One of the greatest comedians and social activist of our time has left us. Dick Gregory has died at the age of 84. He’d been hospitalized recently battling an illness. When he was hospitalized, his son, Christian released a statement stating, “when it comes to sickness and disease, one’s age is highly significant.” Christian also stated it looked like his father was on the mend, but alas that was not to be the case.
The official statement came from Christian tonight, “It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr. Dick Gregory departed this earth tonight in Washington, DC,” He wrote. “The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very
difficult time. More details will be released over the next few days.” Update: Christian stated that a bifurcated thoracic aortic aneurysm was the affliction that finally took Gregory.
Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory was born October 12, 1932 in St. Louis, MO. He began his comedy career in the military where he served in the Army. After being discharged, he didn’t want to go back to college and moved to Chicago to pursue comedy professional. After cutting his teeth on the black circuit, Gregory became one of the first black comedians to perform to white audiences. Making him a pioneer in the civil rights movement.
Hugh Hefner saw him performing to a large white audience one night delivering risque material about race in America. Hefner hired Gregory on the spot to perform in his Chicago Playboy Club. A move Gregory often cited as providing a big launch to his career.
Gregory’s first late night appearance was on The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar where he performed well. The Black entertainers appeared on the show in the past but they were never invited to sit at the desk with the host like many other white comedians were. Gregory took issue with this and would refuse several invites to appear on future episodes of the show. Finally Paar personally called Gregory to ask why he kept refusing to appear on the show. Gregory would agree to come back on the show under the condition that producers allowed him to stay. They agreed and it was the first in the show’s history. Dick Gregory’s interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar spurred a national conversation about race. Something Gregory would do for the rest of his career, turn his status as a comedian into activism.
Gregory was always on the frontline of the civil rights movement, speaking in Selma, was against the Vietnam War, he fought for economic reform, and anti-drug issues. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes and campaigns in America and overseas. He even ran for Mayor of Chicago in the late 60s. Then even ran for President in 1968 as candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party. Though unsuccessful he received almost 50,000 votes, including one from Hunter S. Thompson. He gained so much attention he made Nixon’s master list of political opponents. He took the Warren Commission to task. Was an early Feminist and in 1978 with Gloria Steinem and others led a 100,000 person march in Washington.
He remained an activist through the rest of his life, including speaking at Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration where Bill Clinton declared his affinity for him. Clinton wasn’t the only politician with an affinity for Gregory, as he shaped an entire generation of political thinkers, activists, celebrities, and of course comedians. He’s likely been arrested more than any other comic in his fight for equality. Dick Gregory built the road for black comics and took satirists to new heights.
There are few people that can be classified as legends and Dick Gregory is one of them. Rest in power.