Would comedian Richard Pryor be laughing or rolling over in his grave? When Quincy Jones sat down for a recent interview with Vulture, he casually inferred that Marlon Brando slept with both Marvin Gaye and Richard Pryor.
The comment quickly snowballed when Pryor's widow, Jennifer Lee-Pryor, took to social media to confirm the Richard Pryor tryst with Marlon Brando:
Hey girl: It was the 70's: enough cocaine and good music-one could f*** a radiator and send it flowers in the morning! # noshame https://t.co/Aea0lLDAhG
— Jennifer Lee Pryor (@JenniferLPryor) February 7, 2018
She commented that Pryor would have no shame about Quincy's comments and was open in his early comedy routines about his homosexual encounters. Jennifer felt that Pryor would have enjoyed Quincy Jones' revelation.
Jennifer responded on Twitter that Rain should read Richard Pryor's autobiography and that he was open about homosexual encounters in both his book and his comedy. She chided Rain for being upset about her father's sexuality, calling that "creepy." Rain responded that she was not being homophobic:
This isn’t about homosexuality I resent the insinuation that I would be homophobic. This is about sharing what was not ones place to share, and NOT being honest. I went off on Pam Grier when she shared sexual details about Daddy in her book. It’s distasteful disrespectful
— Rain Pryor (@RainPryor) February 9, 2018
The venom between Richard Pryor's wife and daughter did not flare up overnight. Rather, it's merely the latest incarnation of a family feud dating back years before Pryor died, while he suffered from multiple sclerosis.
Jennifer Lee-Pryor was Pryor's fourth wife -- and his seventh. Richard Pryor married seven times to five women (another woman also married him twice), with each marriage spanning about a year, until the final one to Jennifer that lasted from 2001 until his death in 2005. Pryor and Jennifer did not have any children together, but Richard had seven children from six different woman (although it is not clear if the one of the seven children was acknowledged as his). Throughout the years, at least three of the children -- Richard, Jr., Elizabeth, and Rain -- have been at war with Jennifer at various times.
Before Jennifer and Pryor re-married in 2001, Richard hired Jennifer to oversee his caregivers and act as his personal manager. Because of his deteriorating condition caused by multiple sclerosis, Jennifer moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1994 to take care of him and manage his affairs, in exchange for a salary and rent.
In 2000, Richard, Jr., filed for conservatorship of Pryor. He alleged his father had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer make decisions for himself and complained that Jennifer limited access, at times refusing to allow Richard, Jr., to see his father. Jennifer fought back and contended that Pryor had picked her and an accountant to make his decisions as agents under power of attorney documents, and also as co-trustees of Richard Pryor's Trust. She argued that Pryor was well-cared for and a court-appointed conservator was not needed. The probate judge overseeing the case ruled in Jennifer's favor.
Shortly after that, Richard Pryor and Jennifer married for the second time. In an unusual move, they applied for a "confidential" marriage certificate. Unlike most marriage certificates, this one was not made a matter of public record. Reportedly, Jennifer did not tell Pryor's children of the marriage.
Afterwards, Richard Pryor amended his trust, naming Jennifer as the primary beneficiary and the person with the right to control all of his intellectual property -- including his name and image rights, as well as royalties from his comedy albums and performances. These changes to the trust left Jennifer in complete control, both before and after Pryor died. He passed away from a heart attack in 2005 at age 65. Estimates placed the total value of the Richard Pryor Estate at around $40 million at the time.
When Pryor's eldest children found out about the marriage and the trust changes, some of them filed suit against Jennifer. Elizabeth - who at times saw her father the most after both Richard, Jr., and Rain fell out of favor with Jennifer - led the charge.
She accused Jennifer of elder abuse, fraud, forgery, and taking advantage of Richard's weakened mental and physical state. She filed the legal proceedings in 2006. As with the prior court proceedings Jennifer prevailed in probate court, in large part because she was the widow.
Elizabeth then appealed to the California Court of Appeals. She argued that the marriage was the product of fraud and should be annulled. She also invoked California's statute prohibiting gifts and bequests to caregivers.
The Court of Appeals ruled that Elizabeth did not have standing to seek an annulment, because under California law, such a legal proceeding could only go forward if one of the spouses had filed the case before death. A child does not have the right to seek an annulment through a probate proceeding. Therefore, the marriage was upheld as valid. This ruling allowed Jennifer to use an exception to the law prohibiting gifts to caregivers, if the caregiver was a spouse. Because Jennifer was legally married to Pryor, any gifts or bequests he made to her, through his trust or otherwise, were protected.
Elizabeth still could have won the case if she could have convinced the court that Pryor either lacked sufficient mental capacity to make the changes to his trust, or that the changes were caused by undue influence from Jennifer. Additionally, she could have proven that the documents were forged. But it appears the lower court found Elizabeth didn't have sufficient evidence to prevail, and Elizabeth did not appeal this aspect of the ruling.
It is certainly odd that Jennifer was able to marry Richard Pryor confidentially, at a time when he suffered from advanced multiple sclerosis and she acted as his caregiver, agent, trustee, and fiduciary. But this fact alone doesn't necessarily mean that Jennifer did something wrong. Pryor very well may have retained his mental faculties and decided to both marry Jennifer and reward her financially of his own free will. But the manner in which the marriage occurred certainly raises questions.
In the eyes of the law, those questions were answered in Jennifer Lee-Pryor's favor. She has the right to control and manage Richard Pryor's legacy - much to the chagrin of the rest of the family.
Jennifer has been working for years to bring Pryor's life story to the big screen in a major Hollywood film. Names like Michael Epps, Nick Cannon, and even Oprah Winfrey have been attached to the project. This spurned even more fighting among the family.
In 2014, Richard, Jr., sent a cease-and-desist letter to Jennifer, accusing her of using illegal and fraudulent activity to gain the rights, taking advantage of Pryor's mental and physical decline at the time he bequeathed the rights to Jennifer. Richard, Jr., and Jennifer also publicly feuded about who should play Richard Pryor in the film.
So far, the movie project has stalled. Harvey Weinstein and the Weistein Company acquired the rights to produce the film, so at least some of the delay may be due to Weinstein issues rather than legal issues surrounding the rights to Richard Pryor's name and image. Time will tell if the film ever gets made.
In the meantime, Pryor's children can do little more than stew and speak out publicly when they disapprove of how Jennifer manages their famous father's legacy. Perhaps it's understandable that Rain became so irate when Jennifer spoke out about her father's sexual past.
So where's the lesson in this estate feud? It's rarely easy to tell if someone was subject to undue influence after he or she dies. Dramatic changes to estate documents after someone suffers serious health issues will often be questioned and subject to dispute. The earlier that someone does the proper estate planning, the more likely it is those documents will be found valid. And changes that benefit the surviving spouse are often much harder to defeat in a court action.
Richard Pryor created a revocable trust and power of attorney documents, amending them many times as his life circumstances changed, increasing the power and benefits to Jennifer over time. The most significant changes were made only after Richard and Jennifer wed in 2001.
As Elizabeth and the other children learned, it is very difficult -- and often impossible -- to challenge the validity of a marriage after someone dies. Certainly this reality has contributed to the bitterness that Richard Pryor's children have towards his widow.
Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and attorneys with the Michigan law firm, Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. Click here to subscribe to their e-newsletter, The Trial & Heirs Update and learn more about their book. You can reach them at Contact@TrialAndHeirs.com