25 Coolest Moments in Olympic Opening Ceremony History

Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

The 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea kick off February 9. To celebrate, we're looking back on the most epic moments from opening ceremonies past. From jet packs to a parachuting queen, here's what South Korea has to follow when they welcome the world this Friday.

1. LOS ANGELES 1984 // OLYMPIC THEME DEBUTS

Composer John Williams.
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Today, it's impossible to hear John Williams's "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" without thinking of the Olympics. But no one had heard the composition before it debuted at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. That year, the score reached instant icon status and has been used as the theme for every Olympics held since.

2. LONDON 2012 // THE QUEEN JUMPS FROM A HELICOPTER

Person jumping from helicopter.
Lars Baron, Getty Images

What's more British than James Bond and the Queen? Her majesty and Agent 007 jumping from a helicopter to kick off the 2012 London Olympics. Though Queen Elizabeth II and Daniel Craig did appear together in footage that aired before the jump, the actual skydiving was done by stuntmen.

3. BEIJING 2008 // 2008 DRUMMERS

Drummers in a stadium.
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

A decade after the fact, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing games is still regarded as one of the greatest in Olympics history. It's hard to narrow down the four-hour event to just a few memorable moments, but the synchronized drum performance definitely makes the list. As a nod to the date, 2008 musicians filled the stadium to play the fou, a 4000-year-old Chinese percussion instrument. The choreographed precision of the drummers created a stunning spectacle when viewed from above.

4. ATLANTA 1996 // MUHAMMAD ALI CARRIES THE TORCH

Muhammad Ali with torch.
Michael Cooper, Allsport/Getty Images

One of the most anticipated moments of the 1996 opening ceremony was the reveal of who would light the centennial torch—and the appearance of Muhammad Ali in that role was met with approval and awe. His iconic torch-lighting took place 36 years after he earned his gold medal and 12 years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The surprise moment was among the most memorable of the events, but it almost didn't happen—the tower leading up to the torch would have been too difficult for Ali to climb in his condition. Officials worked around that by having him light a fuse that led up to the cauldron instead.

5. NAGANO 1998 // INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE OF "ODE TO JOY"

Olympic athletes.
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

In 1998, video-chatting with someone across the globe in real time was still considered stuff of the future. That's part of what made the rendition of Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" at the opening ceremony of the 1998 Winter Olympics so impressive. As an orchestra performed live in Nagano, choruses in Berlin, Cape Town, Beijing, New York, and Sydney joined in via satellite feeds. On top of wowing audiences, the moment served as a meaningful symbol of world unity.

6. BARCELONA 1992 // AN ARCHER LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Man with flaming arrow.
Pau Barrena, AFP/Getty Images

Though opening ceremonies vary wildly from year to year, the lighting of the torch is one theme they all share. This portion can be straightforward, but in 1992 Barcelona decided to get creative. The cauldron was ignited by Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shooting a flaming arrow across the stadium. In terms of flair, no torch lighting has topped it since.

7. SYDNEY 2000 // 120 HORSEMEN

Sydney opera house.
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

The opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney was one of the most cinematic in history, and it was the very first moment that set the tone. A lone horseman came galloping into the empty stadium, and at the crack of his whip 120 more people riding horses and holding Olympic flags followed him in.

8. ALBERTVILLE 1992 // THE AIR BALLET

Air ballet performance.
Pascal Rondeau, Allsport/Getty Images

The opening ceremony of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France channeled a Cirque du Soleil vibe. This was most apparent in the air ballet sequence. Dancers strapped into ribbons twirled and floated around a giant pole in the middle of the arena. The performance is regarded as one of the most mesmerizing in any opening ceremony.

9. LILLEHAMMER 1994 // SKIING WITH THE ETERNAL FLAME

Skier holding torch.
Bob Martin, Allsport/Getty Images

The torch lighting at the 1994 Winter Olympics was an exciting display of athleticism. It started with Norwegian skier Stein Gruben skiing down a steep slope and clearing a 70-meter jump all while holding the eternal flame. Olympic bronze medalist Gunnar Fidjestø was originally tasked with the stunt, but he injured himself in a practice jump two days before the event.

10. ATHENS 2004 // BJÖRK'S DRESS

Bjork performing.
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

Björk debuted her single "Oceania" at the opening ceremony of the summer games in Athens. The song is noteworthy on its own, but what really made her performance special was her giant dress that doubled as a projection screen. As the fabric rippled across the stadium, it displayed an image of the world map.

11. CALGARY 1988 // SEVENTH-GRADER LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Person lighting Olympic torch.
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

The cauldron that holds the eternal flame has often been lit by superstar athletes, but in 1988, Canada chose 12-year-old Robyn Perry to complete the final leg of the torch's journey. The young lady was an amateur figure skater at the time.

12. LOS ANGELES 1984 // JETPACK FLIGHT

Man flying in jet pack.
Tony Duffy, Getty Images

One of the most futuristic stunts in any Olympic opening ceremony took place 34 years ago. Bill Suitor dazzled spectators when he zipped around the Los Angeles stadium in a real, functioning jetpack. He landed the gig by working as a test pilot on the jetpack project for Bell Aerospace. He told CNN in 2007 that trying to navigate the rocket belt felt like "trying to stand on a beach ball in a swimming pool."

13. BEIJING 2008 // BEIJING FIREWORKS SHOW

Fireworks over Olympic stadium.
Shaun Botterill, Getty Images

Another memorable scene from Beijing's opening ceremony was the epic fireworks show. Colorful pyrotechnics were launched from the rim of the stadium as more fireworks outside lit up the sky above the city. It was later revealed that many of the fireworks that aired in the ceremony were edited in with computers because it would have been too difficult to capture every explosion live.

14. MOSCOW 1980 // HUMAN PYRAMIDS

Athletes on a field.
Alexander Makarov, Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA 3.0

The 1980 Moscow Olympics were controversial from the beginning, with several major nations boycotting the games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That didn't stop the Soviet Union from putting on a dazzling show for the opening ceremony. If attendees remember one spectacle, it's likely the colorful, human pyramids that filled the arena for the event's grand finale.

15. SEOUL 1988 // OLYMPIC RINGS SKYDIVERS

Olympic flag.
Getty Images/Getty Images North America

The five Olympic rings have been a part of the opening ceremony since the Antwerp games in 1920, but in 1988 they were seen like never before. Skydivers dressed in the event’s traditional colors formed the Olympic rings in midair before parachuting into the stadium. It would have likely been the most memorable sight from that year if it hadn't also included doves catching fire in the eternal flame.

16. SOCHI 2014 // RUSSIAN POLICE SING "GET LUCKY"

Russian officers singing.
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Like the Moscow Olympics, the 2014 games Russia hosted in Sochi weren't without controversy. But at least the opening ceremony gave us one of the more delightfully bizarre moments in the history of the event: a chorus of Russian police officers covering Daft Punk's international hit "Get Lucky." The cops were members of the Russian Red Army Choir.

17. ATHENS 1906 // FIRST PARADE OF NATIONS

Athens Olympics.
Getty Images

The Olympics as we know them today were just starting to take shape in the early 20th century. The Athens games in 1906 included the first parade of nations, one of the most recognizable opening ceremony traditions. The procession of teams carrying their home countries' flags introduced a theme of national pride to the Olympics that's still part of its DNA today.

18. BARCELONA 1992 // FREDDIE MERCURY'S "BARCELONA"

Barcelona Olympics opening ceremony.
Michel Gangne, AFP/Getty Images

Freddie Mercury died less than a year before the games took place, but his memory was very much alive at the Olympics opening ceremony in Barcelona in 1992. The Queen frontman was approached in the 1980s to pen a theme song for the event to sing with Barcelona-based opera singer Montserrat Caballé. The result, "Barcelona," became one of the best known Olympic songs, but Mercury was never able to sing it at the opening ceremony as planned; a video of an earlier Mercury and Caballé performance was played instead.

19. TOKYO 1964 // HIROSHIMA BABY LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Man carrying olympic torch.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The torch lighting at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo is memorable for its poignancy. That year marked the first time the games were held in an Asian city, and Tokyo wanted to open the games with something that symbolized progress toward world peace and their resilience following World War II. Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the same day the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city, was chosen to carry the torch to the cauldron.

20. RIO 2016 // GISELLE'S CATWALK

Giselle walking at Olympic opening ceremony.
Franck Fife, AFP/Getty Images

Few people have the star power to steal a show by simply walking in a straight line, but that's exactly what Gisele Bündchen accomplished at Rio's opening ceremony. All eyes were on the Brazilian supermodel as she strutted across the stadium's 400-foot catwalk. But she may have been enjoying her time in the spotlight a little too much—her pace was so slow that an entire scheduled segment had to be cut.

21. LONDON 2012 // MR. BEAN SHOWS UP

Rowan Atkinson looking at wrist.
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

London turned the opening ceremony of the 2012 games into a quirky ode to British pop culture. While there were plenty of big-name appearances that night, one of the most pleasant surprises came from Rowan Atkinson, the actor best known for his character Mr. Bean. The comedian playing "Chariots of Fire" along with the London Symphony Orchestra might go down as one of the most hilarious moments in opening ceremony history.

22. SYDNEY 2000 // UNDERWATER EXTRAVAGANZA

Sydney Olympics opening ceremony.
Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP/Getty Images

With 16,000 miles of coastline, Australia is hugely influenced by the sea. The nation celebrated its neighboring oceans by transforming the Olympic stadium into a massive aquarium during the opening ceremony. Colorful puppets of fish, eels, and jellyfish floated through the space as the arena floor filled with rippling blue waves. In a country known for the world's most famous coral reef, it was a fitting tribute.

23. MOSCOW 1980 // MASSIVE CARD STUNT

Picture of bear in stadium crowd.
AFP/Getty Images

It's a trick you've seen at many sporting events, but for the Olympics, it must happen on a much larger scale. At the opening ceremony in Moscow, crowd members simultaneously held up hundreds of cards to form an image of Misha the Bear, that year's Olympic mascot.

24. TURIN 2006 // PAVAROTTI'S FINAL PERFORMANCE

Italian opera singer.
Getty Images/Stringer

Pavarotti didn't stay out of the limelight for long after retiring on his 70th birthday in 2005. He made an appearance at the opening ceremony of the Turin Winter Olympics and sang the aria "Nessun Dorma." He died the following year.

25. MONTREAL 1976 // TEEN ATHLETES LIGHT THE CAULDRON

Two teens stand next to the Olympic cauldron.
Tony Duffy, Getty Images

The Olympic cauldron was ignited by two teens at the start of the 1976 Montreal winter games. The lighters, 16-year-old track star Stéphane Préfontaine and 15-year-old Toronto runner Sandra Henderson, were chosen to present Canada as a young, progressive nation.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

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2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

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3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

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4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

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Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

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5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

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6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

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7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

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8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

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9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

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10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

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10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, 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, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.