There was no special on Black Entertainment Television. No heartwarming-but-hilarious scripted showing of respect at the MTV Movie Awards. No flood of magazine covers or “Special Edition” issues on bookstore shelves or newsstands everywhere. There was not even a mention in memoriam during the Oscars.
Comic legend Rudy Ray Moore died October 19, 2008. Customary write-ups were published in such notable press as USA Today and the New York Times, and each clip mentioned the 81 year-old entertainer succumbing to complications from diabetes. They spoke of the adult humor displayed during the Ohio native’s stand-up comedy routines, which led Moore to be labeled X-rated. There was talk of him working with hip-hop acts Snoop, Big Daddy Kane, and Busta Rhymes among others. Of course they brought up his film career, with Moore having starred in such adored cult classic as the stand-up comedy film Rude, Avenging Disco Godfather, and Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law.
Mostly these publications highlighted Moore’s portrayal of his popular character and alter ego Dolemite – a butt-kicking, club-owning traveling entertainer most commonly depicted as a pimp. Headlining a motion picture of the same name plus its sequel The Human Tornado, Dolemite often found himself in the detested crosshairs of both gangsters and law enforcement, and the lusting sights of the many Karate-trained women who occupied his mansion and flirtatious attention.
Sprinkled throughout each of these articles were brief mentions of his personal life and extensive catalog of acclaimed comedy albums. A few minor film roles shot during his final years were generally detailed in closing.
Clearly, Moore’s death did not go completely unnoticed. But was he at all celebrated? The bigger question may be: Why does he deserve to be? Comedians and actors Rodney Perry and Michael Colyar both have respective answers.
“Rudy Ray Moore was a bad mutha before there were bad muthas,” says Perry, the Chicago native and host of Bounce TV’s Off The Chain. “He was our first super hero kicking ass and taking names. The man’s threat and the ladies pet. An actor, a comedian and a poet, he is and was a renaissance man.”
“Rudy was legendary to a certain level,” says Coylar, also a motivational speaker. “He didn’t ever really cross over. He never reached a big, wide, young-money audience. I think the height of his [career] was to be Dolemite, but even at the height of his popularity, for his era, what he did was still innovative.”
Moore, like other revered comics, employed storytelling in his act. His jokes had destinations, a well-planned plot that led you from point A to B. Arriving at the punchline usually resulted in a big laugh for the audience. Where Moore differed from his peers was his use of poetry. This style of his is often described as either signifying or rapping. Regardless of how it’s labeled the base was still the use of poetics. Moore began his ascension in entertainment as an R&B songwriter and singer. He was accustomed to articulating words through rhythm, following measures, escalating a subject to a climatic finish. Applying this to comedy was a pioneering effort. Acclaimed poet/spoken word star Azizi Jasper says Moore was “a pioneer in Black film and one of the most recognizable faces of the Blacksploitation genre. Much like the genre of films that he popularizes, his legacy is a mixture of artistic prowess and points of brilliance and the misogyny and edge that the genre is consistently berated for. Love him or hate him he unapologetically represented the dichotomy of hero and villain with once-in-a-generation charisma. He was hip- hop before the term was invented.”
The relationship Moore had with hip-hop was far more pronounced than his few music video cameo appearances and album skits. To its artists he was a trendsetter; a colorfully dressed rhymer who performed uncut to music. He spoke in vivid details with intentions to impress. He made one of his biggest impressions in the movie House Party with hip-hop duo Kid-N-Play and the original hip-hop band Full Force. While Moore does not physically appear in the film, Dolemite is mentioned. We hear a clip of one his most famous tales, “The Signifyin’ Monkey”, in the background of a pivotal scene. “Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite plus his stand-up comedy was legendary while growing up,” says Bowlegged Lou of Full Force, who plays antagonist Pee-Wee in House Party. “His straight up funny expressions and brash voice when he spoke was crazy entertaining. He was viewed in the same circles as Leroy & Skillet, LaWanda Page, Pigmeat Markham, the great Redd Foxx, and lots of those true school comics that helped to build a foundation. Though I didn’t lift anything from Rudy for my House Party character, just by him being the classic genius he was always kept me aware of his comedic talents.”
Two years before his passing, Moore took his comedic talents to Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel (now The D Las Vegas). Michael Colyar booked the attraction, and he got to see Moore’s genius at work first-hand during the last years of his life. “You could never see Rudy at the mainstream theaters because his material was never even R; it was always XXX-rated,” Colyar says. “In those arenas there’s only so far you can go. Was it sad he died with not a whole lot of fanfare? Of course it was. Did he make an impression nonetheless? Of course he did. I just can’t speak on how deserving he was of more attention beyond the circles he’s known for being in.”
Perry adds: “I had a chance to see him live. One word: Awesome. We comedians can only hope to affect this business the way he did. Rudy Ray Moore was through with it before we knew what to do with it.”
The extent of Rudy Ray Moore’s impact, like that of any celebrity, can be debated from different points of view. His gift was his curse. He was seen but unseen. Surely, plenty eyes brought him far enough into focus to suggest others take a closer look. Moore’s death was not highly publicized; his passing was not of the torch. It remains likely someone in this generation or the next could find a flame in his rock-solid comedy catalog.
But does Rudy Ray Moore deserve to be celebrated?
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.