Dick Gregory, comedian and civil rights activist, dies
LOS ANGELES- Dick Gregory, the comedian and activist and who transgressed racial roadblocks in the 1960 s and used his humor to spread messages of social justice and nutritional health, has died. He was 84.
Gregory succumbed late Saturday in Washington, D.C. after being hospitalized for about a week, his son Christian Gregory told The Associated Press. He had suffered a severe bacterial infection.
As one of the first black standup comedians to find success with white audiences, in the early 1960 s, Gregory rose from an impoverished childhood in St. Louis to win a college way scholarship and become a celebrated satirist who deftly commented upon racial divisions at the dawning of the civil right movement.
“Where else in the world but America, ” he joked, “could I have lived in the worst neighborhoods, attended the worst schools, ride in the back of the bus, and get paid $5,000 a week just for talking about it? “
Gregory’s sharp commentary soon led him into civil rights activism, where his ability to woo audiences through humor helped bring national attention to fledgling efforts at integration and social equality for blacks.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey tweeted, “Dick Gregory’s unflinching honesty& valour, inspired us to oppose, live, laugh& love despite it all.” A tweet by actress/ comedian Whoopi Goldberg told, “About being black in America Dick Gregory has passed away, Condolences to his family and to us who won’t have his insight 2 lean on R.I.P”
Gregory briefly attempted political office, operating unsuccessfully for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and U.S. president in 1968, when he got 200,000 votes as the Peace and Freedom party candidate. In the late ‘6 0s, he befriended John Lennon and was among the voices heard on Lennon’s anti-war anthem “Give Peace a Chance, ” recorded in the Montreal hotel room where Lennon and Yoko Ono were staging a “bed-in” for peace.
An admirer of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr ., Gregory espoused nonviolence and became a vegetarian and marathon runner.
He preached about the transformative the terms of reference of prayer and good health. Once an overweight smoker and drinker, he became a trim, energetic advocate of liquid dinners and raw food diets. In the late 1980 s, he developed and distributed products for the popular Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet.
When diagnosed with lymphoma in 2000, he opposed it with herbs, exercise and vitamins. It ran in remission a few years later.
He took a violate from performing in slapstick clubs, telling the alcohol and smoking in the clubs were unhealthy and focused on lecturing and writing more than a dozen volumes, including an autobiography and a memoir.
Gregory ran without solid food for weeks to draw attention to a wide range of causes, including Middle East peace, American hostages in Iran, animal rights, police barbarism, the Equal Rights Amendment for women and to support pop singer Michael Jackson when he was charged with sex molestation in 2004.
“We supposed I was going to be a great athlete, and we were wrong, and I believed I was going to be a great entertainer, and that wasn’t it either. I’m going to be an American Citizen. First class, ” he once said.
Richard Claxton Gregory was born in 1932, the second of six children. His father abandoned the family, leaving his mother poor and struggling. Though the family often ran without food or energy, Gregory’s intellect and hard work rapidly earned him honors, and he attended the mostly white Southern Illinois University.
“In high school I was opposing being violated and on relief, ” he wrote in his 1963 volume. “But in college, I was opposing being Negro.”
He started winning talent competitors for his comedy, which he continued in the Army. After he was discharged, he struggled to break into the standup circuit in Chicago, running odd chores as a postal clerk and vehicle washer to survive. His breakthrough came in 1961, when he was asked to fill in for another comedian at Chicago’s Playboy Club. His audience, mostly white Southern industrialists, heckled him with racist gibes, but he stuck it out for hours and left them howling.
That job was supposed to be a one-night gig, but lasted two months — and landed him a profile in Time magazine and a spot on “The Tonight Show.”
Vogue magazine, in February 1962, likened him to Will Rogers and Fred Allen: “bright and funny and topical …( with) a style of inducing the editorials in The New York Times seem the cinch stuff from which smash-up night-club routines are rightfully made.” ”I’ve got to go up there as an individual first, a Negro second, ” he said in Phil Berger’s book, “The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-up Comics.” ”I’ve got to be a colored funny man , not a funny colored man.”
His political passions was ever far from his intellect — and they hurt his comedy career. The nation was grappling with the civil right movement, and it was not at all clear that racial integrating could be achieved. At protest marches, he was repeatedly beaten and jailed.
He remained active on the slapstick scene until recently, where reference is fell ill and canceled an August 9 show in San Jose, California, followed by an August 15 appearance in Atlanta. On social media, he wrote that he felt energized by the messages from his well-wishers, and said he was looking to get back on stage because he had a lot to say about the racial tension brings with it by the collect of detest groupings of Virginia.
“We have so much work still to be done, the ugly reality on the news this weekend proves simply that, ” he wrote.
He is survived by his wife, Lillian, and 10 children.
Read more: www.foxnews.com