In a bustling cafe in Paris, a young man shared his first glass of wine with his father, comedian Richard Pryor. “He taught us a lot about culture,” the star’s eldest son, Richard Pryor Jr., exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “My happiest memories with my father were when I was with him during the summers. We traveled to Europe and we had to dress up nice for dinner. When you’re a teenager and you get to do those kinds of things, it’s so cool.”
Abandoned by his own father at age 10, Richard, who died in December 2005 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis, had no good role model to teach him how to be a parent. He’d been raised in a brothel run by his grandmother, where his alcoholic mother worked.
As a dad, he tried to do better and give his six kids the advantages he never had. “He was a good father,” Richard Jr., 56 — who wrote about his upbringing in his new book, In a Pryor Life — said. “He was quirky and hands-on.”
Richard cut his comedy teeth in 1960s New York and became a national act on TV variety series hosted by Ed Sullivan and Merv Griffin. By the time Richard Jr. was old enough to accompany his dad on tour, the comedian was on his way to becoming a legend.
“I would introduce him onstage and see him work,” recalled Richard Jr., whose mother was the star’s first wife, Patricia Price. “I also worked for his production company; he would get scripts in and allow me to read them. It made me feel like a part of his life.”
But Richard didn’t have all the right answers as a parent — he believed in corporal punishment and could be emotionally remote. “You tend to raise your children the way you were raised,” Richard Jr. said. “His way of showing you love was giving you things, but sometimes you just wanted that person next to you.”
His dad did come through when it mattered most. When Richard, who publicly fought his addiction, became aware that his son was struggling with drug abuse, he stepped in. “He helped me out with tough love, and making sure I was able to go into treatment,” Richard Jr. said, adding that, despite his father’s best intentions, recovery was something he had to do on his own. “I had to know my own self-worth.”
Richard Jr. also braced for the worst when he confessed to his dad that he’d been kicked out of the military for being gay. “It took the Navy three years to figure that out? Damn,” his father joked in response. While cautioning that “not everyone needs to know,” Richard tried to be supportive.
In his last years, Richard didn’t see a lot of his eldest son — the Pryor family was battling the comedian’s wife, Jennifer, for conservatorship in court — but a final visit months before his death brought healing. “I knew in my heart that was going to be the last time I would see him,” Richard Jr. recalled. “I remember I hugged him tightly, telling him I always loved him, giving him a kiss and saying goodbye.”
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