They surely seem like odd bedfellows: the most influential if controversial African-American comedian of his era and the brooding Academy-Award-winning Method actor. But the rumors are true, according to the stand-up comic’s widow: Richard Pryor did have a sexual tryst with Marlon Brando. And furthermore, according to her, he wrote about his extracurricular dalliances in his diaries, which she’ll soon publish. And considering the times, she says, none of this is actually all that surprising.
The Pryor-Brando hookup first entered public conversation late last summer, when the music producer Quincy Jones sounded off to Vulture magazine about many topics, including the current president’s daughter (whom Jones claimed to date), his low opinion of the Beatles (“they were the worst musicians in the world”), and the sex life of his long-time buddy, Marlon Brando.
During a low point in Jones’s career, the producer had spent time on Brando’s private island in Tahiti. Jones described Brando to Vulture as “most charming” and recalled that he could dance his butt off. He went on to say, “He’d f— anything. Anything! He’d f— a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye.”
Jones’s claims might have been dismissed as the rantings and ravings of a genius gone a bit mad, but then Pryor’s own widow chimed in to confirm the claim.
On Twitter, Jennifer L. Pryor wrote, “If you listen to Richard’s comedy—the early stuff—he was way ahead of his time on gay rights!!! #noshame.”
In fact, the comedian had talked about his same-sex encounters onstage in the 1970s. He performed at the 1977 Star-Spangled Fight for Rights in Hollywood, which was attended mostly by gay men but at which the subject of homosexuality was referred to only indirectly. As performers tiptoed around the subject, Pryor grew increasingly frustrated.
Finally, Pryor took the stage and said in front of 17,000 stunned audience members, “I sucked one d–k. Back in 1952… It was beautiful.”
It was difficult to tell if he was being impulsive or truthful or perhaps both. But he was almost certainly the first major Hollywood celebrity to talk openly about gay sex in front of so many people, as the Guardian pointed out in 2015.
Pryor’s set that night devolved into an incoherent rant on the inequality of gay rights, civil rights, and equal rights, and he was dismissed as going off the deep end.
For his part, Brando had never been secretive about his bisexuality. The tough guy with the beautiful pout said in a 1976 interview, “Homosexuality is now so much in fashion it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I too have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think of me.”
Brando had gained rapid fame in the early 1950s with his sulky-sexy portraits of damaged men in Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, but in the 1960s, his career stalled. He came back in the 1970s with his iconic portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather, for which he won an Academy Award, and his role as a ferocious lover engaged in a brutal affair with an anonymous French bride-to-be in Last Tango in Paris. That movie featured graphic sex scenes that were especially shocking for 1972.
Pryor was married seven times to five different women. He married Jennifer Lee in August 1981; they divorced just over a year later and remarried in 2001. They were still married when Pryor died in 2005, at age 65, of a heart attack.
Pryor also has seven children, though none of them with his widow.
Jennifer Lee Pryor told TMZ that her husband would be “cracking up” to know that his encounter with Brando had become public knowledge.
Later she took to Twitter to shrug it off, writing: “oh girl-ah- The 70’s: everyone was bi! Experiment/experience-Twosomes, threesomes and then some–#noshame.”
Widow Pryor told TMZ that Richard had detailed his bisexuality “extensively” in his diaries and that she plans to publish them “later this year.”