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Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616200782
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616200787
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2013: Richard Pryor was nobody's hero. The man sired accidental children, lived most of his life as a junkie, and even set himself on fire, but he was also one of the twentieth century's most notable American geniuses. With the release of Furious Cool, brothers David and Joe Henry have written the definitive tribute to Pryor's momentous cultural legacy. But this is no straightforward biography: structured as a long series of roughly chronological vignettes, the resulting impressionistic portrait mirrors the flights of fancy that marked Pryor's most memorable stand-up comedy performances. Like Lenny Bruce before him and Bill Hicks later, Pryor's fearlessness as a performer not only yielded incomparable recorded performances but also changed audience expectations and widened the art form forever after. Sensitive to this transformative import, Henry and Henry nevertheless portray Pryor the man with all of his failings in the full glare of the spotlight. In the 25 years between his self-immolation and his eventual passing, Pryor's creative output went from bad (The Toy, Brewster's Millions) to sad ("Richard Pryor at the Helm of Comedy"), but nothing in his long, slow fall from an admittedly twisted grace diminishes his accomplishments, and Furious Cool resists the fan's impetus toward hagiography in favor of an artistic performance of the written word that does lovely justice to a brilliant, tortured man. --Jason Kirk

Review

“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

(Reviews)

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Customer Reviews

I understand much better now.
The JuRK
It’s been a very long time since I laughed out loud reading a book.
David Wineberg
A great view of a broken and extremely talented man's life.
Kathryn Conn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Unlike most biographies, clinically assembled from reams of letters, with forced neutrality and distance, Furious Cool is a product of two lifelong fans’ clear passion. They give the book a perspective and an evaluation you don’t often see, at least not competently. Furious Cool puts the whole package together tightly and swiftly.

Richard Pryor was a comedic trailblazer, but he did it almost by accident. He stumbled for years. His skills came along later, and he abused them like he abused his wives, his friends and himself. He did not recognize his own peak as it passed, thankfully, onto DVD instead of oblivion. He missed his rapid descent, because he didn’t care any more. His later films were all useless trash; he freely admitted doing them for the money, which was freely tossed at him because of his fame.

He reminds me of Lenny Bruce, flailing in all directions at the end – about his own plight - while succumbing to drugs and alcohol. Pryor was at his sharpest when he portrayed an entire community of characters, at his weakest when he explained Richard Pryor. The authors compare him to Shakespeare’s Falstaff, but that is too superficial. His tragedy was a slow motion violent train wreck over decades, preventable at every step of the way, but irrelevant to Pryor himself.

When he was on his game, he was in total control – of the whole world: “You perched on the edge of your seat, just in case Richard at any moment did something that would make it necessary for every black person to suddenly drop whatever he or she was doing and run like hell.” He knocked over racial barriers and taboos like sandcastles, freely stepped on toes and raised race to a new high in public conscience and appreciation.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bobby Ferguson on November 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rob Slaven TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Firstly and as usual, I received this book for because someone was giving it away in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I'll give my candid opinions below.

This book is at once a biography and a textbook on sociology. The opening chapters focus on black comedy and the environment into which Pryor entered the entertainment world. Throughout the book the names fall like rain and anybody who ever was or hoped to be anybody entered the scene for at least a bit. About a third of the way in we get down to the man himself.

On the positive side, the background presented in this book is thoroughly entertaining and much of the information was eye-opening and uniquely informative. I found myself scrounging YouTube looking for snippets of the people and bits referred to. It's a fascinating period of history. As to the bits about Pryor himself, the story of his life is at once horrifying and hilarious. This lived a life of incredible pain, as with most comedians, and the book doesn't hesitate one bit to be absolutely candid about what happened. From the sexual abuse he suffered as a child to the night he set himself on fire, this book goes into it all in sometimes painful detail.

On the negative side, all that detail can sometimes be a bit much. The story is only roughly chronological and meanders in sometimes confusing fashion. All the parts of a great story are here but they need to be straightened out a bit into a more cohesive whole. I felt at times that we were just jumping about for no good reason. There's a real lack of cohesion.

In summary, after the first third of the book I thought this would be a keeper. I tend to get rid of almost all the review books I get but on rare occasion I'll keep one about permanently for future rereading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steve C. on December 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Off-beat and compelling look at an off-beat and compelling man. As others have pointed out, Furious Cool is more of a mood piece than a linear biography, but all of Pryor's highlights and lowlights are laid out here for those as interested in his life as his work. It's well-written, though the authors' attempts to riff like Pryor and capture some of his improvisational magic on the written page meet with varying success. The authors are admitted fans and though they give a pretty objective account of Pryor's personal missteps and foibles, they are far from objective about his work. Pryor was a brilliant comic and an electrifying presence, but his brilliance as a screen actor, presented repeatedly in the book as inarguable, is arguable. His screen performances can vary from can't look away to can't look. Also, the authors' admiration for their subject often leads them to adopt his stances without question as their own. If Pryor was contemptuous of another performer (for example, Chevy Chase), that performer is presented unflatteringly in the book. The postscript that tries to tie in Pryor with Hurricane Catrina was gratuitous and maudlin, and if the authors were trying to present Furious Cool as a jazz composition, they ended it on a flat note. With all that, I give Furious Cool four stars because it's a fascinating and very readable account that manages to do justice in a unique way to a unique talent.
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