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Dick Gregory, Trailblazing Comedian and Civil Rights Activist, Passes

By Staff –


gregoryDick Gregory, a trailblazing comedian and civil rights activist, passed away on Aug. 19 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 announced in a Facebook post. “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.”

The pioneering comic had reportedly been in and out of the hospital recently, and died of a bacterial infection.

Gregory rose to fame using his wry observations about race in the 1960s, and became one of the first black comics to gain a broad appeal with white audiences.

One of his most famous jokes was about a waitress at a restaurant in the south who told Gregory, ““We don’t serve colored people here,” to which Mr. Gregory replied, “That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Just bring me a whole fried chicken.”

Biographers have also noted that Gregory was an instrumental force in paving the way for later, legendary comics like Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

“Dick Gregory is the first to be recognized — and he’ll say it — the first black comedian to be able to stand flat-footed, and just delivered comedy,” Darryl Littleton, author of the book Black Comedians on Black Comedy, told NPR in 2009. “You had other comedians back then, but they always had to do a little song or a dance or whatever, Sammy Davis had to dance and sing, and then tell jokes. Same with Pearl Bailey and some of the other comedians. But Dick Gregory was able to grow on television, sit down on the Jack Paar show — and sit on the couch and actually have a discussion, and that had never happened in the history of television.”

Gregory had also been well-known for his political and social activism during the civil rights movement, in the 1960s.

In 1963, he attended the historic March on Washington, and thereafter had become an important figure in the movement, marching in protests and performing at civil rights rallies.

The comedian’s political activism also led him to run for mayor of Chicago in 1967, and for president in 1968, on the Freedom and Peace Party line. Gregory was on the ballot in eight states, and won 47,133 votes.

The comic had also written a dozen books throughout his lifetime, using fasting and hunger strikes as tools to advocate for the causes he believed in, which also led him to lean toward a healthier lifestyle, causing him to become a vegetarian in 1973.

In a tribute on Instagram, Musician Questlove said Gregory had been “one of the first major black figures I saw advocating for a healthier lifestyle for black folks that were caught on unhealthy choices we’ve made in the name of cheaper survival options.”

He is survived by his wife, Lillian; sons, Christian, Gregory and Yohance Maqubela; seven daughters, Ayanna, Lynne, Michele, Miss, Paula Cenac, Satori and Zenobia Chisholm; two brothers, Ron and Garland; two sisters, Pauline Hariston and Delores Hill; 16 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Gregory had been married for more than 50 years, and had 10 children.

Visit to view early footage of the comic’s stand-up, or click on the image below.

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