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Pryor's Convictions: To Stop Animal Abuse
By Nora Fraser
Pryor -- Testimonial
Pryor & PETA
-- What He Meant to Us
Check out Pryor's Planet Tee available at: www.pryorsplanet.com
Please help continue Richard Pryor's legacy. All proceeds go towards animal rescue.
Richard Pryor probably didn't have a lot of pets
growing up in a whorehouse in Peoria, Illinois.
That's a luxury he could afford only after he
started earning money making people laugh. You'd
think a career that garners 5 Grammy awards, an
Emmy Award-winning TV series and 45 movies might
be enough for someone, but now Pryor's got
another fight in him- drawing attention to animal abuse.
Richard Pryor has multiple sclerosis, but he is
so adamantly opposed to the use of animals in
researching disease that he used his Christmas
card last year to discourage donations to
charities that still fund such tests. He's been
honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants
in Botswana targeted for circuses. And last year,
as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden,
Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American
ringmaster something to think about.
"While I am hardly one to complain about a young
African American making an honest living," Pryor
wrote in a letter to Jonathan Lee Iverson, "I
urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is
to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."
Pryor, who compares the treatment of elephants in
circuses to slavery, hopes Iverson will ask
Ringling Bros. to retire all of its elephants.
Richard Pryor, "animal activist", is a relatively
recent phenomenon, but not an entirely unlikely
one. Pryor, famous for his fearless style of
comedy as well as his proclivity for
self-destruction, has always been an animal lover.
Jennifer Lee, whom he recently married for the
second time, remembers the animals he kept at his
ranch in Northridge when she first knew him. "He
had a miniature pony named Ginger, a great Dane, and a couple of monkeys."
According to Lee, Pryor always stressed kindness to animals to his children.
"If the girls (Pryor's daughters) ever mistreated
their puppies, as kids will do innocently,
Richard would sit them down and say "These
animals have to be loved. Don't treat the animals
badly. They're not treating you badly."
"I've always liked animals" Richard proclaims on
his CD about the '70's and '80's. "That Nigger is Still Crazy"
"I've got a dog that just showed up one day. He
was a stray. He said 'Hey, I got no place to go.
I heard you had a couple bucks.'".
Pryor elaborates on the advantages of adopting a stray.
"He's a great watchdog. He's fun. But he doesn't
leave the driveway. He'll chase someone but he'll
stop at the property line. He says 'I ain't going
anywhere. I been out there. I ain't going back.
You want that ball, you go get it!'"
Pryor's routines have always been sprinkled with
animal themes and usually he acts as a translator
or an interpreter for the animals.
Jennifer and Richard's adventures in Africa
became the basis for one hilarious routine
comparing zoos to an African Safari. ("Richard Pryor Live on Sunset Strip")
"It's something to drive around and see all these
animals in person! Because at the zoo, they're
bullshitting us at the zoo. We all go to the zoo
to f*ck with the lion. 'Hey lion! Hey
motherf%ck^r!' The lion can't get out. But when
you see a pride of lions hanging out for real,
with attitude. the lion will look at you - 'Get
your ass out of the car, and bring the camera
too. Because we're gonna eat all that shit."
Jennifer swears that while they were on safari,
Richard did get out of the car to get a closer
look at the lions on the Masai Mara. Evidently
Pryor was so elated at being in Africa and so
excited about seeing real lions that he lost
himself and didn't realize he wasn't at the zoo.
"He just thought he'd get closer!" Jennifer
remembers. "Later, back at the reserve, we got in
trouble. You're not supposed to do that. No,no, no."
The Pryors had a flat tire while on the game reserve.
"Richard has only changed his clothes, his mind,
never a flat tire. He was going to try to do it."
He told Jennifer to watch the gazelles and if one
of them flinched that would mean there was a lion
around. Her job was to keep an eye on the flock while he changed the tire.
"It was a pretty good strategy, now that I think of it".
Jennifer says Pryor has always had this connection with animals.
"He really enjoyed watching the lions eating the
wildebeest. We saw it killed. I had a hard time
with that. He liked it." Jennifer compares
Richard on stage to a "lion on coke." "He stalked
the stage like a wild animal. He was very
predatory on that stage. Stalking his humor,
stalking his audience, stalking his routine. He
was very, very predatory. That's what I fell in
love with. That magnetism, that charisma. I fell
in love with his vulnerability and his tenderness
- the complexities of Richard - layers and layers."
The latest "layer" is Richard's crusade against
Burger King called "Murder King". He and long
time PETA member, Alec Baldwin, sent letters
asking owners of Burger King franchises to use
their clout to get the fast-food corporation to
meet or exceed the animal welfare standards set
last year by its chief competitor, McDonald's.
This would involve refusing to purchase from
suppliers that skin and dismember conscious
animals, chop the beaks off of hens, and starve
hens for up to two weeks in order to shock the
animals' bodies into another laying cycle. The
campaign is evidently making headway.
Pryor, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986,
subsequently suffered a heart attack and had a
quadruple bypass the following year. After years
of battling MS he now travels in a wheelchair and
needs regular physical therapy and speech
therapy. In light of all this, it surprises many
that he continues to crusade against animal testing.
Fellow multiple sclerosis sufferer Montel
Williams agrees with Richard. "They've been
trying to test on animals for the past 50 years.
Nobody's come up with a cure." he says. "If you
want to test on somebody, test on me."
Montel is critical of wasted years and resources
spent on animal tests that have led nowhere.
"With all the technology we have we can reach the
whole planet at the same time but we can't figure
out how to cure a disease by poking people rather
than poking animals? I don't get it."
Pryor and Williams both urge everyone to support
the charities that focus on prevention and
patient services and that use modern research
methods, such as human clinical trials and in vitro tests.
While Montel Williams is able to use his voice to
let his opinions be known, Richard has to voice
his opinions in other ways- such as with that
Christmas card he sent last year. Picturing a
monkey, mice and other animals running to freedom
from a laboratory cage, the message read, "May
your heart leap with joy this holiday! And if the
season finds you sharing your good fortune with
others, please don't give to charities that fund
experiments on animals. A gift of goodwill should
help end suffering, not cause it."
Cognizant of the fact that most people have no
idea that their donations may be used to bankroll
animal tests, Richard urges everyone to contact
PETA (or visit www.peta.com) for lists of
charities that are "naughty" and "nice."
Jennifer doesn't like the way some people respond
to Richard's illness. "When people say to me,
'oh, how sad it is,' I really get angry. Because
you know 'sad' is six feet under. His life has changed."
"If you're an intelligent being and you're in a
position where you are stagnant, basically, it
becomes a time for introspection."
Jennifer believes that it is this introspection
that has sparked Pryor's interest in animal rights.
"Richard knows that as a man of color, he is
really important to the animal rights movement
because it has not been a popular belief system
in the African American culture."
"He values the world and life now in ways that he
didn't before. And I think it's fantastic he's
still alive because as a human being he can
reflect at times and that can't be easy. But his
life does have purpose and he knows that."
Recently Pryor went to a birthday party for his
granddaughter, Lillie Sarah with a large stuffed animal in tow.
"When I saw him with the big stuffed Bengal tiger
he had brought for her and the kids all around
him, it gave me goose bumps. Do you think he
would have done that at the height of his
stardom? No! Or been able to have that moment and
hold that moment? His eyes showed what that meant to him."
Richard has a different relationship with his
dogs these days. Two large "rescue" mutts, Homer
and Spirit, preside over his household. "Spirit
was brought to us by Rain (Richard's daughter)
who found in him front of Turner Liquors on
Sunset, and Homer was a rescue brought to us by a
former employee," says Jennifer. "Homer, three,
is a big hound and Spirit, four, is an Australian
sheltie/shepherd mix. Even though he can't
participate in the day to day care, ie the walks,
Richard has an interaction with them that is very
sweet and very gentle. They're very gentle with
him. Because his physical condition requires it."
"Richard is comforted in a profound way by
animals around him but I think he feels very
safe, also. To know there's this patrol going on
outside the house. A constant patrol. It's their
home and they are very protective. And it is
Richard Pryor, after all, and so we have to keep
him safe. I feel like I'm taking care of a
national treasure. There's the man over here and
the national treasure over there. I've got to take care of both."
Richard Pryor may not be up to keeping us in
stitches these days, but he's still being a
formidable influence. Research shows that
laughter and insight are strong components of a
happy and healthy life. Richard Pryor, in his lifetime, has given us both.
(Currently available at Tower Records and
Amazon.com is a CD box set, (1968-1992 - 9 CDS!)
Richard Pryor... And It's Deep, Too! Coming soon
is a new two CD anthology, some with a bobbing head doll of Richard.)
(Emmy-award winning producer and television
commentator, Nora Fraser, is an animal lover who
serves on the Board of Directors of the Ark
Trust. In her spare time, she develops shows for television.)