Instead of packed arenas, comedian Richard Pryor now tours medical clinics. Instead of applause, he gets eight checkups a month in what his wife jokingly calls “the round robin of doctors.”
Still, Jennifer Lee Pryor says her husband’s crippling multiple sclerosis is a blessing that stripped away his taste for the drugs and alcohol she was convinced would have left him dead. Today, he’s just months shy of his 65th birthday.
Nearly two decades with the disease has left Pryor in a wheelchair and out of the public eye, long after his expletive-laced standup act spawned dozens of movies and made the Peoria native box office magic through much of the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Now, Pryor — who has also suffered three heart attacks — spends most of his time at his home near Encino, Calif., with two rescued dogs and Jennifer, his fifth wife. The couple divorced after a brief marriage in the early 1980s but remarried in 2001.
Entertainers from Bob Newhart to Chris Rock cite Pryor as one of the most influential comedians ever.
“As productive and brilliant as he was, he was also self-destructive,” she said in a telephone interview. “He said God gave him MS to slow him down. This disease saved his life.”