BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 05: Eddie Murphy attends the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 05, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
Movies - TV
Richard Pryor And A Slapdash Script Made Harlem Nights Miserable For Eddie Murphy
The only time that Eddie Murphy ventured behind the camera was at the height of his powers in the ‘80s when he directed the 1989 period crime comedy-drama, "Harlem Nights." Murphy managed to gather an all-star star cast that included the likes of Redd Foxx, Danny Aiello, Arsenio Hall, and his greatest comedic influence, Richard Pryor.
Unfortunately, the movie suffered from a poor script and Pryor’s unwillingness to riff with his peers. In a 1990 Spin interview with Spike Lee, Murphy said, "I thought it would be like a collaborative thing where I would get to work with my idol, and then it would be like, 'This is great.' But Richard would come to the set, say his line and leave, it wasn't like a collaborative thing."
Lee, who obviously holds Pryor in the same esteem as Murphy, seemed genuinely surprised to hear this. When he asked Murphy to elaborate, the comedian said, "[T]he only reason he did the movie was he got a big payday out of it, and trust me, the brother does not like me. And I used to have more Richard Pryor pictures up than Elvis Presley."
Sadly, there was more going on than professional jealousy because, while making “Harlem Nights,” Pryor had yet to go public with his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, which, along with his other health issues, effectively ended his acting career. In 2016, nine years after Pryor's death, an older, wiser Murphy threw the blame for Pryor's "Harlem Nights" discomfort on himself.