Saturday, December 10, 2005

Comedy Legend Richard Pryor (1940-2005). Political Warrior Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005).

Richard Pryor Dead At Age 65

Comedy legend Richard Pryor died this morning of a heart attack at age 65. AOL News AP wire excerpt:

LOS ANGELES (Dec. 10) - Richard Pryor, the groundbreaking comedian whose profanely personal insights into race relations and modern life made him one of Hollywood's biggest stars, died of a heart attack. He was 65.

Pryor died shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday after being taken to a hospital from his home in the San Fernando Valley, said his business manager, Karen Finch. He had been ill for years with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system.

Music producer Quincy Jones described Pryor as a true pioneer of his art. "He was the Charlie Parker of comedy, a master of telling the truth that influenced every comedian that came after him," Jones said in a statement. "The legacy that he leaves will forever be with us."

Pryor lived dangerously close to the edge, both on stage and off.
He was regarded early in his career as one of the most foul-mouthed comics in the business, but he gained a wide following for his universal and frequently personal routines. After nearly losing his life in 1980 when he caught on fire while freebasing cocaine, he incorporated the ordeal into his later routines.

His audacious style influenced generations of stand-up artists, from Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock to Robin Williams and David Letterman, among others. A series of hit comedies and concert films in the '70s and '80s helped make Pryor one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood, and he was one of the first black performers to have enough leverage to cut his own deals.

In 1983, he signed a $40 million, five-year contract with Columbia Pictures. His films included "Stir Crazy," "Silver Streak," "Which Way Is Up?" and "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip."

Throughout his career, Pryor focused on racial inequality, once joking as the host of the Academy Awards in 1977 that Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier were the only black members of the Academy. Pryor once marveled "that I live in racist America and I'm uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it. You can't do much better than that."

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Pryor could make you laugh with a look or a joke, but his stories about race, as part of his stand-up act, made you think past the laughter. His teamwork in films with Gene Wilder was groundbreaking. His legacy is apparent in the careers of Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and David Chappelle. He will be missed.

Eugene McCarthy Dead At Age 89

Former Senator and famous anti-Vietnam war activist, and Democratic Presidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy died today at age 89. AOL News excerpt:

WASHINGTON (Dec. 10) - Former Minnesota Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, whose insurgent campaign toppled a sitting president in 1968 and forced the Democratic Party to take seriously his message against the Vietnam War, died Saturday. He was 89.

McCarthy died in his sleep at assisted living home in the Georgetown neighborhood where he had lived for the past few years, said his son, Michael.

Eugene McCarthy challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson for the 1968 Democratic nomination during growing debate over the Vietnam War. The challenge led to Johnson's withdrawal from the race. The former college professor, who ran for president five times in all, was in some ways an atypical politician, a man with a witty, erudite speaking style who wrote poetry in his spare time and was the author of several books.

Helped by his legion of idealistic young volunteers known as "clean-for-Gene kids," McCarthy got 42 percent of the vote in the state's 1968 Democratic primary. That showing embarrassed Johnson into withdrawing from the race and throwing his support to his vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey.

Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York also decided to seek the nomination, but was assassinated in June 1968. McCarthy and his followers went to the party convention in Chicago, where fellow Minnesotan Humphrey won the nomination amid bitter strife both on the convention floor and in the streets.

Humphrey went on to narrowly lose the general election to Richard Nixon. The racial, social and political tensions within the Democratic Party in 1968 have continued to affect presidential politics ever since.

"It was a tragic year for the Democratic Party and for responsible politics, in a way," McCarthy said in a 1988 interview. "There were already forces at work that might have torn the party apart anyway - the growing women's movement, the growing demands for greater racial equality, an inability to incorporate all the demands of a new generation. "But in 1968, the party became a kind of unrelated bloc of factions ... each refusing accommodation with another, each wanting control at the expense of all the others."

Although he supported the Korean War, McCarthy said he opposed the Vietnam War because "as it went on, you could tell the people running it didn't know what was going on." Former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., said McCarthy's presidential run in 1968 dramatically changed the antiwar movement.

"It was no longer a movement of concerned citizens, but became a national political movement," McGovern said Saturday. "He was an inspiration to me in all of my life in politics." McGovern won the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, when McCarthy ran a second time.

Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who ran for vice president in 2004, said McCarthy "was a remarkable American, a man who spoke his conscience, and he was a great leader for my party."

In recent years, McCarthy was critical of campaign finance reform, winning him an unlikely award from the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2000. In an interview when he got the award, McCarthy said money helped him in the 1968 race. "We had a few big contributors," he said. "And that's true of any liberal movement. In the American Revolution, they didn't get matching funds from George III."

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McCarthy would likely be viewed in a negative light by the Bush administration. The parallels to the Iraq war and the Vietnam war are succinctly summed up with McCarthy's statement on Vietnam detailed in the excerpt. I suppose the thing that makes McCarthy compelling is his understanding that movements are never simply handed things like respect and power, that these things must be earned and cultivated (as stated in the last sentence of the excerpt, the irony of which escaped the organization granting McCarthy's "honor"). It is too bad that the last two Democratic Presidential nominees did not recognize this fact in time to stop Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy in his tracks.

Gore's mistake was that he underestimated both the stupidity of the American voter AND the depths to which the Bush camp would crawl to secure the outcome they desired. Kerry's mistake was accepting the nomination when he clearly had no intention of fighting for change. I hope he stays out of the damned way in 2008.

I disagreed with his endorsement of Ronald Reagan (hey, noone is perfect) while criticizing Jimmy Carter (and ignoring the fact that Carter's own party was putting the fork to him at every turn), and was ready to write him off as obsolete until he came back to reality by criticizing the current joke of an administration by accurately calling them bullies.

In the final analysis, McCarthy was a fighter, and we could certainly use more fighters in the Democratic Party these days.

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