by Billi Casey
As I stepped off the elevator I could feel the electricity in the air even before I could see the people who had gathered at the Contemporary Arts Center to raise money for a seven and a half foot statue of Richard Pryor that, when completed, will be placed in downtown Peoria. When I rounded the corner I saw a crowd that I believe would have pleased the comedian and actor who did not grow up in a time when you were likely to come upon a group of such diversity. Young and old and skin tones ranging from pale to ebony enjoying each others company and working to pay tribute to a man who Bob Newhart called "the seminal comedian of the last fifty years".
The room was crowded, overcrowded really, and a man standing next to me commented about the fire code occupancy being exceeded.
"It would be ironic if there was a fire," I said "and we all ended up running out of here ablaze."
"Wait a minute," you might say, "why would you bring up the free basing incident of 1980 if you want to encourage people to donate to this project?"
Fair question. I would tell you that this man made mistakes and had demons. Does that make him less deserving of being honored for his talent and accomplishment? An Emmy, two Academy of Humor awards, the Writer's Guild of America Award, the number one spot on Comedy Central's all-time greatest stand up comedians and the first ever Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor would say no. And I would say no. A person who has a squeaky clean background and is successful or talented is a great role model, but some of us need a person to emulate who messed things up, sometimes badly, and didn't let it stop him. Someone who had to battle the era he was born into, the odds and sometimes himself and never quit trying to do better and to be better.
As a stand up comedian myself (I'd like to believe that Mr. Pryor would have enjoyed my "running out of the building ablaze" line) and having a sister born in August of 1940 who lived on Glendale Avenue and was a kindergarten classmate of Richard I admit that my ties are personal and my support for this project not entirely objective. But I believe this tribute is long past due. He is without doubt the most famous Peorian and was a master of his art.
To make a financial contribution to the Richard Pryor: More Than Just A Comedian sculpture please send a tax deductible check or money order made payable to Community Foundation of Central Illinois. Please note the donation is for the sculpture and send to:
AAHFM Fund for Richard Pryor Sculpture
331 Fulton Street
Peoria, IL 61602
To donate by credit card:
Log onto www.communityfoundationci.org
Click on the blue "Donate Now Through the Network for Good"
Remember to specify that your donation is for the Richard Pryor.
For further information contact Howard Johnson at 309.264.4570
Look for my upcoming article on sculpture artist Preston Jackson and the making of the piece.