Review: Furious Cool

David and Joe Henry are Richard Pryor fans of the first order, and even they can’t make his life into a happy story. Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him, tells the well researched and sad story of Pryor’s rise to become one of the most popular and respected comedians of the late 70’s and early 80’s and his subsequent decline. Though that long title promises some inquiry into the state of the world, Pryor holds center stage throughout.

The Henrys do a good job of describing the depth and honesty that made Pryor, briefly, one of the most dynamic and deep comedians in the world.  I am not a Richard Pryor superfan, but I remember seeing his concert films and realizing that his honesty and comedic chops made him something special.  With a reference or a few words from a bit, the Henrys bring those moments to life and reawaken the possibility of those clear, raw, moments.

Then they have to talk about the relentless drug abuse and lure of big money and bad films that turned Pryor into a has been too soon. It’s hard to decide which is sadder, the personal self-destructive urge to light himself on fire in mid-binge or presenting a shadow of himself in awful film after awful film just to get the money.

Through it all the Henrys keep the narrative moving though the tone can be grim.  There are a few spots than could stand to see more aggressive editing, but overall the book holds your attention keenly and pulls you along.


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