41 Facts About Seinfeld

Hulton Archive, Getty Images Plus
Hulton Archive, Getty Images Plus

Though Seinfeld has famously earned the reputation of being a “show about nothing,” the idea behind the series—which premiered on July 5, 1989—was anything but. Here are some things you might not know about the legendary sitcom.

1. Seinfeld began as a one-off television special.

Jerry Seinfeld in 1990.Ann Summa/Getty Images

The original concept for Seinfeld wasn’t for an ongoing series, but a one-off, 90-minute special titled "Stand Up that was set to run for one night only in Saturday Night Live’s time slot.

2. Seinfeld was never pitched as "a show about nothing."

During a 2014 Reddit AMA, Jerry Seinfeld admitted that both he and co-creator Larry David were surprised by how Seinfeld earned its “show about nothing” moniker: "The pitch for the show, the real pitch, when Larry and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material,’” Seinfeld explained. "The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it’s the opposite of that."

3. Jerry Seinfeld had a run-in with Larry David long before either one of them was famous.

Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld at an New York City screening of Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2009.Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

When asked about when he first met Larry David during a 2014 Reddit AMA, Seinfeld gave a surprising answer and admitted that even David didn't know this story:

“I actually was eavesdropping on him talking to another comedian, and I wasn’t even in comedy yet. But he was leaning on my car in front of the Improv on 9th Ave and 44th Street, and this would be probably 1975. That was the first time I ever saw him. But we didn’t talk. But him and this other comedian were leaning on the fender of my car, and I knew that they were real comedians, and I was still just flirting with it.”

They finally spoke at a bar a few years later, and found they couldn’t stop talking: “We were both obsessed with the smallest possible issue.”

4. The opening music for every single episode of Seinfeld was different.

That slap bass and those mouth pops and sighs may have sounded like they were all cut from the same track, but composer Jonathan Wolff made each one individually, basing them around Seinfeld’s opening monologue for the week.

“I would build each monologue based on this list, this computer printout of his voice and what he was saying, how long it was,” Wolff told Vice in 2015. “It was a little bit more labor-intensive than most other shows because I had to re-do that opening every time. But it was worth it. He was creating new material. As long as he’s creating new material, I’ll do the same thing, and I will create along with him.”

5. The diner used for the exterior shot of the eatery the Seinfeld gang frequents is famous.

The exterior of Tom's Restaurant in New York City was made famous by Seinfeld.By Christophe Gevrey - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Known as Monk’s on the show, the restaurant seen in the shot is actually a diner called Tom's Restaurant that is located on Broadway and West 112th Street in New York City. Before Seinfeld, it gained fame as the basis of the 1981 Suzanne Vega song, “Tom’s Diner.”

6. Seinfeld's Kramer was originally Kessler.

In the pilot episode, Kramer is called Kessler, as the real Kramer—Larry David’s former neighbor, Kenny Kramer—was hesitant to let his name be used for the show. Eventually, the “real” Kramer relented. Though he says he was paid just $1000 for the use of his name in the series, Kramer has since profited in other ways, namely with his Kramer’s Reality Tour bus tour (which is now in its 22nd year).

7. Michael Richards’s shoe wardrobe on Seinfeld didn’t change. Ever.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For the entire run of the nine-season series, Richards wore two identical pairs of black Doc Marten boots.

8. Jerry Seinfeld wanted Jake Johannsen to play George on Seinfeld.

Though it’s hard to imagine Seinfeld without Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Seinfeld admitted that Alexander was not his first choice for the part. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Seinfeld said that he “begged” fellow comedian Jake Johannsen to take the part, but Johannsen refused.

9. The rumors that Steve Buscemi auditioned to play George on Seinfeld are not true.

Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

For years, it was rumored that Steve Buscemi was one of many soon-to-be-successful actors who unsuccessfully auditioned for Seinfeld (David Alan Grier was also in the mix, as was David Letterman’s bandleader Paul Shaffer, who said in his autobiography that his resemblance to Larry David—upon whom George is based—was what made him of interest to the show’s creators). But on a 2015 episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Buscemi addressed the rumor in his typical good-natured way: “I never did [the audition] and I don’t know how to correct it because I don’t know how the Internet works."

10. Jason Alexander didn't think Seinfeld had a chance.

Jason Alexander loved the script for Seinfeld, which is what made him question the show's potential to be successful. “From the moment I saw the script I thought it would be the most brilliant thing I'd ever be part of, and that it would not run for even a day,” Alexander told Deseret News in 1992. “Because the audience for this show is me, and I don't watch TV … But I don't think anyone is more surprised by the success of [Seinfeld] than we are, because we thought, ‘Oh, we'll amuse ourselves, and that'll be it. We'll have a videotape at the end of it that we could play at parties.’”

11. There was one episode of Seinfeld where Jason Alexander didn't make an appearance—and he wasn't happy about it.

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In all of Seinfeld’s 172 episodes, there’s only one in which Alexander doesn’t appear—the season three episode, “The Pen,” which has Jerry and Elaine visiting Jerry’s parents in Florida (and Jerry getting an astronaut pen from their neighbor). Nervous that being written out of the episode meant that he could be written out of the show, Alexander warned Larry David that “if you do it again, do it permanently.”

12. The real George Costanza sued Seinfeld's creators for $100 million.

Like Kramer, George Costanza was (partially) named after a real person: Jerry’s former friend Michael Costanza, who sued Seinfeld, David, and NBC for $100 million, claiming that the series had violated his privacy. The court sided with the show’s creators, who have always maintained that George is based on co-creator Larry David. In his book, The Real Seinfeld (As Told by the Real Costanza), Costanza noted: “George is bald. I am bald. George is stocky. I am stocky. George and I both went to Queens College with Jerry. George's high-school teacher nicknamed him ‘Can't stand ya.’ So did mine. George had a thing about bathrooms and parking spaces. So do I.”

13. Seinfeld’s female lead was originally a waitress named Claire.

Getty Images

Originally, the main female character was supposed to be Claire, a waitress at the coffee shop who would offer Jerry and George advice with their coffee. “[W]hen we shot the pilot, I was the girl in Seinfeld,” Lee Garlington, the actress who played Claire in the pilot, told HuffPo. “They didn't pick up my contract.” There are differing accounts as to why this happened. Jason Alexander said it was because Garlington rewrote all of her lines; while Seinfeld confirmed that she did indeed give Larry David a rewrite, he swears that that’s not the reason she was replaced, saying they just needed “a character who was a little more involved.”

14. Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn't aware of the Seinfeld pilot episode until 2004.

In a making-of documentary on the season one DVD, Julia Louis-Dreyfus admits that she wasn’t even aware of the pilot until 2004—and has no plans to watch it. Garlington can relate: “I think I watched two episodes in 10 years just because I had friends on it or something,” she said. “It didn't bother me the first five years. [Laughs] But the second five years drove me nuts. I don't know why.”

15. Rosie O'Donnell auditioned to play Elaine on Seinfeld.

Rosie O’Donnell auditioned for the part of Elaine at the behest of Larry David; the two were old friends, having come up on the standup comedy scene together. Mariska Hargitay, Patricia Heaton, Amy Yasbeck, and Megan Mullally were also among the other actresses considered for the part.

16. Elaine's dad really did scare the hell out of the Seinfeld cast.

In the series, Elaine’s father is a noted author, Alton Benes. The character was based on Revolutionary Road novelist Richard Yates, the father of Larry David’s own ex, Monica Yates (who really did intimidate David). In the series, Alton was played by legendary tough guy Lawrence Tierney (who played Joe in Reservoir Dogs) in the season two episode “The Jacket” (which was based on David’s real night out with Yates). Though it was intended to be a recurring role, Tierney—like his on-screen counterpart—really did terrify the cast, particularly when Seinfeld discovered that he had stolen a butcher knife from the set, and hid it under his jacket. “Lawrence Tierney scared the living crap out of all of us,” Alexander admitted. And so, Alton Benes made just a single appearance on the show.

17. Seinfeld had a strict "no hugging, no learning" policy.

NBC

Larry David made sure that the cast and crew were aware of his “no hugging, no learning” motto for the show, which meant that they should avoid any sort of sentimentality or situations that would force the characters to change or grow. “A lot of people don't understand that Seinfeld is a dark show,” David said. “If you examine the premises, terrible things happen to people. They lose jobs; somebody breaks up with a stroke victim; somebody's told they need a nose job. That's my sensibility.”

18. The real Soup Nazi says Seinfeld ruined his life.

Al Yeganeh, the real soup store owner upon whom The Soup Nazi is based, was not pleased with his depiction in the series, as is evident from the CNN interview above, where he calls Seinfeld “a clown” whose use of “the N word—the Nazi word—is disgraceful.” When the interviewer countered that “you’re famous because of him,” Yeganeh insisted “No. He got fame through me. I made him famous.” Unsurprisingly, Seinfeld was banned from Yeganeh’s restaurant (which didn’t stop the comedian from making a surprise appearance when the soup stall reopened in 2010).

19. An abandoned storyline revealed The Soup Nazi was a real Nazi.

Some Seinfeld storylines that got cut: Frank Costanza gets into medical marijuana, a woman called “The Prompter” who leaves out key details in stories, the Soup Nazi being an actual Nazi, Kramer fixing up human skeletons for museums, and the whole gang goes to Mexico but does—wait for it—nothing.

20. The Farrelly brothers wrote an episode of Seinfeld.

Two years before Dumb & Dumber made them two of Hollywood’s reigning kings of comedy, Peter and Bobby Farrelly wrote an episode of Seinfeld. The There’s Something About Mary co-creators wrote “The Virgin” in season four, in which Jerry dates Marla the virgin (Frasier’s Jane Leeves) and Elaine attempts to give her an education in sex in the 1990s.

21. “The Contest” was inspired by a real-life contest Larry David had with a friend.

"[The contest lasted] two days. Maybe three," Larry David told New York Magazine." I just remember it didn’t last very long. I was surprised at how quickly it ended. I won handily, yes.” He didn’t mention his idea to base a plotline on the real-life incident for a long time, believing that Seinfeld would shoot it down. When he finally pitched it, Jerry loved it—and to everyone’s surprise, the studio execs did, too.

22. There's an abandoned Seinfeld episode called "The Bet."

Though it may have seemed as if no topic was off-limits for Seinfeld’s creators (remember "The Contest"?), an episode that revolved around the ease with which one could buy a handgun was eventually dumped. Titled “The Bet,” it was written for the show’s second season; “We started making it and stopped in the middle and said ‘this doesn't work,’” Seinfeld said during an AMA. “We did the read-through and then canceled it. A lot of other stuff happened, but trying to make that funny ended up being no fun.” The episode was replaced with “The Phone Message.”

23. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (sort of) got Susan killed off of Seinfeld.

Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards in 2004.
Fernando Leon/Getty Images

Nearly 20 years after Susan Ross, George’s fiancée, was killed off in the seventh season, Jason Alexander revealed what prompted that particularly morbid storyline. In an interview with Howard Stern, Alexander admitted that, “I couldn't figure out how to play off of [Heidi Swedberg]. Her instincts for doing a scene, where the comedy was, and mine were always misfiring. And she would do something, and I would go, ‘OK, I see what she's going to do—I'm going to adjust to her.' And I'd adjust, and then it would change.” Then it was Louis-Dreyfus’s turn to share some scenes with Hedberg. “They go, 'You know what? It's f***ing impossible. It's impossible,'" Alexander continued. "And Julia actually said, 'Don't you want to just kill her?' And Larry went, 'Ka-bang!'" And that was that.

24. Seinfeld's infamous puffy shirt is in the Smithsonian.

Seinfeld himself was on hand in 2004 to donate the iconic piece of television fashion history to the National Museum of American History for display alongside pop culture artifacts such as Mr. Rogers’ sweater and the Sesame Street sign. Sadly, the pirate garb isn’t currently on display .

25. George Steinbrenner actually filmed some scenes for Seinfeld.

During George’s tenure with the Yankees organization, legendary team owner George Steinbrenner was a recurring character … except we never saw his face and he was voiced by Larry David. But Steinbrenner proved to be a good sport when he agreed to film some scenes for the show, in which he proposes that he and Elaine attend George’s wedding together. Unfortunately, the cameo never aired.

26. Seinfeld's “man-hands” really Did have a man's hands.

In “The Bizarro Jerry,” Jerry has a girlfriend with hands that he finds rather masculine. When shown in close shots, the hands really are man hands. They were supplied by actor James Rekart, with whom Seinfeld took acting classes. Rekart still proudly flaunts his man-hands status in his Twitter profile .

27. A Miller Brewing executive was fired for discussing "The Junior Mint" episode of Seinfeld with a female co-worker.

It’s the episode where Jerry can’t remember his girlfriend’s name, but knows that it rhymes with a female body part. After discussing the episode with a female colleague, Jerold Mackenzie, then an executive at Milwaukee’s Miller Brewing, was fired for sexual harassment. Mackenzie, in turn, counter-sued—and was awarded $26.6 million. (A verdict which was overturned on appeal.)

28. Seinfeld's writers thought Elaine's dance moves might kill Julia Louis-Dreyfus's career.

Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten told HuffPo that Larry David was not a fan of the eighth season episode “The Little Kicks,” in which Elaine ... dances (for lack of a better term). He only got approval on the storyline after David had left, but then became concerned that it might be a big mistake.

“I remember walking through at rehearsal,” Feresten said. “[Writer-producer] Jennifer Crittenden pulled me aside after Julia did the dance for the first time and said, 'Are you sure about this? Are you sure you're not ruining Julia Louis-Dreyfus's career?' 'No, I'm not.' That's the year she won an Emmy.” Sweet, fancy Moses!

29. Seinfeld's backwards episode was inspired by Harold Pinter.

Season 9’s backwards episode, “The Betrayal,” is based on a Harold Pinter play of the same name, which utilizes a similarly nonlinear narrative device. And also explains why Sue-Ellen Mishkie’s fiancé's name is Pinter.

30. Elaine’s New Yorker cartoon from Seinfeld really ended up in The New Yorker.

Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jerry Seinfeld in a scene from Seinfeld.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In a 1998 episode, Elaine is upset that she doesn’t understand the punchline of a New Yorker cartoon and tries to get her own published. Fourteen years later, The New Yorker actually published their own version of their cartoon and invited readers to submit their captions.

31. Jerry Seinfeld doesn't like "The Alternate Side."

When asked about his least favorite episode of the series on Watch What Happens: Live, Seinfeld admitted that it was “The Alternate Side,” in which Jerry’s car is stolen, George blocks traffic during a Woody Allen film shoot, and Kramer gets fired before he ever gets to utter his now-famous line: “These pretzels are making me thirsty!”

32. Jerry Seinfeld does have a favorite moment from the series.

Seinfeld’s favorite show moment? “George pulling out the golf ball at the end of the marine biologist episode,” he told Uproxx. "That’s my favorite moment from the entire series.

33. Festivus was based on a real-life holiday one Seinfeld's writers celebrated with his family.

Writer Dan O’Keefe truly celebrated Festivus with his family, complete with feats of strength and the airing of grievances. “It was entirely more peculiar than on the show,” O’Keefe told The New York Times in 2004. “There was a clock in a bag.” He didn’t know why.

34. Elizabeth Sheridan, who played Jerry’s mother on Seinfeld, dated James Dean.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Elizabeth Sheridan, who played Jerry's mom, wrote a book called Dizzy & Jimmy: My Life with James Dean, about the year she spent dating James Dean— before he hit it big in Hollywood.

35. Jerry Seinfeld’s favorite supporting character was Newman.

During the same Reddit AMA, Seinfeld cited Newman as his favorite supporting character. “ I mean, when I got to have a real evil nemesis like Superman would have, that was a dream come true for me," he said. "There's no superhero that doesn't have an evil nemesis, and I got to have one. And I love that nobody ever asks ‘Why didn't you like Newman?’”

36. There was a Jackie Chiles Seinfeld spinoff in the works.

Back in 1999, more than a year after the Seinfeld finale had aired, the media was abuzz with what would be the series’s first spinoff: The Jackie Chiles Show. Phil Morris, who made a handful of appearances on the series as a fast-talking, Johnnie Cochran-like lawyer, was working with Seinfeld and David on the pitch, which would find him as the sole black lawyer in an all-white firm. At some point, plans apparently fell apart.

37. Jerry Seinfeld turned down $110 million for a tenth season of Seinfeld.

Getty Images

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But when Seinfeld turned down the chance to earn $5 million per episode—a grand total of $110 million—to come back for a tenth season, the network finally got that he wasn’t kidding around.

38. Numerology played a part in Seinfeld's conclusion.

Seinfeld has made no secret about his love of the number nine. In an interview with Vanity Fair about the show’s end, he explained that part of the reason for his decision to end at nine seasons was because: “Nine is cool. When I was thinking about quitting the show, I thought, nine. People said, 'Ten—why not 10?' But 10 is lame. Nine is my number. And then I found out that nine in numerology means completion.”

39. Seinfeld begins and ends with buttons.

It might take binge-watching the series to realize that the very first conversation Jerry and George have in the pilot (which you can see in the clip above) and their last conversation in the finale are about a poorly-placed button, and are almost verbatim.

40. Jerry said something very lovely to his Seinfeld castmates before the taping of the final show.

NBC

Prior to the taping of every show, the four main cast members would gather behind the set and participate in the “circle of power.” Jason Alexander told Variety it was “ nothing more than the four of us kind of huddling up and going, ‘have a good show.’”

Before the final show, Jerry took on a more serious tone than usual, and, according to Alexander, said, “For the rest of our lives when anybody thinks of one of us, they will think of the four of us, and I can’t think of any people that I would rather have that be true of.”

Alexander continued, “And as we all began to weep over the fact that Jerry had said that, that’s when they started calling our names, and we had to go out and pretend that everything’s just hunky dory.”

41. Seinfeld is moving to Netflix for five years beginning in 2021.

Terms were not disclosed, but we do know that Hulu paid $130 million for the domestic rights for a six-year run, and the Netflix deal is global.

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

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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.