Richard Pryor nearly dies after setting himself on fire while on drugs: Part 9

He was on coke and freebase when he got severely burned. His widow, Jennifer Pryor, who was not married to him at the time, said she was at the house before the fire and feared he would hurt himself.
7:32 | 01/17/20

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Transcript for Richard Pryor nearly dies after setting himself on fire while on drugs: Part 9
One night, we're heading over the canyon to go home, and he does a u-turn. A few minutes later, we pull into the comedy store parking lot. This was the place that he came when he wanted to do his stuff from scratch. Every time he came in, it was like Jesus Christ was showing up. He sits me down at a table, and he walks on stage. And I just instinctively started taking notes. And at the end of a couple of months, he had live in concert. There was no such thing as a filmed comedy special before "Live in concert." There are points in Richard Pryor's career you can point and say, that was big. "Live in concert", Richard Pryor, was huge. It shapes everything about what standup is for the next several decades, because every standup comedian learns from that performance. It is Richard Pryor in full flower, in full power. What you taking my picture for? Who you gon show it to I got a picture of Richard Pryor! Who gives a ? It's a moment when he has a kind of a different approach to character, in which the main character is himself. Anyone here ever have a heart attack? Them Hurt I'm not Man. I was walking in the front yard. I was just walking along and something said, don't breathe. He re-creates the heart attack he had. Now you're thinking about dying, aren't you? Yeah, I'm thinking about dying. I'm thinking about dying. You didn't think about it when you were eating all that pork! Them stories was long, they was drawn out. And they was colorful and imaginative. You could see it all. It was good. One routine Richard did, which really embodies so much, is the white man's voice. He always had a white guy voice. It just made me laugh. Weren't we sitting here? We were sitting here, weren't we? Yes, we were sitting here. White people went crazy for "Live in concert." In a world that was still somewhat segregated, he was this fantastic bridge for a period of time between these two communities. U not going to do anything funny, are you? Richard held up a mirror to them "This is who you are. Laugh at yourselves, you can laugh, but know yourself." Live in concert did much better than anybody thought. It made a huge amount of money. By the end of the 1970s, Richard Pryor is on the top of the entertainment world. But there's a problem lurking in the background. He knows about it, the public doesn't. Pryor is in the throes of this addiction to coke and to freebase. And he ends up burning himself terribly while freebasing, and it becomes a huge, huge story. I saw Richard just only a few hours before he burnt up. He was completely out of his mind. His aunt was there, aunt Dee, and I said, "He's going to hurt himself." And they basically pooh-poohed me and said, get out of here. I walked out. I knew he was going hurt himself. He said, I made my mind up. He called me in Hawaii. He wanted many a to come to Los Angeles and cop some drugs for him. And he talked about, I can't go on like this. I mean, I haven't slept for four or five nights. And I said I wasn't going to do that, I couldn't do that. There was no reality at all. None. Zero, gone. He said that he was just going kill himself. He had the pipe in one hand and the torch in the other hand. He was dunking the torch into the rum bottle. And he was so addicted at this point, he couldn't put the pipe down. He couldn't put the torch down either, because he didn't want to miss a hit. If the torch was still lit in any way, hot even, into a bottle, boom. We were looking at some specials. They were talking about Vietnam. And we was looking at the monk that doused himself in gasoline, and he lit the flame. And I said to Richard, "Look at this man's commitment." And in Richard Pryor fashion, he said, "And he didn't even flinch," which made us laugh. A few hours later, he caught on fire. I didn't hear a scream or nothing from Richard. It was just a ball of flame coming down the hallway. And I could look out his bedroom window and see Richard running down this long driveway in a flame. Do you know why you were running? I was running because I didn't want to die sitting down. I just wanted to run out. Later on we found out that the reason it didn't kill him on the spot is because he had like 23 grams of cocaine in every part of his body. So he didn't feel the pain of it. Comedian Richard Pryor is in critical condition tonight and given less than a 50/50 chance of surviving after suffering third-degree burns over half of his body. Police said Pryor was burned because some ether and cocaine he was using in his bedroom caught fire. I went to the hospital and I said, he's full of drugs and vodka. He could overdose if they give him a shot of morphine. He was severely burned. I think over 50%, 60% of his body. We don't know if he's going to live or die. It's a moment by moment thing. My phone rings. I said, hello, hello. "Thom, Thom." I said, "Richard?" He said, "Thom, help me." We swept the house and got all that junk out of there before we let in the LAPD. We had maybe 10 or 12 guns. We had every conceivable kind of drug. Police officials and fire officials were climbing the fence at Richard Pryor's suburban Los Angeles home Wednesday. LAPD came in, they didn't find anything wrong. So Richard didn't get charged with drug offenses. I knew I wasn't going to die. There was no doubt in my mind. But you can't move. You can't move. It humbles you and makes realize the greater things in life. Friendship. I went to see him, and I walked in and I remember thinking, "Ah, this is a changed man." Something had burned out of him. I wasn't sure what it was. I think that he became much more afraid in some ways of how fragile it all was, including his own psyche, because he did that to himself. My understanding is that it was an accident, that Richard was high as a kite. I tried to commit suicide.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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