Paul Mooney, legendary comedian and actor, dies at 79

Mooney, revered as the Godfather of Comedy, died of a heart attack on Wednesday

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Legendary comic Paul Mooney, revered as the Godfather of Comedy, has died of a heart attack at the age of 79.

Mooney’s representative Cassandra Williams told the Hollywood Reporter that Mooney died of a heart attack on Wednesday around 5:30 a.m. An official statement from Mooney’s family was to be forthcoming.

Paul Mooney
(Credit: Getty Images)

Journalist Roland Martin first shared the news on social media Wednesday about the death of the groundbreaking performer, whose career spanned seven decades, never unflinching as he commented on race, politics, and cultural issues. Rudy Early, Mooney’s cousin, relayed the news to him.

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“Rudy Ealy, the cousin of @PaulEalyMooney, told me that Paul had been suffering with dementia for some time and had been living with him. Rudy said Oakland paramedics valiantly tried to save him after suffering a heart attack this AM,” he tweeted.

The official Twitter account for Mooney also confirmed his death with a tweet, which thanked fans for their outpouring of love and condolences.

“Thank you all from the bottom of all of our hearts …you’re all are the best!…… Mooney World .. The Godfather of Comedy – ONE MOON MANY STARS! .. To all in love with this great man.. many thanks,” the tweet read.

The tributes immediately began to pour in for the beloved funny man who had a raw, but real, outtake on life that he utilized in his standup routines.

Mooney was born Paul Gladney on August 4, 1941 in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was primarily raised by his grandmother. Mooney got one of his early starts as a ringmaster at the circus, where he told jokes and found mainstream success as a writer for fellow comedian legend Richard Pryor, who starred on Saturday Night Live.

Mooney ultimately became a writer on Live on the Sunset Strip and Is It Something I Said albums and Pryor’s short-lived The Richard Pryor Show in 1977, in addition to the films Pryor starred in, including 1986’s Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. He also wrote for Good Times and Sanford and Son. Later, in the ’90s, he wrote for Fox’s In Living Color for one year.

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Mooney also acted and took on the tole of Sam Cooke in the 1978 movie, The Buddy Holly Story. In 2000, he portrayed Junebug in the flick Bamboozled.

Paul Mooney
Comedian Paul Mooney takes part in a discussion panel after the world premiere screening of “That’s What I’m Talking About” at The Museum of Television (Credit: Getty Images)

Mooney’s success continued with a new generation in the 2000s as he became a cultural touchstone for his appearance on Chappelle’s Show. Some of his beloved sketches were Ask a Black Dude and Mooney at the Movies and Negrodamus—a play on the French astrologer Nostradamus as he answered questions from a Black perspective.

In 2007, Mooney released his memoir Black Is The New White and shared with NPR what he wanted readers to take from his lived experiences.

“I can’t really say that because people say they’re shocked at, sometimes, what I say. I’m shocked at what comes out of my mouth. You know, I’m surprised. It comes from somewhere other than me because sometimes, I’m surprised at the things I say. People say to me, you know, you shock me,” he said.

“And I say. I shock myself. You know, I don’t know what to say. I mean, I think funny is funny, and that’s – I’m a comedian last and first, OK? And whatever’s in between, people will say I’m political, I’m this, I’m that, I’m racial. I mean, that’s what their response is,” he continued. “I mean, I can only live my life and my experience the way I experience it and how I react to it, you know? I’m as American as apple pie, you know. I mean, I don’t live on Mars or on some other planet. I come from Earth, so I’m relating from Earth. I’m reacting from living here.”

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