Becoming Richard Pryor
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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 Drawing upon a mountain of original research—interviews with family and friends, court transcripts, unpublished journals, screenplay drafts—Scott Saul traces Pryor’s rough journey to the heights of fame: from his heartbreaking childhood, his trials in the Army, and his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.
shouldn’t refuse: a supporting role as a mechanic-turned-assassin in Hit! The film reunited much of the cast of the earlier film, including Richard and Billie Dee Williams, and below the line, its cinematographer and editor. Conceptually Hit! was a “Lincoln-doctor’s-dog of a movie,” borrowing as many bankable formulas as possible. The French Connection, Mission: Impossible, The Dirty Dozen, Death Wish—all were blended together in its story of a federal narcotics agent (Williams) who, after his
and Blues Critic,” San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 11, 2006; Alan Farley, “Vignettes Amidst the Pimps,” San Francisco Examiner, May 16, 1971, p. 5. 249 “unfunny and not original”: Cecil Brown, “Remembering Richard Pryor: A True Friend and Comic Genius,” AOL Black Voices, Dec. 12, 2005; “a major figure”: Philip Elwood, “Comic Pryor Is Young, Black and Outrageous,” San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 20, 1971, p. 8. 249 “endless creativity”: Alan Farley, “Media Monitor,” KPFA Folio, Mar. 1971, p.
church service at St. Patrick’s Church like his wife, Ann. And since he had received a Section 8 discharge from the army, he could not be honored with a veteran’s burial. Phone calls were made, and a compromise was found: the funeral would be held in the gymnasium attached to St. Patrick’s parochial school. Six days after Buck’s death, his open casket was placed at center court at 10:00 a.m. The bleachers were pulled in to accommodate the hundred people who came to pay their respects, no small
below-the-line technicians whose professionalism he admired. Hanging out on the set with Mooney, Richard observed some set decorators spraying the streets with a shiny substance that made them glisten with the look of fresh rain. “What’s that stuff?” Richard asked. “It’s called ‘nigger-size,’” a set decorator answered. His tongue didn’t pause over the word; his eyes didn’t meet Richard’s to gauge his reaction. “Nigger-size?” Mooney asked. “Yeah, it’s what we nigger-size the streets with.” This
The film opened with a black maid having her pussy eaten at the breakfast table by the wealthy white man who owned the house where she worked. Then, a gang of Black Panther types burst into the house and took him prisoner. As he was led away, the maid fixed her dress and called, “Bon appétit, baby!” After that memorable kiss-off, the white man was put on trial “for all the racial crimes in U.S. history.” He pled his case in a basement courtroom, in front of a black judge and a jury stocked with