BetteBack 1977: “A Star Spangled Night for Rights” Turns Sour

Oxnard Press Courier
September 19, 1977

LOS ANGELES (AP) – It was billed as “A Star Spangled Night for Rights.” But the, question was, whose rights?

Aaron Russo coordinated the benefit at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night to show “the entertainment industry feels deeply about human rights.” The evening’s focus was on gay rights.

But comedian Richard Pryor, in a performance that stunned audience members and evoked jeers, was thinking in more general terms.

He criticized the show for emphasizing gay rights over other human rights. Pointing out the sparse showing of blacks in the audience, he said that when the Watts section of Los Angeles was being burned in 1965, “you were doing what you wanted to do on Hollywood Boulevard and didn’t give a damn about it.”

The audience had gathered for the “celebration of human rights” with performances by Pryor, comedienne Lily Tomlin, singers Bette Midler and Tom Waits, singing group War and others.

But the celebration turned sour in the second half of the show, when Pryor delivered 15 minutes of biting humor, satirizing gay rights in a delivery laced with obscenities.

“This is an evening about human rights and I am a human being. And I just wanted to see where you were really at,”
Pryor told the audience, which included entertainment, figures Paul N e w m a n, Olivia Newton John, Valeric Harper, Robert Blake and Helen Reddy.

. “I wanted to test you to your … soul. I’m doing this for nothing – they ain’t paying me no money…”

M o m e n t s l a t e r , P r y o r slammed the microphone onto the stand, uttered a vulgarism and left the stage.
P r o d u c e r R u s s o f o l l o w e d P r y o r, saying, “I’m terribly embarrassed and don’t’ know what to say about what .just happened. But I do think this show tonight started out and will end up on a positive note.”

A b o u t Pryor, Russo commented, “The man has his own sense and he did what he wanted to do.”

Singer Bette Midler responded/in kind, saying, “Well, who wants to kiss this rich, white – ?” The crowd gave her a standing ovation.

Proceeds of the show were to go to the Save Our H u m a n Rights Foundation, a non-profit San Francisco-based group established “with respect to human rights, human behavior and interpersonal relationships.

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