In EW’s exclusive preview above, the special does a deep dive on Pryor’s state of mind moments before he infamously caught on fire while on a drug binge in 1980.
Pryor’s widow and ex-girlfriend both say they knew that the comedian was in a self-destructive headspace the night of the fire, and Pryor’s friend Rashon Khan cites documentary footage that he and Pryor watched together of a self-immolating monk protesting the Vietnam War as sparking the idea for the star’s major accident.
Pryor’s then-lawyer Skip Brittenham says the star explained to him the fire occurred after he doused himself in high-proof rum, and turned his torch lighter toward himself, blurring the line between impulsivity under the influence and a suicide attempt.
While an old news clip shown in the special claims Pryor had a less than 50% chance of survival, Khan notes that the same drugs that played a part in him setting himself on fire also prevented him from feeling the shocking pain that would have killed him.
The two hour special The Last Days of Richard Pryor airs on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.