Paul Mooney, comedian, actor, and regular collaborator of Richard Pryor, has died. His representative Cassandra Williams confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter, and his official Twitter account thanked fans for their condolences. Mooney died in his home in Oakland following a heart attack. He was 79.
The comic was born in 1941 and took on the last name “Mooney” based on the original Scarface actor Paul Muni’s name. Following a stint as a ringmaster for the Charles Gody Circus, Mooney met Pryor in LA in the 1960s; as he told it in an A.V. Club interview from 2007, Mooney threw Pryor out of the apartment he was sharing with his sister after Pryor declared “Let’s all get in the bed and have a freak thing.” A short while later, they re-connected at a concert, the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership that led to Mooney’s monumental work as the head writer on The Richard Pryor Show. Mooney is credited with discovering Robin Williams during the variety show’s brief run—it was Williams’ big break, an opportunity that Mooney also extended to Sandra Bernhard, Marsha Warfield, John Witherspoon, and Tim Reid.
Mooney co-wrote Pryor’s material for some of his comedy albums, including ...Is It Something I Said? and collaborated with the legendary comedian on some of his Saturday Night Live sketches. His other TV writing credits included Sanford And Son, In Living Color, and Chappelle’s Show. On the latter, he had a recurring role as Negrodamus, a Black parody of philosopher Nostradamus. A thread of social commentary ran through Mooney’s work: During the Vietnam War, he toured the country with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Peter Boyle as the troupe FTA (which stood for “Fuck The Army”), and racism was a frequent topic in his stand-up act.
“People don’t want to hear the truth, they never do,” Mooney told The A.V. Club in 2007. “They wanna live in some kind of fantasy. And then when they get caught up in it, they start being in denial because they don’t want to be wrong.”