10 Fascinating Facts About Grizzly Man

Lionsgate Entertainment
Lionsgate Entertainment

Nearly 10 years ago, Werner Herzog returned to nonfiction with a streak of documentaries focused on Tibetan Buddhism, aviation, the oldest art known to man, and people living in unique extremes. Grizzly Man, a film about amateur naturalist Timothy Treadwell’s life (and death) with bears, was at the center of this explosion of real-life stories.

Treadwell spent 13 summers living among the bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, filming footage and styling himself as a rogue protector who could get close enough to the grizzlies to pet them. In 2003, he and girlfriend Amie Huguenard stayed past the summer into the pre-hibernation season. Eventually a bear mauled them both, leaving behind the footage and a lot of questions which Herzog mined for his film. Here are 10 things you might not know about Grizzly Man, which was co-shot by its subject.

1. A PAIR OF MISPLACED GLASSES LED WERNER HERZOG TO THE DIRECTOR'S CHAIR.

Lionsgate Entertainment

The German auteur was in the office of Erik Nelson, who produces projects for National Geographic and Discovery, hunting through his pockets and a bunch of papers on Nelson’s table for his reading glasses when an article about Timothy Treadwell caught his eye. Nelson encouraged him to read it because they were going to make a movie about it.

"So I read it and immediately hurried back to his office, and I asked, 'Who is directing it?,'" Herzog told NPR. "And he said, 'I'm kind of directing it.'  And there was some sort of hesitation, and with my thick German accent I said, 'No, I will direct this movie.' And that was it. We shook hands and I made it."

2. TIMOTHY TREADWELL SPENT 35,000 HOURS WITH THE BEARS.

Many viewers were critical of Treadwell, particularly for familiarizing bears with a human presence in a way that could potentially lead them to lose their fear for both poachers and campers. However, noted bear expert Charlie Russell defended Treadwell, particularly his innate way of connecting with the bears and the dedication it took to spend 35,000 hours over 13 years with the animals.

3. TREADWELL WAS HOPING TO TURN HIS FOOTAGE INTO HIS OWN MOVIE.

Herzog started with 100-plus hours of footage Treadwell shot of his time in the park. Besides the enormous amount of film, it was all meticulously curated both in how it was shot and in what takes were kept. As Grizzly Man points out, “Treadwell” was a stage name for the aspiring actor who lost out on a role on Cheers (he claimed to come very close to landing the part of Woody Boyd) and captured his encounters with the bears as a nature documentary host. He released an hour-long edit of footage that Herzog saw during production but kept almost all of the footage within his circle of friends.

4. DAVID LETTERMAN JOKINGLY ASKED TREADWELL IF HE THOUGHT HE'D BE KILLED BY A BEAR.

The only part of the documentary that was replaced or edited out was a segment of Late Show with David Letterman where the host pointed out the obvious: the risk Treadwell was taking. Treadwell responded that he wouldn't be killed by a bear, echoing an ironic sentiment at the beginning of the doc where he claims there’s no real danger of that happening.

5. HERZOG WAS SURPRISED BY THE INTENSITY OF TREADWELL’S FOOTAGE.

The director and his team went through the massive amount of footage Treadwell shot to transform 100-plus hours into a 103-minute documentary (and to plan their own footage and narration). Herzog found the intensity of the footage “unexpected.”

“It was always clear to me that it wouldn’t be a film on wild nature, that it would be much more a film on our nature,” Herzog told CHUD.com. “Treadwell is a very complex character full of doubts and self-aggrandization. Full of demons that haunt him and exhilarations and swings in mood, and seeing a mission that he finds himself into, and being almost paranoid for moments, and being very sane and very clear at others.”

6. HERZOG NEVER PLANNED TO USE THE FOOTAGE OF TIMOTHY AND AMIE’S DEATH.

It was known before Herzog made the documentary that Treadwell’s camera had captured audio of his and Huguenard’s deaths, so Herzog couldn’t avoid it. After filming himself listening to the footage in front of Treadwell’s friend Jewel Palovak, Herzog immediately decided that he wouldn’t use the footage itself in the film, both out of respect for the dead and to avoid making what he called “a snuff film.”

7. HERZOG REGRETS TELLING JEWEL PALOVAK TO DESTROY THE TAPE.

Paul Hawthorne, Getty Images

Herzog's gut reaction to listening to the audio was to tell Palovak to get rid of the tapes. “But that was stupid,” he later told Paste. “Silly advice born out of the immediate shock of hearing—I mean, it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” Palovak placed it in a bank vault instead.

8. AMIE HUGUENARD’S FAMILY REFUSED TO TAKE PART IN THE FILM.

The documentary features interviews with Treadwell’s friends, but Huguenard’s family is noticeably missing. Their refusal wasn’t out of malice specifically to Herzog’s project, though. They decided not to speak publicly in any way about Amie’s death.

9. THE MOVIE ISN’T ABOUT BEARS BEING DANGEROUS.

The ultimate message of the movie is easy to miss because Treadwell’s death looms so largely—suggesting that he was wrong about bears being safe. Except even Herzog was intent on repeating how safe they are. “Sure, you are in a certain danger, but we should not exaggerate the danger,” Herzog said. “Grizzly bears normally do not kill and attack human beings. It doesn’t happen very often. Statistics are clear since 1903 or so, there were statistics in Alaska, and more than a hundred years, not more than 12 or 14 people got killed by grizzly bears.” Herzog’s point is that Treadwell wrongly believed that nature could be tamed.

10. TREADWELL’S FRIENDS THOUGHT HE COULD DIE IN ALASKA, BUT NOT BY BEAR ATTACK.

Herzog noted that Treadwell repeatedly broached a desire to die during a fight with a bear but didn’t think a bear would kill him. His friends thought he was safe with the bears, too. “I thought he might get hurt, fall on rocks and break something, drink tainted water, but I never believed he would be killed by the bears,” Palovak said.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

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

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

Computers and tablets

Amazon

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet 64GB; $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet 64GB; $84 (save $35)

- HP Pavilion x360 14 Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop; $646 (save $114)

- HP Pavilion Desktop, 10th Gen Intel Core i3-10100 Processor; $469 (save $81)

- Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop; $973 (save $177)

Headphones and speakers

Beats/Amazon

- Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones; $200 (save $100)

- Sony Bluetooth Noise-Canceling Wireless Headphones; $278 (save $72)

- JBL LIVE Wireless Headphones; $100 (save $30)

- JBL Charge 4 - Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $120 (save $10)

- Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker II; $79 (save $50)

- Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones; $200 (save $50)

Video Games

Sony

- Watch Dogs Legion; $30 (save $30)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

- The Last of Us Part II; $30 (save $30)

TECH, GADGETS, AND TVS

Samsung/Amazon

- Amazon Fire TV Stick; $30 (save $20)

- Echo Show 8; $65 (save $65)

- Nixplay Digital Picture Frame; $115 (save $65)

- eufy Smart Doorbell; $90 (save $30)

- Samsung 75-Inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $898 (save $300)

home and Kitchen

Ninja/Amazon

- T-fal 17-Piece Cookware Set; $124 (save $56)

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Curved Round Chef's Oven; $180 (save $136)

- Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 Convection Toaster Oven; $195 (save $105)

- Roborock E4 Robot Vacuum Cleaner; $189 (save $111)

- Instant Pot Max Pressure Cooker 9 in 1; $80 (save $120)

- Shark IZ362H Cordless Anti-Allergen Lightweight Stick Vacuum; $170 (save $110)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

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.