Live or Die: A Stroke of Good Luck, by Richard L. Burns (Reviewed by Floyd A. Logan)

Live or Die: A Stroke of Good Luck, by Richard L. Burns, reviewed on Sept. 25, 2010 by Floyd A. Logan, San Rafael, CA.

Richard Burns of California wrote a 160 page memoir and self help book published in 2008.

Richard was one of the premier advertising executives in the 1960s. His ad campaigns for airlines, restaurants and personal products were iconic.

Richard was part of the group that thought of painting smiles on the noses of planes. They understood the catchy appeal of those “fruit of the loom” characters in their colorful costumes.  He achieved a high level of success by age 38, when he seemed to have all that anyone could want; a loving wife, three healthy children, and the knowledge that some of his ideas had a direct and lasting influence on American culture.

It was then, at the relatively young age of thirty-eight, that Richard was felled by a massive cerebral hemorrhage.  There was severe cranial bleeding, with almost no detectable brain function. Immediately following the stroke, he suffered total paralysis.  The doctors came to his wife, Nancy, and said “there is nothing we can do, you should make arrangements.”  Nancy even wrote an obituary describing Richards’ life, his epic career, and his closeness with his family. All vital signs had become muted or absent.  In essence, Richard L. Burns died on Dec. 26, 1968.  Nancy’s immediate concerns included selecting which flowers would be at his funeral service.

Floyd Logan lives in San Rafael.  He is a Literature enthusiast and amateur writer.  If you have questions or comments about his review, he can be contacted by email at

Richard later described this time of “un-living.”  He didn’t hear the celestial symphonies of seraphim or the scary choirs of cherubim. What Richard does recall is being sent through a smoky tunnel; a very long, dark tunnel.  This tunnel had only one other feature; a tiny white light in the distance, far away from him.  There was an overwhelming urge to reach that light, for unknown reasons.  Before he could do so, the twinkling light receded even further away from him. That’s where his recollection stops.  That’s where Richard’s new life began.

Richard had to learn to do basic things for himself all over again.  Back in the ‘60s and ’70s there were appropriate tools to diagnose and rehabilitate, but they were unsophisticated compared to what’s available now.  Most types of physical therapy for stroke victims were dreaded because they were invasive and painful. And so his rebirth, borne of pain, suffering and humility, was leavened with periods of depression, boredom and irritability.

It was a blessing to Richard and his family that he continued to live, to endure and eventually to thrive in spite of the scrambling his brain and nervous system went through.  It added to Richard’s pleasure that the pace and scope of his recovery defied the doom saying from all of his doctors.   Indeed, his family was glad to have Richard in this world, and on this plane of existence.  But Richard could be hellish to deal with when things didn’t go his way.  Richard was known as the stereotypic alpha male; a roaring success in a very competitive profession. Even before the stroke, he was known to have a fiery temper.  The stroke caused Richard severe feelings of anxiety due to his physical and mental limitations.  Here was Richard the Ad Man, who suddenly could not speak without slurring, could hardly walk without falling, and could hardly even swallow food without choking.  Even worse, he could not think without doubting.

Although Richards’ children were quite young back in 1968 when he had his stroke, they had already become accustomed to him, so they knew his rages to be temporary and his love for them to be ongoing.  Nancy is the one who really kept the family intact during this time of reinvention and regeneration.   One way she helped to preserve the family unit (and their marriage) was to return to work. Another way she supported them was to help Richard improve his attitude as he recuperated.  Nancy’s feeling was that if Richard was well enough to loudly curse in frustration and to destroy plumbing fixtures around the house, then he was ready to show more self control as well.

After one of his tirades about some minor difference of opinion, Nancy took Richard to the side, away from the kids, and told him to stop the self-righteous tantrums and to apologize to his children. After many years, Richard was well enough to market himself as a business consultant.  This was necessary because the advertising job he used to have was no longer available. The ad firm had moved on without him, filling his position long ago.  Richard found great value and solace in his self-assessment and self-evaluation.  In many ways Richard was his own best counselor.  One may presume that his methodical, broad approach to self analysis was similar to the way he worked on advertising campaigns.  Frequently, Richard would ask himself questions, such as: Am I happy being what I am?  Was it better than not being included at all?  Am I doing things capably?  Do I work for ‘complete’ recovery?  What do I do with this recovery?

As a reviewer, I was struck by the numerous editing errors.  Most of the errors are in the first half of the book.  About seven or eight total, that I’ve seen so far. There are repetitions of words, words out of order, and letters missing. Perhaps this is a ‘self-published’ book that did not ever have much editing.  Or maybe this is the way Richard wrote it and wanted it; raw, unadorned and not overly fussed with. I look at the Table of Contents.  The typefaces.  Bold Gothic announces the chapter numbers, and delicate italics allow Richard to jam a lot of visuals, slogans and emotive language from the ‘archives’ of popular advertising.  There is almost a texture to it, a tactile sensation of fonts; heavy/ light, heavy/ light.  One can surmise that Richard would like to write or speak at great length about each and every one of those concepts.  Either he doesn’t like writing enough to make it happen or doesn’t think he could ever actually do it.  So instead, he fills our mind with snapshots and clip-art and affectations of significance.  I suppose that is what Ad Men are supposed to do.

The first few chapters are fragmented and unclear in sequence. It’s not until the last third of the book that the theme and tempo synchronize, similar in some respects to the way his life experience has been. Richard will inspire and improve the lives of many people with this book.  It even works on you when you’re still healthy.