Dick Gregory, Groundbreaking Comedian and Civil Rights Activist, Dies at 84

Dick Gregory Dead
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Dick Gregory, the pioneering standup comedian and civil rights activist who made his advocacy work a key component of his on-stage persona, died Saturday night in Washington, D.C. He was 84.

Gregory’s death was confirmed by his family in an Instagram post.

“The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time,” read the post from son Christian Gregory.

Gregory was active on the standup and public speaking circuit on and off for more than a half-century. He had been making comedy appearances until he was hospitalized on Aug. 9.

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Gregory recently released a new book, “Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies,” and he penned a guest column for Variety on how communities can band together to end police brutality. In June, Gregory was the subject of a lengthy profile on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Actor Joe Morton explored the ups and downs of Gregory’s standup career in the one-man show “Turn Me Loose,” which ran in New York last year.

Gregory made his mark in the early 1960s as a rare African-American comedian who was successful in nightclubs geared to white audiences. One important break famously came in 1960 when he was invited by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner to perform at his Playboy Lounge in Chicago.

Gregory was known for his folksy delivery and for incorporating commentary about segregation and discrimination into his routines. During this period he released a number of successful spoken word albums, notably 1961’s “In Living Black and White,” 1962’s “Talks Turkey,” 1964’s “So You See … We All Have Problems,” and 1968’s “The Two Sides of Dick Gregory.” In 1964, he published an autobiography with the provocative title: “N—-: An Autobiography.”

By the mid-1960s, after his friend and fellow activist Medgar Evers was murdered, Gregory turned his focus to full-time work as an activist with Martin Luther King Jr. and others. He was a vocal advocate for the rights of African-Americans and Native Americans, and he was an early opponent of the Vietnam War and South Africa’s apartheid. Gregory also tried his hand at politics, running unsuccessfully for mayor of Chicago in 1967 and mounting a presidential bid in 1968.

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In a recent post that was widely circulated on social media, Gregory addressed the current flare-up of tensions in race relations, but he counseled younger activists to appreciate the gains that have come and to be mindful of history.

“Love will always be triumphant over hate,” Gregory wrote. “I have seen progress like most cannot appreciate because they were not there to bear witness. … The reality is far from perfect, but profoundly better than what daily reality was for my generation.”

A native of St. Louis, Gregory was one of six children who were abandoned in childhood by their father. He became a track star in high school, which led him to a scholarship at Southern Illinois University in 1951. He left the school after his mother died in 1953 and was drafted into the Army. His comedy career was kindled during his time in the service, where he first performed in talent shows and variety shows.

In the 1970s, after his weight ballooned to 350 pounds, Gregory became active in the cause of world hunger and nutritional advocacy, as well as spiritual awareness of the mind-body connection. He developed a popular weight-loss regimen known as the Bahamian diet, and for a time had his own line of nutritional supplements. In 1981, he endured a medically supervised 70-day fast at a hospital in New Orleans.

Gregory was a frequent presence on the talk show and late-night comedy circuit during his 1960s heyday. But he logged only a few acting roles during his long career. He had guest shots in two episodes of Comedy Central’s “Reno 911” in 2004. He had a role in the 1995 Mario Van Peebles film “Panther” as an activist minister and a cameo in the 2002 Rob Schneider vehicle “The Hot Chick.”

A prolific writer, Gregory’s other books included “Up From N—–“, “No More Lies,” and “Callus on My Soul.” He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015.

Gregory is survived by his wife of 58 years, Lillian, and 10 children.

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  1. Dannydoob666 says:

    Dick Gregory, in his latter months, was just disgusted about how black people as a unit are doomed, this is why he was sounding off in such a servile deportment! He’d come to do a lecture and fifty people would show up, while the Mega entertainment complex across town with a super star rapper, would be SRO!

    Now in 2017, Dick Gregory had grown to be a bitter old black man, doing his comedy act, touring to scarce predominately septuagenarian crowds who were as disillusioned with the final flight of black people as he was! Gregory spoke about who killed Kennedy, King, Malcolm and various other out dated material that was no longer relevant. It is over with for black people as a race, and America and Dick Gregory knew it!

    He realized that many of the younger audience members he’d encounter barely had any historical reverence and reference for Rodney King, and practically none for Martin Luther King.

    He spent all these years in Civil Rights, from Ferguson and everything between, and still, the collective fate of colored people and the spirit of America are stagnant! It has to be disheartening for someone that has given his life to his people, to become cognizant that they have retro-degraded back to ridiculousness. I personally have marched in several protests with Dick Gregory.

    Dick and I were discussing pitching a miniseries of his life and exploits to HBO. Yet, his focus seemed to be one of dazed despair at the prospect of further family sacrifice, for the sack of a nation overwhelmed by fear spiritual bankruptcy! Gregory was annoyed in these latter days! He gave his all, sacrificed his marriage, his kids, his entire livelihood for black people and the inalienable rights of all of our collective humanity, people of all ethnicity, religions, political parties, and every animal of which their flesh, he vowed never to ingest! Yet, in the end, it seemed a mute point!

    Black Lives Matter, the KKK, The White Supremacist, Neo-Nazi Party, a new cold war with Russia, on the brink of nuclear annihilation of North Korea and a current U.S. President that is the embodiment of Bull Connor and George Wallace! Dick Gregory realized that history doesn’t repeat itself, we, the historians, repeat each other!

    On August 19, 2017, at 10:37 a.m., comedian, nutritionist, activist, Author, Presidential Candidate, and humanitarian, Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory, shared oxygen with us all one last time! He is at rest, yet I doubt that he is Resting in Peace!

  2. Before we were alive…we were dead. That “Neverland” where Dick Gregory now abodes is an altered state of spiritual bliss. The land he left in his wake now awaits the next millennium.

    He had come to earth when we most needed him in America, as our civilized modernity turned on the epitasis of racial intolerance, civil unrest, and home-grown apartheid. “Authorize” terrorism in the United States during the century in which he lived, using police dogs as weapons in The South and assassinations, mob-lynching and near-genocide of small southern and western communities caused him pivot from social comedian to social activist.

    Dick Gregory should be studied, quoted and invoked whenever the subject of racism, bigotry and discrimination become the thesis under discussion.

    Where ever he is…Dick Gregory is doing more than resting in peace.

  3. Antigon says:

    Just in passing, as he was a consistent human rights activist, Gregory was also a virulent opponent of legal abortion.

  4. Arne Yoga says:

    Dick Gregory was one of the speakers who came to my college during my freshman year to enlighten us about the struggle against oppression, for civil rights and simply the fact someone from the “radical left” could not only speak openly on campus and not get arrested but to rattle the cages of “the establishment”.
    Dick, along with some other great speakers that year, was among the first to help show me the world I already knew to be hypocritically corrupt but, due to my young age and inexperience, had not been able to fully identify until I heard the wise experience from others who were veterans.
    I will always revere Dick Gregory as a man of conscience and social advocacy who spoke volumes louder and stronger – and had more of a lifelong impact – than the vast volumes of establishment preaching lapdogs and manipulators for the wealthy elite.
    Godspeed, Dick! Wait for the rest of us to eventually join you!

  5. Denis Barker says:

    Without Dick Gregory we would not have the edgy racial comedy of Richard Pryor and Chris Rock. He was a spiritual disciple of Lenny Bruce, finding laughter in painful truths about ourselves. I read his autobiography when I was a teenager and felt an admiration for him that only grew greater over the years. Goodbye, friend. I’m grateful to have known you.

  6. Odell Jones says:

    There are no words to say at this time. The many words of strength, courage and Knowledge this brother left to his community will never be heard again. Rest brother rest.

  7. Eddrena Clark says:

    Thank you for your awesome years of service to mankind and a pioneer to civil rights since your days @ SIU.

  8. Truly an amazing talent, activist and father. He inspired me and his children always spoke so highly of him in interviews I have seen. He educated so many of us with his integrity & humor. Love, light & laughter always.

  9. Daphneann says:

    Love this man

  10. Jodenise Crawford says:

    May his family be at peace with such a great life and love for our people.

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