Obsessed with Richard Pryor since they were kids, David and Joe Henry celebrate Pryor’s genius in this groundbreaking and profoundly entertaining biography. The brothers recently had a conversation with National Book Award winner Colum McCann about researching Pryor and working as a writing team.
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by David Henry and Joe Henry
No one who saw Richard 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—his mother was a prostitute; his grandmother ran the whorehouse—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. His was a fascinating, larger-than-life personality; he was as pivotal and essential a figure as Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, or Muhammad Ali. Pryor the solo artist brought to a pop-obsessed generation the news that they had a past with deep roots that spoke to our shared humanity. Through David and Joe Henry, Richard Pryor speaks to us still.