A major biography—intimate, gripping, revelatory—of an artist who revolutionized American comedy.
Richard Pryor may have been the most unlikely star in Hollywood history. Raised in his family’s brothels, he grew up an outsider to privilege. He took to the stage, originally, to escape the hard-bitten realities of his childhood, but later came to a reverberating discovery: that by plunging into the depths of his experience, he could make stand-up comedy as exhilarating and harrowing as the life he’d known. He brought that trembling vitality to Hollywood, where his movie career—Blazing Saddles, the buddy comedies with Gene Wilder, Blue Collar—flowed directly out of his spirit of creative improvisation. The major studios considered him dangerous. Audiences felt plugged directly into the socket of life.
Becoming Richard Pryor brings the man and his comic genius into focus as never before. Drawing upon a mountain of original research—interviews with family and friends, court transcripts, unpublished journals, screenplay drafts—Scott Saul traces Pryor’s rough journey to the heights of fame: from his heartbreaking childhood, his trials in the Army, and his apprentice days in Greenwich Village to his soul-searching interlude in Berkeley and his ascent in the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s.
Becoming Richard Pryor illuminates an entertainer who, by bringing together the spirits of the black freedom movement and the counterculture, forever altered the DNA of American comedy. It reveals that, while Pryor made himself a legend with his own account of his life onstage, the full truth of that life is more bracing still.
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About the Author
Scott Saul is a professor of English at the University of California–Berkeley. His writing has appeared in Harper’s, the New York Times, and The Nation, among other publications. He is the author of Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xi
Part 1 Up From Peoria
Chapter 1 Dangerous Elements 7
Chapter 2 The Backside of Life 20
Chapter 3 The Law of the Lash 37
Chapter 4 Glow, Glow Worm, Glow 59
Chapter 5 The Boot 75
Chapter 6 The Measure of a Man 92
Part 2 Man Of A Thousand Rubber Faces
Chapter 7 In Search of Openness 111
Chapter 8 Mr. Congeniality 128
Chapter 9 An Irregular Regular 147
Chapter 10 The Person in Question 166
Part 3 In The House Of Pain
Chapter 11 The King Is Dead 187
Chapter 12 Black Sun Rising 209
Chapter 13 Irreconcilable Differences 225
Chapter 14 I'm a Serious Mother 245
Part 4 King Of The scene Stealers
Chapter 15 The More I Talk, the Less I Die 273
Chapter 16 Black Goes First 299
Chapter 17 Be Glad When It's Spring, Flower 318
Chapter 18 Number One with a Bullet 336
Part 5 The Funniest Man On The Planet
Chapter 19 Every Nigger Is a Star 361
Chapter 20 Hustling 384
Chapter 21 A Man of Parts 404
Chapter 22 Giving Up Absolutely Nothing 427
Chapter 23 Can I Speak to God Right Away? 448
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An excellent summary of a brilliant comedian, with faults and problems as big as his ego. No holds are barred in telling his story, warts and all. He changed comedy, but lived an ultimately tragic life--including extraordinary acts of domestic violence. He will be remembered, but with reservations.
Becoming Richard Pryor is a well told story about the life of comedian Richard Pryor. Author Scott Saul gives great insight into the life of Pryor and what made him stand out as a comedian. A very good book.