“If I thought about it, I could be bitter, but I don’t feel like being bitter. Being bitter makes you immobile, and there’s too much that I still want to do.” ~ Richard Pryor
Everyone needs a role model. I learned that in grade school, when all I made were A’s and B’s. I followed the example set by my father. He was an excellent student and stressed to me the vital importance of an education. Now, as an adult, I still search for individuals to use as motivation. Most people are surprised when I tell them Richard Pryor and the life he lived is one of the motivating forces in my life.
Nearly on every best comedians’ all-time list, Richard Pryor is somewhere in the top five. On my personal list, he is number one. My reason for having him at number one is probably different from everyone else. He is a source of inspiration. But to be honest, growing up I didn’t hear much of Richard Pryor’s stand up. I knew him from his movies and television appearances. It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I really began paying attention to his career. That was the year I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). I learned about Richard Pryor having MS from the media. He was the only person I associated with the disease. So when my doctor said to me, “Nicole I am 99% sure you have multiple sclerosis”, Richard Pryor immediately materialized in my mind.
Pryor was diagnosed in 1986. That’s 14 years before I started my MS journey. Because of his history with the disease, I wanted to learn how he managed to remain so positive and funny. But more importantly, how he continued being happy.
I began researching everything about him. I purchased his albums, watched his stand up specials and listened to his interviews. I especially focused on his comedy routines and conversations about living with multiple sclerosis. I found his words to be so inspirational. He just seemed to take everything in stride. Even after the MS progressed to where he was wheelchair bound, Richard didn’t let his lack of mobility stop him. When he could no longer walk around the stage, he continued doing standup shows sitting in a chair. At one of those shows he proudly proclaimed, “I’m the first standup comedian to do standup, sitting down.” On December 10, 2005, Richard Pryor passed away. When my husband told me Richard had died, I couldn’t believe it. I cried like a baby. It was like I lost a close relative. I had watched so many of his performances, I felt like I knew him. Even now, when I close my eyes and think about him, I can hear his voice in my head.
Since his death, I carry a photograph of him on my phone. When I am feeling down, I look at that picture to remind myself to keep fighting. It’s because of him; every day I try to live a life that’s purposeful while having fun. He kept his humor no matter the obstacle. And that inspires me. After I was diagnosed, I never thought I would ever laugh again. And I couldn’t picture finding anything funny about having MS. But Richard did. And because he did, so do I. He showed me there is a bright side to everything in life. There is even an absurdity to something as horrific as having multiple sclerosis.
I just want to say, thank you Richard Pryor for helping me see my life in a different way. You will always be my unlikely inspiration.
A few personal photos: