I was excited to review “Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the world that made him”. I don’t generally read biographies but Pryor was one of my favorite entertainers back “in the day”. The last part of the title, ‘the world that made him’ seemed to promise some of the social history that I most enjoy. It turns out that the book, written by brothers David and Joe Henry, is neither a biography not a social history, at least not in any form that I am familiar with.
This has been a difficult review to write. The Henry brothers writing is very readable. They do look at the entertainment world that Richard Pryor existed in. The book lacked the documentation I expect but it was never meant to be a scholarly work so that is my problem not a flaw with the book. I learned quite a bit about Pryor and the state of the entertainment industry that I did not know. Ed Sullivan was a pioneer presenting black entertainers on network television? I never knew that and found it surprising that the King of plate spinners and marionettes would also showcase artists like Richard Pryor.
Whenever a new movie or comedy album was discussed, it seemed to me, that the entire body of Pryor’s work was gone over again until I was totally confused about what the new project was, what came before and what was being discussed that had not happened yet. I don’t read about entertainment, maybe that is normal in the genre. I found it confusing.
My biggest problem with the book, what made this review so difficult to write, should be a plus for the Henry brothers as historians, they managed to stay impartial on Pryor’s violence with the women in his life. They simply reported the facts, as soon as there was serious commitment Pryor did what he could to drive women away, violence was a common tactic. They reported it, they did not try to hide it, they did not try to sugarcoat it, but I really wanted something more. What I am not sure, perhaps a look at the socioeconomic and cultural conditions that empowered him to beat multiple women and prevented them from leaving him. Maybe talk to the woman and get their side of the story? Of all of Pryor’s self destructive behavior it was the way he treated women that bothered me the most.
Overall this is a well written book but be prepared for Pryor, and others, bad behavior.