Comedian, actor, and writer Paul Mooney has died from a heart attack, according to journalist Roland Martin and the Daily News. He died early this morning (May 19) at his Oakland home, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 79 years old.
Paul Mooney was born in 1941 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He relocated to Oakland with his mother when he was a child, and later began working as a circus ringmaster. After seeing Lenny Bruce perform, Mooney moved to Los Angeles and began working on his stand-up career. He met Richard Pryor in the late 1960s, with the two beginning to work together shortly thereafter. Pryor requested that NBC hire Mooney to write the episode of Saturday Night Live he hosted in 1975. Mooney ended up contributing one of the show’s most famous sketches, wherein Pryor attends a job interview conducted by Chevy Chase.
Mooney become the head writer of the short-lived NBC series The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. He also also co-wrote several of Pryor’s stand-up specials, including Is It Something I Said (1975), Bicentennial N—-r (1976), and Live on the Sunset Strip (1982).
Beyond his work with Pryor, Mooney wrote for Sanford and Son and Good Times, and served as the head writer for In Living Color’s first season. He also performed his own stand-up comedy, releasing specials like 1993’s Race and 2010’s It’s the End of the World. Mooney acted in several films, too, including 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story, 1981’s Bustin’ Loose, 1994’s In the Army Now, and 2000’s Bamboozled.
Mooney never achieved the major success of his peers and attributed it to the fact that he tackled race, politics, and other hot button subjects with an unflinching eye. “Hollywood likes you a certain way when you’re Black,” he once said.
In the 1980s, Mooney worked alongside comics like Eddie Murphy, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Arsenio Hall, and filmmaker Robert Townsend in a group colloquially referred to as “The Black Pack.” Later on, when he began writing on Chappelle’s Show, Dave Chappelle gave the comedian what Vulture referred to as “a wide berth.” “You don’t fuck with Paul Mooney. You don’t fuck with his writing, his material, his sketches… and you certainly don’t tell him what to do!” Chappelle said. “Trust me, I’ve learned.”