What we want to know is, what was Richard Pryor thinking as he sat there on the dais in the Grand Ballroom of New York City’s Hilton hotel last week, honored by 2,200 of his closest showbiz friends with a roast, you should pardon the expression, given by the New York Friars Club and emceed by Robin Williams?
Williams: How do you roast a man who did it to himself? Ba-DUM. A man who proved that black is not only beautiful — black is flammable? Ba-dum-DUM.
What we want to know is, how did he feel, this frail 50-year-old man, this star of Stir Crazy and Silver Streak and Some Kind of Hero and four brilliant in-concert films who is now a shrunken version of his old badass self, hunched and trembling with multiple sclerosis and heart ailments, and smoking his cigarettes with a thin hand. How did Pryor feel, listening to master of ceremonies Williams — his wild white-boy pal, his old comrade in crazy drug-fueled nights — as Williams (with help from, among others, Chevy Chase, Gene Wilder, Dick Gregory , Marsha Warfield, Bill Murray, and the get-down Mayor of the City of New York, David N. Dinkins) kicked Pryor’s bad black butt?
We’d have given anything to hear a riff on the politics of seating arrangements at the mile-long dais: L.L. Cool J slumped (in Major Attitude) between Robert Loggia and Keith Carradine; Della Reese (in a Major Turban) chewing rubber chicken next to Chevy Chase; mummified actor Robert Vaughn deep in chat (about infomercials?) with coiffed comedian David Brenner. We’d have loved to hear him free-associate on the sight of Quincy Jones and Martin Scorsese and Mercedes Ruehl and Anthony Quinn and Sugar Ray Leonard and Christopher Lee all crumbling dinner rolls at the same table with the mayor of the town so nice they declared Friday, Sept. 27, 1991, Richard Pryor Day, in reverential honor of a comedian-actor-troublemaker whose finest work is unprintable here.
Instead, we jabbed at our melon slices and swatted Friar cigar smoke-the largest gathering of Jews and blacks in one room in New York without the presence of Al Sharpton, ladies and gentlemen! — and collected lawyer jokes and sex jokes and race jokes for later retelling. We settled for toasts, you should pardon the expression, for the one and only Richard Pyror-someone who is truly the hottest man in show business. Ba-DUM.