Richard Pryor's Widow Jennifer Lee Calls His 1980 Fire Incident a Suicide Attempt: 'He Warned Me'

PEOPLE.com | 3/15/2019 | Staff
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Richard Pryor remains known for channeling his misfortune into groundbreaking comedy. But he was lucky to be alive after setting himself on fire in June 1980.

In Paramount Network’s new documentary I Am Richard Pryor, his widow Jennifer Lee Pryor classifies the life-threating incident a suicide attempt.

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“He warned me,” she claims to PEOPLE. “He said to me, ‘I’ve decided what to do. I have to do this otherwise I don’t know how I’m going to get out. There’s no way out of this so you need to leave so you don’t get hurt too.’ I knew he was planning something, I didn’t know what. I called the house. Somebody answered and then the next thing I know they drop the phone and I heard someone screaming, and Richard at that time running through the house on fire.”

Richard’s bodyguard and aunt were present and attempted to put out the flames that resulted from Richard pouring 151-proof rum on his shirt and setting it ablaze with a lighter. But Richard, then 30, thought they were trying to smother him, so he ran out onto the sidewalk, shoutingthis link opens in a new tab: “Lord, give me another chance … Haven’t I brought happiness to anyone in this world?”

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The police were called and an officer implored the comedian to stop moving, but he wouldn’t. Eventually, once Richard made it about a mile from his Los Angeles home, the fire department medics arrived and put him in an ambulance to Sherman Oaks Community Hospital, where was treated for severe burns on more than 50 percent of his bodythis link opens in a new tab.

Before what Jennifer, 79, calls Richard’s “self-immolation,” she remembers he set his bed on fire while doing freebase cocaine (the purest form of the drug, created by heating it to produce vapors...
(Excerpt) Read more at: PEOPLE.com
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