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How Richard Pryor Handled Multiple Sclerosis

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 08, 2021

Legendary stand-up comic Richard Pryor made audiences laugh with his irreverent and NSFW routines about the stories of his tumultuous life. He talked about drug use, women, his heart problems, and his multiple marriages. His last routines covered a different subject matter: his struggles with multiple sclerosis

His Diagnosis

Pryor was diagnosed with MS in 1986. His symptoms were initially mild, but by 1993, he told the New York Times that he experienced MS symptoms including vision problems, vertigo, tremors, weakness, prickling in his skin, mobility issues, chronic fatigue, and impotence. 

"To be diagnosed was the hardest thing because I didn't know what they were talking about," Pryor said. "And the doctor said 'Don't worry, in three months you'll know.' So I went about my business, and then, one day, it jumped me. I couldn't get up... Your muscles trick you; they did me".

Later, he joked, "I went to the eye doctor. You know your eyes are bad when you can't see the letter 'E'". 

Difficulty Coping

He wasn't always able to keep a sense of humor about his condition. When his ex-wife Jennifer Lee-Pryor (whom he later remarried) came to help him out in 1988, she found Pryor suicidal and abusing drugs. He was living with a gun in easy reach, ready to kill himself if his symptoms got worse. 

Lee-Pryor set to work getting him the care he needed as his condition progressed. She also helped him get more opportunities to perform and do the kind of comedy he had always loved. She focused on keeping him in touch with friends and family, as well as doing things he enjoyed. 

His Last Days

By the end of his life, Pryor couldn't talk. His daughter Rain Pryor told reporters that he couldn't swallow food, and he was confined to his bed most of the time. She explained that he shared his love for her by blowing kisses. "That is the best he can do," Pryor said. 

Pryor died in 2005. During his lifetime, he won an Emmy Award, five Grammy Awards, and the first annual Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. 

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

Chicago Tribune: "Pryor's daughter talks about MS."

Next Avenue: "Lessons From Richard Pryor's Caregiver."

New York Times: "AT HOME WITH Richard Pryor; Still Laughing Through the Pain."

New York Times: "Obituary: Comedian Richard Pryor dies at 65."

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