Richard Pryor is raised in a brothel where his grandmother is the madam: Part 1

The legendary comedian grew up in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s. His mother was a prostitute and his father was a pimp. "It was hell," he said.
8:02 | 01/17/20

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Transcript for Richard Pryor is raised in a brothel where his grandmother is the madam: Part 1
television, Richard Pryor. I'm from the average type family, eleven kids. No mother or father, just kids. Richard was brutally honest. I know I'm hard to get along with. I know that because I might wake up in the morning and go, hey, wake up. What was that You said last February? He changed the way people thought about blacks, whites, themselves. They call it an epidemic now. That means white folks are doing it. His life challenged the status quo, his comedy challenged the status quo. You can't even talk like that now. You ever notice how nice white people get when there's a bunk bunch of Around? They get outside they talk to everybody. Say hi, how you doing? I don't know you but here's my wife. Hello! He was representing a group of people, an era, a struggle, a time. I just loved him, immediately and immensely. Before there was YouTube, before there was digital, before any of that, there was Richard Pryor. We went, wow. And then like a comet, it flamed out. Comedian Richard Pryor in a critical condition tonight and given less than a 50/50 chance surviving after suffering third-degree burns over half of his body. He was in a drug psychosis. I was there. And of course, it ended up as a suicide attempt. I woke up in an ambulance, right? And it wasn't nothing but white people staring at me. I said ain't this a bitch. I done died and wound up in the wrong Heaven. The first time I met him, I fell madly in love. And what was it that I was attracted to was his vulnerability. Sometimes I feel like there's a person, Richard Pryor, and he does all this comedy, he does all this stuff, and then there's me, and I wonder what I have to do with Richard. It takes a lot of courage to be a comic. I lived in a neighborhood of a lot whorehouses, not many candy stores or banks, liquor stores and whore houses. You have to expose your soul in ways that are dangerous to you, and not everyone survives. When critics say that you're the funniest man around, that you're a genius, do you say, yep, that's me? I always think about what my father called me. What did your father call you? Not that. Dumb son of a bitch. But the reality of what I am has nothing to do with what they say. He appears on the Rudy valley show, on Broadway tonight, it's his TV debut, and he says that he's going to talk about his life. He tells a complete story about his family background and where he comes from. I had a wild neighborhood, I got to tell you, because my mother's Puerto rican, and my father is a Negro, and we live in a real big jewish tenement building, in an Italian neighborhood. Every time I go outside these kids say "Get him! He's all of em!" But in fact he just makes up an alternative Richard Pryor. He wasn't to my knowledge part Puerto rican. He was from Peoria, Illinois, of full African descent and raised by messed up people. And I think one reason he didn't tell people the truth about his background is because he knew they couldn't take it. That will be the struggle for him is to figure out a way that he can be a comedian or performer and tell the truth about his life. I remember white people used to come down here, do you have any girls that cover you with ice cream? And little boys that lick it off? He was the mayor. I heard in the albums first, that's how I heard it. Up until that point, those were jokes. He told the jokes about whore houses and all those things. Until I went Peoria and actually seen it, and you go, oh, it's real. December 1, 1940. I was born Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III. I got names from pimps and gangsters and all that. Buck Carter's son. I come from rough stock. If hell had a zipcode, in 1940s America, it would have been Peoria, Illinois. Every vice known to man was commonplace there. And the reason this is important is because this is how his grandmother creates her livelihood. Is it true that your grandmother ran a -- a house of prostitution? Several. About three. Whorehouses. White folks had houses of prostitution. And black people had whorehouses. She was the chief madam. She was the madam, not the chief madam. Okay, she was the madam. There were no others. My grandma was tough. Those were called family businesses back in those days. Whorehouses that were being run by families, and Richard was just one of them. Those were in the days when the women used to peck on the window with quarters. For people, customers. Hello. Hey, sweetie, baby. They'd be talking through the window. Nobody could hear them on the streets. He grows up as the child of a prostitute. A father who's a pimp. There's criminality all throughout his life. I mean, that was a brothel where he watched white men come and knock on the door. "Hello, is your mother home?" On one of his albums he said, the lips that kissed him good night had just performed oral sex on somebody. I could have been prejudiced. I could have been prejudiced. I could have been, man, but I met nice white men. Hello, little boy, is your mother home? I'd like a . If you have to tell someone straight what your childhood was like, describe it. It was hell. Because I had nobody to talk to. I was a child, all right, and I grew up seeing my mother going to rooms with men and my aunties going to rooms with men, you understand? When I peeked through the keyholes and I peeked over the transit, but I never understood it until this day. And it messed me up. Richard found out where a lot of the rage and pain came from, and it was Peoria. To not totally decay and be full of hatred with those experiences and to turn it into comedy, there's just a genius there. There's a genius inside the little motor control that you've seen in cartoons with this whole crew inside a person's brain. Through the force of his imagination and the force of his will, he makes a world for Who is Charlie egger? Charlie eggy. Charlie eggy. That's my magic friend. I made him up. We used to play together. See, I am the secret prince. My mother is queen U, and my father is king who. My father live on lily pad with a frog named jippidy-doo. So that's what you get when you're the secret prince. You have to be magic. And you put magic dust on people. Do you put magic dust on people? Yes, ma'am. Are you magic? I'm magic. I'm magic. Who believed in you? Who cared about you? Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III. You. And magic dust. I was in the front yard you know, and all the family was sitting on the porch and there was some dog poopoo in the front and I slipped and fell in it.

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

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