even Moving had its moments.

  6. I’m really not trying to be difficult, but I recall Nick Gillespie calling Richard Pryor a ‘milquetoast’ a couple months back. It’s just my opinion, but I thought that was pretty unfair and almost egregious.

    I’m also not sure there’s going to be a consensus supporting that view. Nick, still not a Pryor fan?

  7. I’ll forever thank Gene McCarthy for his hand in unseating Lyndon Johnson (as Rick Barton correctly pointed out, RFK was a Johnny-come-lately in the race).

    Richard Pryor’s “word association” sketch with Chevy Chase on SNL still stands as one of the all-time classic TV moments.

    Godspeed, gentlemen…

  8. I says Jesse’s right. His acting was lame. Even his stand up was more ‘significant’ that it was funny. He defined his time. He made me believe that we as a country had finally got past race. OJ and Rodney King, proved I was badly wrong about that. I remember him most for his post human-torch interview with Barbwa Wawa. Every word an untruth.

  9. Some of his later work wasn’t that great but it still wasn’t bad.

    John, two words: Superman 3.

    I enjoyed Brewster’s Millions, though.

  10. Pryor was in several good movies in the ’70s — I’m surprised no one’s mentioned The Silver Streak yet — but even then his film career was uneven, and after Stir Crazy it really went to hell. (Remember The Toy?) It wasn’t that he was a bad actor; it’s just that, like a lot of stand-ups, he landed in a lot of bad scripts that weren’t suited for his talents.

  11. i still don’t know whether the toy was ballsy or the most racist film of all time.

  12. “Just remember– all you’ve got to do is keep some sunshine in your face” (or words to that effect)
    — Richard Pryor

  13. “You go down there (the courthouse) looking for justice and that is what you will find, that is is just us (meaning black people)” Richard Pryor from Is It Something I Said.

    My favorite SNL moment of his was the send of the Exorcist, where Pryor is the young priest and the bed levitates and lands on his foot. Instead of chanting “the power of God commands you!” Pryor chants, “the bed is on my foot!”.

  14. Was Pryor a “comic genius”

  15. Rick, a lot successful, professional comics think he was. Pryor was an excellent actor and only someone who’s never acted could think otherwise. The characters he created in his stand-up routine and his performances in “Jo-Jo Dancer…,” “Blue Collar,” “Greased Lightning,” “Which Way is Up?” display an innate and rather sublime ability.

  16. John,

    The Exorcist sketch was great. But, the all time classic is the job interview sketch with Pryor and Chase playing word association. That was one of the best in the history of SNL. Scratch that – one of the best in the history of comedy. History note. Pryor’s SNL appearance was the first time the show was put on tape delay. He made the Man just a little too nervous for live TV.

    (Remember when SNL was actually subversive? Or for that matter, remember when Chevy Chase was actually funny?)

    The man was a genius and a trailblazer. I hope Murphy, Rock and Chappell all poured out a little liquor.

  17. John, two words: Superman 3.

    Hey, that movie could it have been worse. And not only do we know it theoretically, we know it from experience. If you think Superman 3 is mad, there are two words that should make you flee in anguish:

    Superman 4.

  18. Jesse,
    Silver Streak and Stir Crazy don’t stand the test of time for me. I remember how impressive they once seemed. I could be caught entering a room strutting and proclaiming “Yeah. That’s right. We bad” for like ten years. But upon recent viewings, I find myself wondering “what did I ever think was so funny about this?”. The biting edge has eroded away, and the plots are contorted and absurd.

    I may be disposed to harshness over a certain contempt I have for Gene Wilder. I always thought Gilda was too good for him.

    I have to put in a word for Blazing Saddles. A movie that just gets funnier. More biting edge now than when it came out. And I could do without the campfire scene, mid-life has killed potty humor.

    Then we?re awake? but very puzzled

  19. Walker’s mention of Blazing Saddles was dead on as a true indicator of Pryor’s talent.

    madeline kahn is whispering some explicit sexual enticements into cleavon little’s ear. suddenly he pulls back and says

    “Please, baby, I am not from Havana!”

    Still one of the 5 funniest lines in movie history.

  20. “Which Way Is Up?” is a terrific movie that showcases Pryor’s acting ability. The remainder of his film ouvre is flatter than day old beer.

  21. No love for Blue Collar?

  22. And I could do without the campfire scene, mid-life has killed potty humor

    I love the campfire scene. Except for the censored version I once saw on one of the cable “family” channels where the scene was left in but all the “sound effects” removed. Made no sense.

    There seem to be several edited versions of the movie around that cater to whatever sensibilities someone is hoping not to offend. And with that movie, you have a cornucopia of potentially offended parties.

  23. You use your mouth purttier than a $20 whore.

  24. Taggart: I got it. I got it.

    Hedley Lamarr: You do?

    Taggart: We’ll work up a “Number 6” on ’em.

    Hedley Lamarr: “Number 6”? I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that one…

    Taggart: Well, that’s where we go a-ridin’ into town, a whampin’ and whompin’ every livin’ thing that moves within an inch of its life. Except the women folks, of course.

    Hedley Lamarr: You spare the women?

    Taggart: NAW. We rape the shit out of them at the Number 6 Dance later on.

    Hedley Lamarr: Marvelous.

  25. Saddles is so rich in memorable quotes. Can’t resist adding another one.

    You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons

    Oh man, variants on that should be a staple around here.

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