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Inside Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor's Complicated Relationship

Jaimie-lee Prince
May 24, 2019
05:36 P.M.
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Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were one of the best comedic duos in the '70s and '80s, but their off-camera relationship barely existed. 


Pryor and Wilder first paired up in 1976 for the comedy "Silver Streak," shot in Canada. It was the start of a series of coordinated ad-libs and flowing improvisations that earned admiration from viewers. 

The two would go on to star in three more films together, and their great on-screen brotherly chemistry was widely apparent. Off-screen, however, Wilder's mature demeanor versus Pryor's uncontrollable drug use simply didn't mesh. 

Pryor's poor work ethic led to disaster

The two kept their personal lives totally separate, only meeting up if they had to for work. 1980's "Stir Crazy" was their second big hit, and it was also when the public got an inside look at Pryor's wild behavior. 


Late actors Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder | Photo: Getty Images

Wilder revealed in an interview that his co-star would show up between 15 minutes and an hour and a half hours late for work at times. Many times, he would be high or drunk.


According to Biography, during an interview with Pryor in which he was reportedly drunk, the actor used too many swear words for the recording to ever air. He also called Wilder some explicit names, but it was most likely not a real implication of what he actually felt towards his co-star. 

After that incident, Pryor spiraled further down into drug addiction and alcohol abuse. He even made an attempt on his life by dousing himself in alcohol and setting himself on fire. 

Late actors Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder | Photo: Getty images


The pair missed out on Trading Places

Pryor's destructive behavior made him and Wilder miss out on the starring roles in "Trading Places." The two were the first choices for the slots, but they ended up going to Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. 

The comedy went onto become one of the biggest hits in the early '80s, but it wouldn't be until the late '80s that Wilder and Pryor worked together again for their final two times. 

But they found success elsewhere

They starred as one deaf and one blind man in 1989's "See No Evil, Hear No Evil." This time, Pryor was well-behaved onset and less of a challenge to work with. The film did well, topping the box office for two weeks. 


Richard Pryor, late actor | Photo: Getty Images

Their last film was 1991's "Another You," and it was not nearly as good as their previous work. The two had lost their luster, and the comedic magic between them was nearly gone.


Failure was also rampant in Pryor's personal life

Just as his relationship with Wilder was somewhat complicated, Pryor's real love life also had a twist. He was married seven times to five different women.

When he dated Pam Grier in 1977, it quickly came to light that Pryor not only had drug issues but severe insecurities. He actually ended the two's relationship just a year later because Grier beat him in tennis twice.

But before that, Grier discovered that she had cocaine on her cervix because of Pryor's drug use and their unprotected love life.


Wilder spoke on the duo's relationship

Unfortunately, Pryor passed away over a decade later in 2005 from a heart attack. In the same year, Wilder released his memoir, "Kiss Me Like a Stranger." 

In it, he described his relationship with Pryor which he likened to "sexual attraction." He further explained that "as close as [they] were on film, it just didn't carry over to our private lives."

He added: 

"Richard traveled in his own circle. You could count on one hand the times that we saw each other when we weren't working, and even then there was always a work-related reason why we met."


Richard Pryor and ex-wife Jennifer Lee in 1995 | Photo: Getty Images

Pryor's daughter also gave her input

In 2016, Wilder passed away from Alzheimer's complications. Pryor's daughter Rain Pryor decided then to speak on her father and Wilder's relationship in a Facebook post

She said: 

"People always ask. 'Were Gene Wilder and Dad friends?' I always answered 'Not really, however they saw each other's genius and created hit films and were the best comedy film friends of all time.' "

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