Paul Mooney, the pioneering comedian and actor who worked with some of the industry’s greatest names, has died at the age of 79. The news was broken by Roland Martin and confirmed through his official twitter account. The family confirmed to TMZ he passed in his Oakland home Wednesday morning after suffering a heart attack.
Mooney was an unapologetic comedic talent, rising to fame for his sharp wit, brash realness, authenticity and social commentary. He was best known as a writing partner for Richard Pryor, but was introduced to a new generation of fans through his ‘Ask A Black Dude’ and ‘Negrodamus’ skits on Chappelle’s Show. He even had his own court show in 2004 called Judge Mooney.
Mooney also gained fame for his acting, playing singer Sam Cooke in The Buddy Holly Story and Junebug in Bamboozled. The comedian has been a prolific voice in the entertainment industry since the 1970’s, writing for cultural staples like Sanford and Son and In Living Color.
He was born in 1941 as Paul Gladney in Shreveport, Louisiana. His family moved to Oakland, California when he was young. He moved to Hollywood after a short stint as a circus ring master, where he honed his skills for comedy.
Mooney’s greatest legacy may be his impact on others. In a 2016 interview, director and producer Robert Townsend saluted Mooney for his commitment to using his voice and not caring what anyone had to say about it.
“Paul didn’t care to be loved. He wanted to speak his mind,” Townsend told Vulture. “He taught a generation of comedians to be fearless.”
Celebrities across the entertainment industry have expressed their thoughts on Mooney’s passing through social media.
Oscar winner Viola Davis said Mooney was “both funny and poignant. So happy to have witnessed your genius live.”
Awww.... RIP comedy legend Paul Mooney! You were both funny and poignant. So happy to have witnessed your genius live. Rest well!!! Pour down some laughter here. We need it 💗💗💗 pic.twitter.com/cr6MqY3UXA— Viola Davis (@violadavis) May 19, 2021
Actress Pam Grier chimed in, calling Mooney “the funniest light in the room...keep them laughing ...wherever you are.”
Paul Mooney was always the funniest light in the room...— Pam Grier Ph.D (@PamGrier) May 19, 2021
Peace will not be still...Paul keep em laffing...wherever you are....Love PG
Award winning Director Ava Duvernay recalled Mooney’s impact on her. “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.”
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.— Ava DuVernay (@ava) May 19, 2021
Comedian Marc Maron said “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.”
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.— marc maron (@marcmaron) May 19, 2021
Comedian The Kid Mero perhaps summed it up best, calling Mooney “a comedy God.”
PAUL MOONEY IS A COMEDY GOD B— THE KID MERO 🇩🇴 (@THEKIDMERO) May 19, 2021