Renowned comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory is dead at 84. Renowned for his exploits in comedy when it was still not a specialized acting genre, Dick Gregory was a multifaceted personality who touched chords with many people in different capacities.
He was a renowned civil rights activist, a writer, entrepreneur and a consummate actor. He worked for the uplift of the Black and other marginalized communities in the US and is respected by civil rights activists across the US for his contribution in the field.
His son, Christian Gregory took to Instagram to announce the death of his legendary comedian and civil right activist. “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,” the post reads. “The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time” said he.
The renowned civil rights activist, according to his publicist, Steve Jaffe, passed away Saturday in Washington’s Sibley Memorial Hospital where his family members including his wife and children were present. Christian Gregory cause of death is said to be heart failure that reportedly hit him a week ago. He was reportedly on an East Coast comedy tour when cardiac arrest took place.
His publicist of five decades, Steve Jaffe, while praising the actor and his work ethics said, “He worked 300 dates a year, and was still going strong right up to the end”.
Born as Richard Claxton Gregory on 12th October 1932, the actor was a sprinter in his school. And he showed that he was true sprinter as he went on to wear multiple hats of different hues in his life. It will be a rather strange thing for many people to know that he won scholarship very early in his school life not in academics or in acting. He won the scholarship as a short distance runner.
It is simply unbelievable to know that the actor made his way to the Southern Illinois University Carbondale through a track scholarship. It is said that at the University he established multiple records as half-miler and miler.
He emerged as comedian in Army
Like many people of his age, he was drafted to the army in fifties. While stories of his ‘heroics’ while in the army are not known, what is known is that he won laurels as comedian. It was during his stint in the Army that he started making laugh and laugh loudly. There are hundreds of reports as to how Gregory won multiple talent shows at the urging of his commanding officer, who had taken notice of Gregory’s penchant for joking.
In order to hone his comedy skills, the actor shifted to Chicago, Illinois, a hotspot of comedians at the time. When he went there, multiple black comedians like Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, and Godfrey Cambridge were there, making waves and making people laugh.
But the success didn’t come easily to Gregory as comedian. He opened a club, hoping to make big money, but it failed abysmally. As a comedian he started performing in small nightclubs as he joined the USPS to earn his bread. Initially he performed among black audience, but claimed wider audience and went on to win many admirers among whites too.
His debuted on TV in Tonight Starring Jack Paar. There are reports how he initially refused as he thought that black comedians were not given due respect and were not allowed to sit on stage. He relented to appear on the TV show only when the producers consented to allow him stay on the stage after his performance and talk with the host on air.
In an interview Gregory said how everything unfolded in his favor: “Hung up! And then the phone rang again. It’s Jack Paar. ‘Dick Gregory, this is Mr. Paar. How come you don’t wanna work my show?’ I said, ‘ ‘Cause the Negroes never sit down.’ ‘Well, come on in, I’ll let you sit down.’ And that’s how it happened. I came in, did my act, went to sit on the couch. It was sitting on the couch that made my salary grow in three weeks from $250 working seven days a week to $5,000 a night.”
He has been criticized by many for not being there when his children needed him. He is also criticized for ignoring the. While there may not be much truth into such allegations, what is true is that he didn’t like to talk about his family on public forums. Gregory was married to his wife Lillian Smith at the age of 27 after bumping into her during his stint with a club. The two had as many as eleven children including Michele, Lynne, Pamela, Paula, Stephanie (a.k.a. Xenobia), Gregory, Christian, Miss, Ayanna, and Yohance.