Sad news to report, as Paul Mooney, the veteran comedian, writer, and actor perhaps best known for his work with Richard Pryor, has passed away. According to his family, Mooney suffered from a heart attack at his home in Oakland, California, early on Wednesday morning. Responding paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive him, and Mooney died at the age of 79 years old. He had also reportedly been suffering from dementia for some time and was staying with a family member
Mooney, whose real name was Paul Gladney, was born in Louisiana in 1941. As a child, he relocated to Oakland where he grew up. He’d end up coining the nickname “Mooney” for himself based on the actor Paul Muni from the original Scarface (1932). Destined to be an entertainer, he began his career as a ringmaster working with the Gatti-Charles Circus. Telling jokes at the circus would lead to writing comedy material for Richard Pryor, one of the all-time greatest comedians.
As part of a years-long collaboration, Mooney would write jokes for Pryor for years. This includes writing some of Pryor’s routines for his appearance on Saturday Night Live along with co-writing some other material with Pryor for his comedy albums. Mooney would also serve as the head writer for The Richard Pryor Show and a few episodes of Pryor’s Place. He also wrote for Sanford and Son and Good Times, later working as the head writer for the sketch comedy series In Living Color.
As an actor, Mooney played iconic singer Sam Cooke in the 1978 biopic The Buddy Holly Story. He also appeared in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled which reunited him with Damon Wayans, with whom he helped to create the famous Homey D. Clown character on In Living Color. Mooney’s other movie credits include Which Way Is Up?, Bustin’ Loose, Hollywood Shuffle, and Good Hair. His final big screen appearance was as a klansman in the 2016 comedy Meet the Blacks.
Mooney can also be remembered for appearing in sketches on the Comedy Central series Chappelle’s Show, including “Ask a Black Dude” and “Mooney at the Movies.” The comedian and actor would also host the BET tribute to Black History Month, called 25 Most @#%! Moments in Black History, in 2006. The following year, he’d release his memoir Black Is the New White. Over the next several years, Mooney would also continue to perform standup comedy.
Many are now paying tribute to Mooney, including some of his famous fans. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay posted to Twitter: “Paul Mooney. A comedy giant. I recall listening to his RACE album in college and how formative it was. Yeah, the jokes. But more so, the freedom. He spoke freely and fearlessly about feelings and experiences others found difficult to express. May he be truly free now. Rest, sir.”
Comedian and podcast host Marc Maron adds: “RIP the great Paul Mooney. It was an honor to be a back of the room student for his late night master classes when I was a doorman back in the day.”