In Black America Podcast: Author Joe Henry on the 'Furious Cool' of Richard Pryor

Dec 9, 2014

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson, Jr. speaks with Joe Henry, co-author of "Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and The World That Made Him."

Richard Pryor was arguably the single most influential performer of the second half of the twentieth century, and was the most successful black actor/comedian ever. Controversial and somewhat enigmatic during his life, Pryor’s performances opened up a whole new world of possibilities, merging fantasy with angry reality in new, unthinkable ways . Now, Henry's groundbreaking book brings him to life again both as a man and as an artist, providing an in-depth exploration of his talent, his lasting influence and an insightful examination of the world he lived in and the myriad influences that shaped both his persona and his art.

No one who saw Pryor alone on stage with nothing but a microphone in his hand could have doubted that here was a man possessed of genius. But few have any sense of the strange, violent, and colorful landscape from which he emerged. His childhood in Peoria, Illinois, was spent just trying to survive. Yet the culture into which he was born (December 1, 1940)—his mother was a prostitute; his grandmother ran a brothel—helped shaped him into one of the most influential and outstanding performers of our time. Pryor attracted admiration and anger in equal parts. He was a comedian who many consider the greatest ever, yet his triumphant stand-up work has been largely eclipsed by his mediocre movie output. His personal life was likewise something of a contradiction, because Pryor was a man of deep intelligence and sensitivity yet was also someone who could never seem to make the pieces of his life come together to create a whole.