Comedy legend and Chappelle’s Show regular Paul Mooney has passed away at age 79. His publicist confirmed the news to ABC Audio that Mooney died on Wednesday morning after suffering a heart attack in Oakland, CA.
Born Paul Gladney in Shreveport, Louisiana, Mooney was best known for his work as a writer for fellow comedy legend Richard Pryor. Mooney penned some of Pryor’s material for his appearance on the first season of Saturday Night Live, in 1975. That included the “Word Association” sketch many still consider to be one of SNL‘s best ever, with Pryor playing a men interviewing for for a job, an interview that grows increasingly more hostile and racially tinged.
Mooney also co-wrote material for Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip, Bicentennial N*****, and …Is It Something I Said? albums, and served as head writer for the groundbreaking, four-episode The Richard Pryor Show TV series in 1977. The show gave comics including Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Marsha Warfield, John Witherspoon and Tim Reid their first big break.
In addition to working with Pryor, Mooney wrote for Redd Foxx‘s Sanford and Son, as well as for the TV hits Good Times and the first year of Fox’s In Living Color.
As a performer, Mooney played singer Sam Cooke in the film The Buddy Holly Story and Junebug in Bamboozled, and later became a huge hit on Dave Chappelle‘s sketch comedy series, Chappelle’s Show. On that series, he anchored regular sketches like “Ask a Black Dude” and “Mooney at the Movies.” He also portrayed a Black Nostradamus, named Negrodamus, where he ad-libbed hilarious answers to questions on culture.
Mooney also weathered controversies. In 2013, just five days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Mooney allegedly said during a performance that “white people in Boston deserved what they got.” Those comments prompted the suburban New York comedy club to cancel his remaining shows. Mooney later denied making the comments.
Mooney’s death comes after his brother announced in November 2014 that the comedian had been suffering from prostate cancer.
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