Exclusive: Richard Pryor’s Widow, Jennifer, Speaks On Upcoming Biopic, And Why They Chose Mike Epps Over Nick Cannon
This week, I had the chance to chat with Richard Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, about the documentary on the late comedian’s life, Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, which premiered on Showtime in 2013, and was finally made available on Feb. 3 (purchase here). And while I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from the film, I learned even more in my conversation with Jennifer: from where that biopic on Richard’s life stands, to her issues with his children, and how they met, she had a lot to say and share. Check out our chat:
Why People Should See Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic
I think that there’s a lot in there that heretofore, hasn’t been revealed. Interesting information about the fire was revealed, although, there was even more to be revealed about it because I was there right before it happened. But I just think there are interesting pieces in there that we haven’t seen before. There’s been a lot written about Richard, and documentaries here and there. But mostly it’s been, eh, “E! True Hollywood Story” stuff, which I think is very superficial. I just think this is a lot more in-depth.
The Tea On The New Biopic With Oprah, Mike Epps and…Kate Hudson?
Oprah may be put on as a figurehead producer, but I’m actually hands-on producer with Bruce Cohen and Harvey Weinstein. And Oprah is going to play the grandmother. Mike Epps is going to play Richard, and Kate Hudson is going to play me. But we gotta shoot it first! The script is still being written and we have to approve it. Lee [Daniels] is finishing the script, and I’m working closely with him on that. We’ll get that script done and we’ll start shooting. We’re supposed to start in March in New York, and depending on the shooting schedule, this should be out by next Christmas. We finally have the right combination of people. It took many, many years to get this right, but I feel we have finally gotten it right and I couldn’t be more proud.
Why Mike Epps Beat Out Nick Cannon And Marlon Wayans For The Role
I think Mike has a rawness about him that is very similar to Richard’s rawness. You know what I mean? Nick is a delightful person, I think he’s a very nice guy and I think the same of Marlon, but I don’t feel their rawness. That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact. Some people look kind of shattered when they walk into a room and Mike’s got that vulnerability and you can identify that. Marlon doesn’t have that, nor does Nick. They’re both very talented and their both very likable, they’re both great guys and they’ll obviously be in the business for a very long time, but…it’s just different. When you’re going to play Richard, who’s a very raw person, you have to be able to embody that and identify with that, and Mike can do both.
If She Believes That Comedians Are The Saddest People
It’s true. I was married to Richard twice. We were married back in the day, and when I came back to take care of him, we remarried. Not to say he wasn’t fun to be with, because we had a lot of wonderful, funny and fun times together, but yet, there was a darkness that he would display in private that could be very disturbing and very sad to witness. Very tragic. He did come from a dark place. And the family was interesting because they provided Richard with that material in a great way. The fact that he could turn that pain into magic, into comedy, to me, was some sort of alchemy. It was some sort of wonder. It was absolutely amazing to me that he could do that, and amazing to everyone else. That’s what was Richard’s profound effect in the world of comedy, as well as, just in his work in general. How could he do that? Making a joke about his father punching him in the chest. That’s a sad story, but he did it. He took all that pain and heartbreak and just flipped the switch.
Her Issues With Richard’s Grown Children
Well, I have to tell you that Richard Jr. surprised me because we were on good terms. I was actually supporting him while the kid’s trust was in litigation because Elizabeth [Pryor] sued me. And while it was in litigation I helped him and basically carried him until it was settled and I won. They kept going to court but they kept losing. It was very sad because I kept offering olive branches and they kept swatting them, so it was like, “Okay, well, I tried.” So it was really surprising and hurtful with Richard Jr. I’m not currently speaking to Richard Jr., nor Rain, nor Elizabeth, but I do get along with Kelsey and Steven, the younger ones, and I’m very grateful for that. I share a very warm, loving relationship with them.
How They Met
I worked for Richard first. A friend of mine was working for him and was his right-hand sort-of assistant, and was dating him at the same time. I was an actress/model/songwriter and I needed work and she said, “Well, you can come be my assistant.” I went out and I worked for him for six months. He got married to someone else in the meantime, and he shot [his estranged wife’s] car and all this other madness went down. I didn’t care, I just did my work. But when I met him, I fell in love with him. I just adored him. After all that drama went away, we started dating in December 1977.
Why They Split The First Time
We got married and the fire happened, and obviously there was a lot going on. It was really difficult. Richard had to come to terms with the fact that he attempted suicide, and I think there was a lot of unresolved issues that he had to tangle with. Being married at the same time kind of overwhelmed him. We were starting to argue a lot and it was not good. I moved back to New York and I divorced him, but never stopped loving him. And throughout all of the ’80s and ’90s, we were always back and forth and in touch. I loved him forever.
How They Ended Up Back Together
In ’94, he was in New York and I went to visit him and it was a grim scene: he was drinking and doing drugs. It was very ugly, and there were lots of hangers-on. Ugh. And he said, “You know, I need help.” So I decided to move back and help him and take care of him, which I did for 11 years. He lived his life in dignity and I’m very proud of that period of time, and then he passed obviously. Now I’m carrying on his legacy, which I’m also very proud and happy to do.
On Richard Using “White Honkey Bitch” As Pet Name For Her
He did it on stage in Live on the Sunset Strip. He said, ‘Yeah, my wife thinks her name is white honkey bitch.’ You can hear it in an audio, it’s not actually in the film. But yeah, he would occasionally call me white honkey bitch. And I would say, “Richard, I can’t use the N-word, why can you get away with that?” [laughs] Of course he would say, “Figure it out! I’ll call you what I want to call you.” But it was always done with love. It wasn’t said to put me down.
Why She Thinks He’s The Best Stand-Up Comedian To Do It
Back in the day, he was the man to chase. Even Robin [Williams] chased him in terms of comedy. Robin had an amazing film career but really chased Pryor. Everyone chased him. And now, today, everyone knows it’s written in stone: He’s the king of comedy. He’s the one to try to aspire to even, not beat, because you’re never going to beat Pryor. Again, I think it’s his ability to turn all that pain into comedy. All those stories that if you were maybe sitting over a dinner table talking about, “I grew up in a whorehouse,” people would drop their china, but talking about where he came from and the reality and truth of his life, and turning that into a place where it was okay to laugh–it was genius. He didn’t want to just tell jokes, he finally found his voice. That’s what his voice was, his stories. His truth. That’s what makes him such a genius: His ability to tell the truth and rip the covers off of himself, white people and black people, and humanity in general.