By Denise Williams
The Florida/Georgia Star
Dick Gregory, a pioneering comedian, author and civil rights activist, died Saturday at the age of 84. He was admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital in early August due to a urinary tract infection. At the time, he shared his expectation that he would recover in just a few days. Shortly after he shared that prognosis, his health took a critical turn. While hospitalized in the Washington, D.C. hospital he suffered a bifurcated thoracic aortic aneurysm. This condition affected the arteries that supplied blood to his heart resulting in a fatal heart failure.
Gregory began performing on stage during his tenure in the U.S. Army in the 1950’s. When he returned to civilian life, he played to predominately African-American audiences in a segregated America. Hugh Hefner of Playboy noticed his comedic talent in 1961 and invited him to perform at the Playboy Club in Chicago. It was initially deemed a temporary gig, but Hefner decided to extend his contract. This door of opportunity made him the first African-American comedian to entertain Caucasian audiences. As he gained notoriety, he eventually became an icon in the comedy circuit.
Gregory was also an avid civil rights activist whose passion was to expose the nation and the world to the separate yet unequal conditions that faced African-Americans in the United States. He became a fixture in the Civil Rights movement while marching with giants such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. He was active in government and he believed a day would come when an African-American would be elected president of the United States. In 1968, he ran for the presidency as a Democrat under a “write-in candidate” status. His platform of equality included supporting not only civil rights for African-Americans, but he lobbied for women’s rights, animal rights and to abolish apartheid in Africa.
Gregory authored several books. Those titles include:
Nigger: An Autobiography
From the Back of the Bus
Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat
Cookin’ With Mother Nature
His latest literary effort: Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lines is an audio book released by Harper Audio.
The day following his death, Gregory’s son Christian Gregory wrote the following:
“He quickly realized that the inequities and travesties of life were no laughing matter. There is no question humanity is better for it, we will allow his legendary history to stand for itself. Generations will delve into his sacrifice, comedic genius, focus, and aptitude. For now, we simply want to reflect on his Service and Grace. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, children’s Rights, Human Rights, Disabled Rights, Animal Rights. Dick Gregory’s DNA is virtually on every movement for fairness and equality for all livings things on this planet. He was rarely one to rest and never one to stop championing for peace. Hopefully, now he may find some semblance of them both.”
Born Richard Claxton Gregory a/k/a Dick Gregory on October 12, 1932, he leaves his wife of 58 years, Lillian Smith and his eleven children to mourn his passing.