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Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul
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Becoming Richard Pryor

by Scott Saul

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√ A Tragic Life from Sad Beginnings

This review is from: Becoming Richard Pryor (Hardcover)
BECOMING RICHARD PRYOR is an extensive, well-researched look at the life of Richard Pryor. In fact, the author notes that he actually interviewed hundreds of people for this book. Much of the narrative involves Richard's grandmother Marie, who actually was part of the prostitution family business, which influenced much of Pryor's early childhood: "She may have been a madam but she was also a mother who took care of her family, and a church going woman."

I found BECOMING RICHARD PRYOR a very sad read. It is difficult for me to even imagine the disastrous upbringing that he experienced. Sadly, Richard experienced lots of beatings--especially from his father: "His father would brag, 'my son never cries when I whoop him.' But there was a simple explanation for that. One punch from Buck and Richard was out."

One bright spot was when the young Richard found a helpful teacher at the local community center. She gave him some acting roles, and encouraged him in many practical ways. Another light-hearted section was where the author recounts one practical joke that Richard played on his drama teacher. The nice (but naive) teacher wanted the group to go on a field trip into town--to see what would happen to them if they didn't study hard. It was like a "Show and Tell" day. Young Richard had an inspired thought--he guided the kids on a "shortcut" down the alley, right in front of the brothels that he knew so well, from the family business. As the kids passed by, the ladies were all looking out the windows, waving at the kids. They even invited the kids inside for lemonade. Later, the teacher remarked how well behaved and nice those women were.

One of the most horrible parts of Richard Pryor's life was the well-known account where he was playing with fire and wanted to see if he could set himself on fire--which of course he did. Pryor ran down the street, burning, with police in chase trying to help him. Pryor was just yelling to the police that if he were to stop he would die. I found this account to be horrific beyond belief.

Other sad events in his life: Besides doing very poorly at school, Richard's stint in the Army also did not go very well. He was booted out--he did not even make a good plumber in the army. And finally, Richard Pryor in 1986 was diagnosed with "MS," or multiple sclerosis.

√ All in all, BECOMING RICHARD PRYOR is a sad, bittersweet tale of a man who escaped a miserable upbringing, and managed to climb to the height of his profession. I found the story to be a sobering, tragic account. Formatting note: At the end of the book the author includes an extensive notes section to support his various comments in the chapters

♫ A Review by Chris Lawson

( )
  bassocantor | Dec 11, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062123300, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:28 -0400)

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