I was saddened to hear that Richard Pryor died. Most moral leaders would hardly say that the comedian lived an exemplary life, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have inspiring moments. He made me laugh and had a way about him that made him pleasant to watch. He seemed authentic, whether in a live stage show or in movie roles, my favorite of which was as Grover T. Muldoon in “Silver Streak.” His on-screen friendship with Gene Wilder–and the fun they had with the differences between white and African-American men–was fun, funny, and refreshing.

On a recent Tonight Show, Jay Leno broke from his traditional monologue to pay an honest and heartfelt tribute to the late comedian. Jay told of how he and other comics would play The Comedy Club in Hollywood, learning to hone their acts and tightening them up over time to get them right. “We’d do the same act each night,” he said, “working to find that little adjustment that would make it that much better.”

“But Richard,” Leno continued, “he would do a brand new act every night. He would ad lib and just make it up live, not only being funny but also commenting about the most important issues of the day, including race.”

“It may have been profane,” he added, “but it was also profound.”

“Rest in peace, Richard,” Leno closed. “We’ll miss you.” And then he blew a kiss to Richard Pryor in a way that was as manly as it was authentic.

It was a nice tribute, a rare moment on live-for-re-broadcast television from a guy at the top of his game, with no comic soundbite to lessen the intimacy.

Regardless of how you felt about Richard Pryor, I was reminded of how winsome it is to see someone being authentic–even intimate–as Leno was and as Pryor made a habit of being. I made a choice to work on it harder myself, regardless of the risk. It was inspiring.

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