“Generations will delve into his sacrifice, comedic genius, focus and aptitude,” comedian’s son writes
Dick Gregory, pioneering comedian, author and civil rights activist, died Saturday at the age of 84.
“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,” Gregory’s son Christian wrote on the comedian’s Instagram page. “The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”
Gregory had been hospitalized at Washington, D.C.’s Sibley Memorial Hospital since August 9th with a urinary tract infection. “My prognosis is excellent and I should be released within the next few days,” Gregory wrote on August 16th while announcing rescheduled tour dates for the end of the month.
However, while at the hospital, Gregory suffered “a bifurcated thoracic aortic aneurysm,” the family announced Sunday. “For a lifetime, my father took all the hits, however, this hit was too much,” Christian Gregory wrote.
The St. Louis-born Gregory got his start in comedy while serving in the Army in the Fifties, where he worked on his craft in talent shows. After years of performing to predominately black audiences at nightclubs while holding down a day job at the post office, Gregory’s big break came in January 1961, when Hugh Hefner asked him to fill in at the Playboy Club in Chicago.
Hefner signed Gregory to a three-week residency, then extended the contract, the New York Times reports. The residency allowed Gregory to be among the first black comedians to be embraced by white audiences, even as he held a mirror up to them for their role in racial inequality at the time. Both Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby credited Gregory with blazing their path.
One oft-told Gregory bit was about the comedian’s journey to a restaurant in the segregated South. “We tried to integrate a restaurant, and they said, `We don’t serve colored folk here,’ and I said, `Well, I don’t eat colored folk nowhere. Bring me some pork chops.’ And then Ku Klux Klan come in, and the woman say, ‘We don’t have no pork chops,’ so I say, ‘Well, bring me a whole fried chicken.’ And then the Klan walked up to me when they put that whole fried chicken in front of me, and they say, ‘Whatever you do to that chicken, boy, we’re going to do to you.’ So I opened up its legs and kissed it in the rump and tell you all, `Be my guest.’ ”
In the early Sixties, Gregory became a fixture of the Civil Rights Movement: He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma, where he and his wife were briefly jailed, he told the Chicago Tribune. He was friends with Malcolm X and Medgar Evers and ran for mayor of Chicago in 1967.
During the tumultuous time around the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Gregory ran for President as a write-in candidate; Hunter S. Thompson was among those who voted for Gregory, as the gonzo journalist revealed numerous times in The Great Shark Hunt. Gregory wrote Write Me In! in 1968 about his presidential bid.
Other notable books by Gregory include his controversial 1963 tome Nigger: An Autobiography, From the Back of the Bus and Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature, which he wrote after becoming a vegetarian. Gregory also advocated for women’s rights, animal rights and the end of apartheid. Gregory was also close with Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton and Robert Kennedy.
“From comedy to civil rights to a life dedicated to equality, he never waned. Immeasurable generational sacrifice. A transformative blockbuster comedian who obliterated the color line,” Christian Gregory wrote of his father the day after his death.
Continue onto the Rolling Stone to read more about Dick Gregory and his ever lasting impact in comedy and the civil rights movement.