35 Surprising Facts About The Office

NBC
NBC

In 2005, a group of Americans were tasked with adapting Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's beloved British series The Office. They rose to the high expectations and managed to create a successful comedy that ran for nine seasons.

Here are 35 things you might not have known about the workplace sitcom.

1. B.J. NOVAK WAS THE FIRST PERSON CAST.

 Actor Mindy Kaling (L) and B. J. Novak at the world premiere of Disney’s 'A Wrinkle in Time' at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood CA, Feburary 26, 2018
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images for Disney

The show’s producer, Greg Daniels, was inspired by his time on Saturday Night Live and wanted to hire a writer-performer. Other writer-performers who were later added include Mindy Kaling (Kelly) and Paul Lieberstein (Toby). Michael Schur, who wrote and produced the show, played Dwight’s cousin, Mose.

2. THE CAST COULD HAVE BEEN WAY DIFFERENT.

For instance, Adam Scott auditioned for the part of Jim Halpert. Seth Rogen was in the running to play Dwight Schrute. Eric Stonestreet, who is now on Modern Family, auditioned for Kevin. Before getting cast as Angela, Angela Kinsey auditioned for Pam. Bob Odenkirk was originally cast as Michael Scott but was replaced by Steve Carell when the show he’d been working on, Come to Papa, was canceled. In a late-season episode, Odenkirk played a very Michael Scott-like manager looking to hire Pam.

See Also: 12 Outrageous Fan Theories About The Office

3. JOHN KRASINSKI HAD A ROUGH AUDITION.

One reason Adam Scott could have easily played Jim: John Krasinski’s audition for The Office didn’t go too well. First of all, he was supposed to audition for Dwight, but he convinced the casting directors to let him read for the part of Jim. Secondly, he got into some trouble in the waiting room. A man eating salad in the room asked him if he was nervous. Krasinski answered, “You know, not really. You either get these things or you don't. But what I'm really nervous about is this show. It's just I love the British show so much and Americans have a tendency to just really screw these opportunities up. I just don't know how I'll live with myself if they screw this show up and ruin it for me.” The man responded, “My name's Greg Daniels, I'm the executive producer.” Still, Krasinski managed to get the part.

4. AFTER HE GOT THE PART, JOhn KRASINSKI INTERVIEWED PAPER COMPANy EMPLOYEES for research.

John Krasinski stars in 'The Office'
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Krasinski met with several employees at different paper companies to research his role, and he filmed a visit he took through Scranton, Pennsylvania. The footage of his trip through the city was actually used in the show’s opening credits sequence and, according to Rainn Wilson’s memoir, The Bassoon King: Art, Idiocy, and Other Sordid Tales from the Band Room, would go on to play a role in helping production with set decoration and design details.

5. PHYLLIS SMITH GOT CAST BY CASTING PEOPLE.

Phyllis was a casting agent for the show before she got the part of Phyllis. She was reading the script with some auditioning actors when director Ken Kwapis decided that she was the one who should play the role.

6. EVERYBODY NEEDED TO IMPROVISE.

Even if they weren’t writers, Daniels wanted to make sure his actors had a background in improvisation. He has said, “Improv is a good tool to make it seem more natural."

7. THEY INITIALLY STAYED CLOSE TO THE BRITISH VERSION.

Ricky Gervais stars in 'The Office'
YouTube

The pilot was shot with essentially the same script as the pilot from the British show. Many viewers questioned this decision, but it had to be done considering NBC bought an adaptation. Daniels believes that the show really branched out into its own entity in the second season.

8. nO ONE WAS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE SHOW.

It was hard for the cast and crew to have faith early on. During the first season, NBC executives would bring a lot of pessimism to the set. According to Krasinski, they would say things like, “This episode is so good—unfortunately, it’s the last one we’re going to do.”

9. THEY OWE THEIR SUCCESS TO APPLE.

One thing that helped save the show was iTunes. Around the second season, when NBC made the show available on the platform, it took up four of the top five slots for downloaded television shows. That’s when the people behind the show learned that their audience skewed young, rather than the white-collar workers they thought would be watching.

10. THE CAST PICKED THE OPENING THEME SONG.

When it came to the show’s opening theme music, series creator Greg Daniels gave the cast four versions of the song and let them vote on the winner. The now-iconic song came from a demo by composer Jay Ferguson, which was then re-recorded by musician Bob Thiele Jr. and a group later dubbed The Scrantones, who made an appearance on the episode “The Booze Cruise.”

11. THEY LOST THEIR ORIGINAL THEME SONG TO HEATHER LOCKLEAR.

In 2015, Rainn Wilson revealed that a number of hit songs were given consideration for the show’s opening theme, including “Better Things” by the Kinks and “Float On” by Modest Mouse. But the one the cast really wanted was “Mr. Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra. Those plans were dashed, though, when production found out that it was already the song for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Heather Locklear comedy, LAX.

12. tHE OFFICE'S ADDRESS IS AN HOMAGE TO THE BRITISH SHOW.

The Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin is located at 1725 Slough Avenue. That’s not a real street in the actual Scranton, Pennsylvania, though—it’s a reference to the original version of the show, which takes place in Slough, England.

13. THE COMPUTERS ON SET REALLY WORKED.

Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Ed Helms, and Ellie Kemper in 'The Office'
NBCUniversal Media

They even had Internet, which helped the cast feel like they were in a real-life office.

14. THEY LITERALLY MADE THE SHOW BRIGHTER FOR SEASON TWO.

In an attempt to boost ratings after the first season, the producers pivoted the show's style away from the British version to make Michael Scott more likable and make the episodes more optimistic. According to Novak's DVD commentary track for "The Dundies," the first episode of the second season, they also made the lights in the office brighter to help complete that tonal shift.

15. THEY ALSO RECREATED THE OFFICE SPACE FROM SCRATCH.

The show's first season was shot in a real-life office in Culver City, California, so when they transitioned to a sound stage for the second season, the crew had to rebuild it and stock it with supplies to make a perfect replica. They did make Michael's office a little bigger to accommodate cameras, and since they were on a sound stage, they could control the weather.

16. THE DOCUMENTARY CREW MAY HAVE HAD A TRAGIC REASON FOR COVERING DUNDER MIFFLIN.

NBC Universal

In the season two episode “Performance Review,” Michael reads papers from his suggestion box, including one from “Tom,” who wrote, “We need better outreach for employees fighting depression.” Then, he’s reminded that Tom killed himself. During a 2007 Office Convention, a group of writers proposed that this suicide was why the documentary crew showed up in Scranton. They wanted to document how the office was dealing with the suicide before turning to simpler storylines.

17. JIM'S FAKE-RAIN-FILLED PROPOSAL WAS EXPENSIVE.

The writers had a clear vision for how Jim’s proposal to Pam would look. They wanted to shoot it at an actual rest stop on the Merritt Parkway, but it would have cost $100,000. Plus, they wouldn’t be allowed to use fake rain, which was important to the scene. So, the crew built a replica of the Parkway and a rest stop. The shot ended up costing $250,000. Daniels described the scene as “the most expensive and elaborate shot we've ever done, but it's also sort of the highlight of five years of storytelling.”

18. YOU COULD ACTUALLY BUY DUNDER MIFFLIN PAPER.

In 2011, the company Quill.com, owned by Staples, announced that they would start selling Dunder Mifflin paper. At the time, their director of innovation explained, “Paper…is a race to the bottom as paper usage is going down. We’re looking for different pop culture phenomena and external brands that we can tie to these mundane product categories to differentiate. That’s really how initially pairing copy paper and Dunder Mifflin came about.”

19. STEVE CARELL IMPROVISED HIS KISS WITH OSCAR.

A portrait of Steve Carell.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

In the season three episode, “Gay Witch Hunt,” the script only called for a hug. Nunez recalled, “We were just supposed to hug, and he kept hugging me. And that particular take he came in really close, and I'm like, ‘Where is he going with this?’ Oh, dear, yes here we go.”

20. THE ACTORS WEREN'T THE ONLY ONES WHO WOULD IMPROVISE.

In season five, Pam closes her dorm door on a camera person, who lets out an audible sigh. That was an impromptu moment from the director of photography, Randall Einhorn.

21. sEVERAL RESTAURANTS FEATURED ON THE SHOW ARE REAL.

Remember when Michael bungled the office’s pizza order by getting pies from Pizza By Alfredo rather than the popular Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe? Well, you can head to Alfredo’s Pizza Café right now if you’d like—it’s a real place, right in Scranton. (Its similarly named competition is purely a product of Hollywood.) To get that authentic Pennsylvania feel, the show’s production incorporated real-world businesses and restaurants from the area when writing scripts. So if you want some calamari, you can go to Cooper’s Seafood, one of Kevin’s favorites. You can also swing by Poor Richard’s for a pint, or head to the Steamtown Mall, where you can see a display featuring the original burgundy “Welcome to Scranton” sign from the show’s opening credits.

22. SADLY, SCHRUTE FARMS ISN'T (BUT ITS REVIEWS ARE).

Rainn Wilson in 'The Office'
Everybody—stay calm!
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Schrute Farms is a very fictional place with very real reviews on TripAdvisor—more than 1100 of them. Though all the reviews are full of obvious Office-isms, the site still covers its bases with a warning at the top that reads: “This is a fictional place, as seen on NBC's The Office. Please do not try to book a visit here.”

23. STEVE CARELL HAD HIS NUMBER RETIRED.

When Steve Carell left the show after seven seasons, he was still adored by the cast and crew. Up until that point, he had always been number one on the call sheet. So, when he left, they “retired” the number one, and it didn’t appear on the call sheet again.

24. ANDY BECAME OFFICE MANAGER IN THE FINAL TWO SEASONS BECAUSE HE'S A PEOPLE PERSON.

Lieberstein, who was showrunner at the time, said, “The Andy character is very different from Michael, but one of the things they have in common is that they both put people first and relationships first.” The writers also considered promoting Darryl, but decided that he was “too rational and smart to be the manager,” so he couldn’t cause as many disasters.

25. JAMES SPADER WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO make A CAMEO.

James Spader and Craig Robinson in The Office
Chris Haston, NBCUniversal, Inc

The writers liked him so much that they asked him to expand the role. "[Spader] has a way of taking on his character so fully, even in rehearsal, that it's changing the mood on the set,"Lieberstein said. "Everyone is discovering who they are with this new energy."

26. SHOWRUNNERS KEPT CARELL'S FINALE APPEARANCE SECRET FROM EVERYONE.

The showrunners didn't even tell network executives that Carell was going to appear in the finale. According to Daniels, “We shot the Steve stuff and we kept it out of the dailies and didn’t tell them about it. At the table reading, we gave the Steve Carell lines to Creed.”

27. WE MISSED OUT ON A DWIGHT SPIN-OFF SHOW.

Thomas Middleditch and Rainn Wilson in 'The Office'
Tyler Golden, NBCUniversal

After The Office ended, Dwight was supposed to get a spinoff called The Farm on NBC, but the network passed on the show in 2012. According to Rainn Wilson, “The timing was wrong.”

28. bUT THERE WAS AN OFFICE SPIN-OFF, KINDA.

Although The Farm never happened, nor did a proposed Andy Bernard show based on An American Family, you can view Parks and Recreation as a kind of spinoff. It was developed by the same producers and was originally going to be a spinoff before Rashida Jones got cast after playing a separate character on The Office.

29. THE CPR EPISODE HELPED SAVE SOMEONE'S LIFE.

Rainn Wilson in the
NBC

In the season 5 episode “Stress Relief,” Michael arranges a CPR training session for his staff that quickly devolves into a very Scranton-y debacle. But even if no one at Dunder Mifflin learned anything, someone at home actually did. On the show, it’s said that the chest compressions should be done to the beat of the popular Bee Gees song, “Stayin’ Alive,” and this tip helped an Office fan from Arizona perform successful CPR on a woman he found slumped over in the seat of her car. She regained consciousness after about a minute of CPR and was brought to the hospital, where she was later discharged.

30. YOU CAN SEARCH THROUGH ALL THE SHOW'S "STARES."

One of The Office’s trademarks is the way the characters would seamlessly break the fourth wall and communicate their feelings to the audience by doing nothing more than looking directly into the camera. These Office “stares” became such a hit that they even became the subject of a fansite that allows you to search through more than 800 different emotions—boredom, sadness, anger, and loneliness, to name a few—and watch a brief YouTube clip of an Office character perfectly embodying it with nothing more than a glance. Lose hours of productivity by experimenting with The Office Stare Machine here.

31. Steve CARELL ISN'T INTERESTED IN JOINING A REBOOT.

Though the show is always the subject of reboot rumors, Steve Carell has said on multiple occasions that bringing back The Office isn’t on his mind, telling Esquire: "Because The Office is on Netflix and replaying, a lot more people have seen it recently. And I think because of that there's been a resurgence in interest in the show, and talk about bringing it back. But apart from the fact that I just don't think that's a good idea, it might be impossible to do that show today and have people accept it the way it was accepted 10 years ago."

32. MICHAEL HAS A DIFFERENT FISH IN EACH EPISODE OF THE "mICHAEL SCOTT PAPER COMPANY" ERA.

Steve Carell in 'The Office' (2005)
NBCUniversal, Inc.

He starts with a goldfish and ends up with a black beta. Maybe he's not good at keeping fish alive? At least it's good practice for falling into a koi pond.

33. SEVERAL OFFICE STARS INTERNED FOR CONAN O'BRIEN.

Obviously cutting your teeth with a comedy legend like Conan O'Brien helps when you're starring in your own show. Mindy Kaling (1999), John Krasinski (2000), and Ellie Kemper (2005) were all interns for the NBC late night host before hitting it big.

34. EVERY EPISODE COULD HAVE BEEN AN HOUR LONG.

According to Nunez, the cast and crew always shot "tons" of footage. A lot of it ended up as DVD extras, but the actor claimed that each episode could have been much longer. "Even the awkward scenes, where nothing is happening, where everyone is just uncomfortable, could go on longer and become even funnier, because the level of discomfort just rises," he said.

35. PAM AND MICHAEL HAD A GENUINE GOODBYE.

Actor Steve Carell, actor B.J. Novak, actor John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, actor Rainn Wilson poses in the press room after winning
Cast members of The Office after winning an Emmy for "Outstanding Comedy Series" in 2006
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

For their goodbye scene at the airport in Carell’s last episode, Jenna Fischer was told by production to, “Just say whatever you would want to say to Steve. Just say goodbye and we'll tape it and when you're finished, just give each other a hug and go your separate ways.’” Fischer later revealed in 2018 that, “Those were real tears and a real goodbye.”

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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.

Buy it: Amazon

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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.