Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

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Overview


“Richard Pryor was chain lightning to everything around him. He shocked the world through with human electricity. He blew all our comfortable balance to hell. And Furious Cool captures it brilliantly.” —Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

Richard Pryor was arguably the single most influential performer of the second half of the twentieth century, and certainly he was the most successful black actor/comedian ever. Controversial and...

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Overview


“Richard Pryor was chain lightning to everything around him. He shocked the world through with human electricity. He blew all our comfortable balance to hell. And Furious Cool captures it brilliantly.” —Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

Richard Pryor was arguably the single most influential performer of the second half of the twentieth century, and certainly he was the most successful black actor/comedian ever. Controversial and somewhat enigmatic during his life, Pryor’s performances opened up a  whole new world of possibilities, merging fantasy with angry reality in a way that wasn’t just new—it was theretofore unthinkable.

Now, in this groundbreaking and revelatory work, Joe and David Henry bring him alive again both as a man and as an artist, providing an in-depth appreciation of his talent and his lasting influence, as well as an insightful examination of the world he lived in and the myriad influences that shaped both his persona and his art.

“Brothers David and Joe Henry have brought Richard Pryor back to pulsating life, affirming both his humanity and his immortality as a comic--and tragic--genius.” —The Huffington Post

“A sleek, highly literate biography that places the comic in the pop-cultural context of his times.” —Bloomberg News

“It would be enough if Furious Cool was a profile of Pryor’s uncanny talents, psychic turmoil, and ungovernable behavior, but it’s also a fascinating history of black comedy . . . Furious Cool captures Pryor’s frenetic routines and stage presence on the page . . . The inextricable legacy of Richard Pryor—his boldness, inventiveness, candor, and empathy—lives on.” —Los Angeles Magazine

“An addictively readable study of the path of this outsized talent . . . Someday, when fewer people know Richard Pryor’s name, Furious Cool will be the best defense against the worst sort of forgetting--the kind that involves who we are now, who we loved once, and why.” —Esquire

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Jerry Seinfeld hailed him as "the Picasso of our profession." Bob Newhart called him "the seminal comedian of the last 50 years." Richard Pryor (1940-2005) was the first ever winner of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, but he was also the son of a prostitute and a hustler and a young man who grew up in his abusive grandmother's brothel. This biography of the edgy stand-up comedian and actor shows a genius emerging hesitantly from this tragic cocoon. David and Joe Henry's Furious Cool doesn't neglect the violence or domestic discord of his life or that only the last of Pryor's seven marriages lasted more than a year or two. A sensitive portrait of the intense man Comedy Central named as the number one stand-up comedian of all-time.

The New York Times Book Review - Mel Watkins
Furious Cool…is not an intimate, determinedly probing account that sets out to unearth previously concealed biographical detail or attempts to reassess a life or provide continuity. It's more an admiring primer, an impressionistic riff that trips selectively through the…triumphs and tragedies that marked Pryor's career, offering piquant snippets and fleeting snapshots as it prospects for the source of his genius…Pryor…was much more than just a comic to David and Joe Henry. And it is their passionate belief in his transcendent status that energizes the book…The authors, who are white, acknowledge some initial wariness about diving headlong into an examination of the social impact of a larger-than-life African-American cultural hero. But finally it is their affirmation of the influence Pryor had outside the black community and beyond comedy that perhaps most commends this book. It is a testament to his stature not only as an African-American entertainment idol but also as an American icon.
Reviews

“Richard Pryor was chain lightning to everything around him. He shocked the world through with human electricity. He blew all our comfortable balance to hell. And Furious Cool captures it brilliantly. Dave and Joe Henry have done an incredible job allowing us to experience 'the only Richard you could possibly be talking about.' Part memoir, part biography, part poem, part history, part ballad, it manages to sing a wake song for an incredible American. If Richard's comedy was theft-proof, his genius was always shared. This is a book worth savoring.” —Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

“An addictively readable study of the path of this outsized talent . . . [A] blazing entertainment history to authoritative meditation on culture.” —Esquire

“The brothers David and Joe Henry--a screenwriter and songwriter--note early in this book, ‘At times, both of us have wondered whether Richard Pryor was truly ours to approach.’ After deciding they felt ‘not a racial but a human kinship’ to Pryor, they forged ahead, and we should be glad they did . . . Loving but clear-eyed, the book conveys how brilliant and maddening Pryor could be.” —The New York Times

“The flames of genius burn bright and all too often too briefly. Incendiary, foulmouthed comic icon Richard Pryor changed the face of comedy and possessed, as biographers David and Joe Henry put it, a Furious Cool.” —Vanity Fair

“A sleek, highly literate biography that places the comic in the pop-cultural context of his times.” —Bloomberg News

Furious Cool is a fabulous history, alive with fascinating characters both reacting to and creating world-changing events; it is a study of the seismic cultural shifts of the second half of the twentieth century, when everything we knew about music, literature, television, theater, and yes, comedy, was turned upside down and sideways, blowing our minds and resetting all expectations; it is a documentary of epic proportions, based as it is upon mountains of research (all of it refined, sifted, and clarified); it is a love song and a dirge and silly ditty and a symphony of every emotion . . . Every person on the planet has to find his or her way to the truth of life's unfairness, beauty, sadness, opportunities and limits. That I could get myself part way there riding on waves of laughter was a wonderful gift, and it was Pryor's gift. Furious Cool reminds me of his present, and his presence, and for this, I give thanks to the Henry brothers.” —The Huffington Post

“It would be enough if Furious Cool was a profile of Pryor's uncanny talents, psychic turmoil, and ungovernable behavior, but it's also a fascinating history of black comedy . . . Furious Cool captures Pryor’s frenetic routines and stage presence on the page . . . The inextricable legacy of Richard Pryor—his boldness, inventiveness, candor, and empathy—lives on.” —Los Angeles Magazine

“A beautifully written account of the troubled life of a manic genius.” Booklist, starred review

“Richard Pryor was the most free black man of the 20th century. He also was a comic genius. This book gives the definitive reasons why he was so free and so sublime.” Dr. Cornel West

“Richard Pryor lives again in the pages of Furious Cool by David and Joe Henry. With heart and grace and witnessing, they show us how and why this comic and tragic genius changed the culture of this country when he could not change himself. You may be meeting or rediscovering Pryor, but he's likely to change you, too.” Gloria Steinem

Library Journal
11/01/2013
The brothers Henry animate the blazing talent of the late comedian Richard Pryor in this irreverent, profanity-laced biography that follows him from his brothel childhood (his mother was a sex worker, his grandmother a madam) to his furious and ferocious adulthood. (LJ 9/15/13)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
Biography of the comedic genius, anticipating the authors' in-the-works film script on Pryor's work and hard times. Pryor was a careful autobiographer, as witness the revelations in his popular concert films from the early 1980s. He was also a brilliant improviser and actor who would single-handedly "populate his stages with upward of eight or ten characters who he permitted to flirt with, mock, con, love, hate, enchant, and begat each other." The Henry brothers, one a screenwriter, the other a music producer, do not add materially to what Pryor has told us about himself, except to note that his frequent protestations that he had quit drugs were lies. Indeed, on many matters, they rely too heavily on the memoirs of Pryor's ever-patient friend Paul Mooney. What adds value to this book is the authors' expert sociological constructions, some of which they do not follow as closely as they might have. For instance, it is a noteworthy observation (though not original to the Henrys) that Pryor, more than any other single source, may have brought the "N-word" into common usage in popular culture; they could have explored it more. Along the way, they venture useful notes on the influence of Dick Gregory, the frequent betrayals (including Pryor's assumption that Mel Brooks was going to cast him as the sheriff in Blazing Saddles, a good bit of which Pryor wrote), and of course, Pryor's incessant drinking, drug use and sad demise. The book is a touch slapdash at times--the spelling is Sandy Koufax, not "Kofax"; someone from Wales is Welsh, not "Welch"; Moms Mabley never worked a room clean if she could help it--but it's mostly insightful and often entertaining all the same. A mixed bag but worth reading. Those who do will be inspired to give Pryor's concert films fresh screenings.
From the Publisher

“Richard Pryor was chain lightning to everything around him. He shocked the world through with human electricity. He blew all our comfortable balance to hell. And Furious Cool captures it brilliantly. Dave and Joe Henry have done an incredible job allowing us to experience 'the only Richard you could possibly be talking about.' Part memoir, part biography, part poem, part history, part ballad, it manages to sing a wake song for an incredible American. If Richard's comedy was theft-proof, his genius was always shared. This is a book worth savoring.” —Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

“An addictively readable study of the path of this outsized talent . . . [A] blazing entertainment history to authoritative meditation on culture.” —Esquire

“The brothers David and Joe Henry--a screenwriter and songwriter--note early in this book, ‘At times, both of us have wondered whether Richard Pryor was truly ours to approach.’ After deciding they felt ‘not a racial but a human kinship’ to Pryor, they forged ahead, and we should be glad they did . . . Loving but clear-eyed, the book conveys how brilliant and maddening Pryor could be.” —The New York Times

“The flames of genius burn bright and all too often too briefly. Incendiary, foulmouthed comic icon Richard Pryor changed the face of comedy and possessed, as biographers David and Joe Henry put it, a Furious Cool.” —Vanity Fair

“A sleek, highly literate biography that places the comic in the pop-cultural context of his times.” —Bloomberg News

Furious Cool is a fabulous history, alive with fascinating characters both reacting to and creating world-changing events; it is a study of the seismic cultural shifts of the second half of the twentieth century, when everything we knew about music, literature, television, theater, and yes, comedy, was turned upside down and sideways, blowing our minds and resetting all expectations; it is a documentary of epic proportions, based as it is upon mountains of research (all of it refined, sifted, and clarified); it is a love song and a dirge and silly ditty and a symphony of every emotion . . . Every person on the planet has to find his or her way to the truth of life's unfairness, beauty, sadness, opportunities and limits. That I could get myself part way there riding on waves of laughter was a wonderful gift, and it was Pryor's gift. Furious Cool reminds me of his present, and his presence, and for this, I give thanks to the Henry brothers.” —The Huffington Post

“It would be enough if Furious Cool was a profile of Pryor's uncanny talents, psychic turmoil, and ungovernable behavior, but it's also a fascinating history of black comedy . . . Furious Cool captures Pryor’s frenetic routines and stage presence on the page . . . The inextricable legacy of Richard Pryor—his boldness, inventiveness, candor, and empathy—lives on.” —Los Angeles Magazine

“A beautifully written account of the troubled life of a manic genius.” Booklist, starred review

“Richard Pryor was the most free black man of the 20th century. He also was a comic genius. This book gives the definitive reasons why he was so free and so sublime.” Dr. Cornel West

“Richard Pryor lives again in the pages of Furious Cool by David and Joe Henry. With heart and grace and witnessing, they show us how and why this comic and tragic genius changed the culture of this country when he could not change himself. You may be meeting or rediscovering Pryor, but he's likely to change you, too.” Gloria Steinem

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616200787
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 11/5/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 335,745
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

David Henry is a screenwriter, and his brother Joe Henry is a songwriter/singer as well as a music producer. Furious Cool is their first book. They are also at work on a screenplay based on Pryor’s life and career. 

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Customer Reviews

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( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 26, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    An absolutely brilliant look into the life and career of comic g

    An absolutely brilliant look into the life and career of comic great Richard Pryor!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014

    Using different parameters on what stuff great comedians or ente

    Using different parameters on what stuff great comedians or entertainers are made of, Richard Pryor comes out as my best, most cryptic and most natural comedian of them all. The author did a good job of bringing out his best and his worst, his creative ingenuity and his self-destructive side, as well as so many of the inner contradictions that haunt variously gifted people. Identifying traits or characters of him in other people in real life or in fiction helped me to understand him better. Like in some of the characters in The Usurper and Other Stories, he lived his life obeying his instincts, never reining in his impulses and being himself, whatever that is, at a given time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2014

    Alley

    Im there

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2014

    Mason

    Alley surf res12

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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