Paul Mooney, the trailblazing comedian who gained fame writing and creating alongside Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle, passed away from a heart attack in Oakland early Wednesday morning (May 19). He was 79.
Roland Martin was the first to confirm his passing.
“Comedic legend Paul Mooney has passed away,” Martin tweeted. “His cousin Rudy Ealy just called me from Paul’s phone and said he passed away two hours ago after suffering a heart attack at his home in Oakland. He was 79. We will pay tribute to him tonight on #RolandMartinUnfiltered.”
Mooney’s Twitter account shared a touching message to fans on Wednesday not long after the news of his death broke.
“Thank you all from the bottom of all of our hearts …you’re all are the best!” the statement read. “Mooney World .. The Godfather of Comedy – ONE MOON MANY STARS! .. To all in love with this great man.. many thanks.”
Mooney, born in Shreveport, Louisiana, eventually moved to Oakland, California as a child and landed his first major work in Hollywood writing with Pryor. Together, they wrote for Pryor’s infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live as well as his groundbreaking comedy specials such as Live On The Sunset Strip and Pryor’s short-lived television show, The Richard Pryor Show where he served as head writer. The show became a gateway for on the rise comedians such as Robin Williams, John Witherspoon and Tim Reid among others.
Mooney’s talents had an impact on some of the more influential comedy series of their era. He was the lead writer for the inaugural season of In Living Color in 1990 and a decade later, he became an iconic character while starring on Chappelle’s Show alongside Dave Chappelle. His most beloved character, Negrodamus, ad-libbed the world’s most pressing questions including an infamous sketch claiming white people love Wayne Brady “because he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.”
Later controversies in Mooney’s life frequently revolved around race. In 2006, he publicly stated he would no longer use the N-word after Michael Richards’ public outburst at The Comedy Store during a set. His relationship with Richard Pryor was frequently mentioned in his memoir, Black Is The New White in 2009 along with a foreword from Chappelle himself. In his eyes, the work he did with Pryor simply passed the torch to what he did with Chappelle, a bridge between two comedic geniuses.
“People don’t want to hear the truth, they never do,” Mooney once said. “They wanna live in some kind of fantasy. And then when they get caught up in it, they start being in denial because they don’t want to be wrong.”