Fans across the nation are mourning the loss of legendary comedian and civil rights activist, Paul Mooney, who died Wednesday at the age of 79. The comedian, who was the lead writer for the iconic Richard Pryor Show, died due to a heart attack, his family confirmed.
Paul Gladney was born in 1941 in Shreveport, Louisiana, and moved to Oakland, California, seven years later. He was raised primarily by his grandmother, Aimay Ealy, known among the family as “Mama.” Gladney coined the nickname “Mooney” after the original Scarface (1932) actor Paul Muni, and continued with that stage name throughout his career.
Mooney became a ringmaster with the Gatti-Charles Circus. During his stint as ringmaster, he always found himself writing comedy and telling jokes, which later helped him land his first professional work as a writer for Richard Pryor.
Mooney wrote some of Pryor’s routines for his appearance on Saturday Night Live, co-wrote his material for the Live on the Sunset Strip, Bicentennial Nigger, and Is It Something I Said albums, and Pryor’s film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. As the head writer for The Richard Pryor Show, he gave many young comics, such as Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Marsha Warfield, John Witherspoon and Tim Reid their first breaks into show business.
Mooney also wrote for Redd Foxx’s Sanford and Son and Good Times, acted in several cult classics including Which Way Is Up?, Bustin’ Loose, Hollywood Shuffle, and portrayed singer/songwriter Sam Cooke in The Buddy Holly Story.
Much of Mooney’s material was based on the subject of racism in the United States, and he was scrutinized by his constant use of the “N-word.”
He was the head writer for the first year of Fox’s In Living Color, inspiring the character Homey D. Clown, played by Damon Wayans. Mooney later went on to play Wayans’ father in the Spike Lee film Bamboozled as the comedian Junebug.
Mooney initially appeared in the sketches “Ask a Black Dude” and “Mooney at the Movies” on Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show. He later appeared as Negrodamus, an African American version of Nostradamus. As Negrodamus, Mooney ad-libbed the “answers to life’s most unsolvable mysteries” such as “Why do white people love Wayne Brady?” (Answer: “Because Wayne Brady makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.”) Mooney was planning to reprise his role as Negrodamus in the third season of Chappelle’s Show before Dave Chappelle left the show due to stress.
In 2006, Mooney hosted the BET tribute to Black History Month titled 25 Most @#%! Moments in Black History. In this show, he narrated some of the most shameful incidents involving African Americans since 1980. The top 25 moments included incidents involving Marion Barry, Terrell Owens, Wilson Goode, Michael Jackson, Flavor Flav, Whitney Houston and Tupac Shakur.
In 2007, Mooney released his first book, a memoir called Black Is the New White. In November 2014, his brother announced that Mooney had prostate cancer. Mooney continued to tour and perform his stand-up comedy act.
Controversial or not, Mooney was a true trailblazer and he, and his work, will be remembered for ages.