BROTHER SAM: The Short Spectacular Life of Sam Kinison by Bill Kinison with Steve Delsohn. (Morrow: $22; 315 pp.) Not everyone liked comedian Sam Kinison's brand of screaming, irreverent humor, but as a performer he was, without question, a true American original. "Brother Sam," written by his older brother and manager, Bill Kinison, sets out to illuminate the man behind the agonized yell.
Sam Kinison was a high school dropout, a traveling Pentecostal-style preacher (along with his father and brother) and a rebel. His comedy was connected to his rage by an unbroken line that made him a millionaire and simultaneously alienated much of the entertainment industry. He died in a car crash in 1992.
This material, though compelling, feels so close to Bill Kinison's heart that it's almost impossible to see Sam. Instead we see Bill's Sam who is often tragic, funny, original and sharp, but not, one suspects, the same man that would have emerged if this book had been written by another person. Bill Kinison raised co-dependency to new heights, even accepting a drug sentence for Sam and attending five months of court-mandated rehab in his place.
In spite of being both too close and not close enough, "Brother Sam" is a completely engaging biography. Bill Kinison spends exactly the right amount of time on each chapter of Sam's life, and although we hunger for input from other human sources, particularly his third wife, Malika, the book still manages to quote magazine articles and pieces of Sam's routines very effectively.