Rudy Ray Moore (1927–2008)
African-American comedian, singer, film actor, and film producer Rudy Ray Moore was known as “king of the party records” because of the popularity of his comedy albums. He released many comedy albums in the 1960s and 1970s and was best known for the character Dolemite, which he developed in his standup routine and portrayed in two films, Dolemite and The Human Tornado.
Rudy Ray Moore was born on March 17, 1927, in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). The oldest of seven children, he often sang in church and developed a taste for performance. After his mother married, he lived briefly in nearby Paris (Logan County) before moving back to Fort Smith. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of fifteen and sang and danced at local clubs. In 1950, Moore drafted into the armed forces, serving for nearly three years while stationed in Fort Cambell, Kentucky; Korea; and Berlin, Germany. He often sang for other servicemen when off duty, and when he left the service, he toured briefly with Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns, primarily as their driver, though he would perform when one of the band members could not. He also recorded several singles, primarily self-financed, though none of them achieved success. In 1959, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he began recording comedy albums.
It was as a comedian that Moore truly blossomed. Moore often crafted his jokes into poems, or “toasts,” which he recited to audiences for humorous effect. Some of these were taken from traditional African-American stories. He also utilized “the Dozens,” a form of oral competition in which two or more opponents take turns trying to one-up each other with increasingly shocking and more humorous insults. Moore’s style of standup was considered even raunchier than that of such contemporaries as Richard Pryor and Red Foxx and kept him off mainstream television and major films, but he garnered a loyal fan base and influenced later comedians, including Sam Kinison, who cited Moore as an influence.
Moore released thirty-one comedy and vocal albums. In addition, he appeared in over twenty films. But it is for Dolemite (1974) that Moore is often recognized. As part of the blaxploitation genre, Dolemite featured Moore’s signature character, a clever, tough, black pimp, followed by his kung-fu-fighting female army. Though the film is amateurish in production, Moore’s humorous dialogue made the film very popular. The film had a budget of $100,000 but made $12 million and has been an enduring cult classic. (Another Arkansan, Jerry Jones, wrote the screenplay and also starred in the film.) His other films included Petey Wheatstraw (1977) and Disco Godfather (1979). In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he experienced a resurgence in popularity, with roles in Shaolin Dolemite (1999), the Insane Clown Posse’s film Big Money Hustlas (2000), and The Dolemite Explosion (2002)
Moore’s humor and style of presentation have influenced entertainers from comedians to rap artists. Snoop Dogg has said, “Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dog.” He was still performing and periodically releasing albums of comedy and music until his death on October 19, 2008.
The biopic Dolemite Is My Name, released in 2019, features Eddie Murphy portraying the role of Rudy Ray Moore.
For additional information:
Koch, Stephen. “Straight Outta Westark.” Arkansas Times, November 2019, pp. 62–64, 66–67. Online at https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2019/11/04/straight-outta-westark-rudy-ray-moore (accessed November 5, 2019).
“Rudy Ray Moore.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0601834/ (accessed October 27, 2019).
Rudy Ray Moore Official Site. http://www.rudyraymoore.com/ (accessed October 27, 2019).
Shabazz, David L., and Julian L. D. Shabazz. Dolemite: The Story of Rudy Ray Moore. Clinton, SC: Awesome Records, 1996.
C. L. Bledsoe
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