“One of the things I keep learning is that the secret of being happy is doing things for other people,” said satirist, comedic icon, and activist Dick Gregory, who passed away Saturday, August 19.
Gregory also known for shedding light on racism and social injustice in his performances, passed away at the age of 84, in Washington, D.C. His death was confirmed by his son Christian on a social media post over the weekend. Details of his death have not been released.
Christian had this to say in a Facebook post:
“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,” he said. “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.”
Celebrities, politicians, and people around the world joined the Gregory family in remembering the life and legacy he imprinted during his time here on earth.
“Dick will forever be remembered by fans all over the world for his talent, intellect, and unwavering commitment to justice,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters in a statement. “However, to me he was more than a world renown comedian and activist – he was my brother. I am so grateful for all of the precious memories that we have shared over the past years, especially a few months ago, when I joined him in our hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, where at 84 years of age, he captivated a packed audience with his one of a kind wit, charm, and humor. Dick will certainly be missed, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this rough time.”
Founder and chairperson of Radio One, Inc. Cathy Hughes recalls a time when she spoke with Gregory about his childhood dream of becoming a success.
“He used to talk to me about when he would have visions of greatness as a child – and growing up in a St. Louis ghetto, people would laugh at him,” she said. “Dick never allowed that to deter him. He never allowed millions of dollars – at a time when Black folks were trying to get thousands of dollars – Dick turned his back on millions of dollars because he understood his commitment to Black folks was made more important.”
Civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery also released a statement on the passing of Gregory.
“Dick was not just a comedian, author, entrepreneur and a dedicated foot soldier in the Civil Rights Movement, he was a friend and will be missed by many,” he said. “His unique brand of social satire helped open the eyes of people of all races around the world. Dick’s keen understanding of the need for Black people to have a voice led him to run for Mayor, President, and gave him the audacity to make significant sacrifices in his career in order to stand against, and call out hatred and oppression. When the people asked, ’Who will bell the cat?’ Dick Gregory answered the call.”
Former Los Angeles City Council member and Gregory’s high school locker mate, David S. Cunningham Jr. believes Gregory’s legacy is embodied in a life of activism and commitment.
“I certainly believe that Dick brought a consciousness to this country that extended along with other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement at that time,” said Cunningham. “He was highly respected by many of us and by his peers. He brought a certain sensibility to comedy. Black comedians in particular were able to move across the landscape and make the kind of comments and satire with another kind of approach to issues. People like Jimmy Fallon, to Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel, do that today.”
Recently, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) released a statement honoring Gregory’s life legacy as a “freedom fighter.”
On October 12, 1932, comedic legend Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory was born. Gregory, a St. Louis, Missouri native, began embarking on his comedic journey in the mid 1950’s while in the army. In 1954, he was drafted while attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on a track scholarship. After being discharged, he decided not to go back to school because he believed the university was more focused on him being an athlete rather than a scholar.
Later, he moved to Chicago to pursue his dream of becoming a professional comedian.
In the beginning stages of his career, Gregory performed in front of predominantly Black audiences at small nightclubs. During this time, he also held a day job as a postal employee. By 1962, he had performed at the Chicago Playboy Club and became a headline performer selling out nightclubs, making television appearances and releasing comedy albums like, “Caught in the Act” (1974).
His style of comedy, often referred to as “Black Mort Sahl” steered away from the traditional minstrels that portrayed stereotypical Black characters. Instead, he touched on current events and racial issues like segregation and sit-ins. On and off the stage he was a civil rights pioneer. Gregory who was inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. participated in the Civil Rights Movement, marches, and parades. He often used his celebrity status to get his message through to the minds of individuals.
In addition to his career as a comedian, Gregory was also a nutritionist and an author.
He published an autobiography tilted, “Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory” (1963) which went on to become one of the best-selling books in America. His most recent book, “Callus On My Soul” (2000), which also became a best-seller within weeks, is an updated autobiography from the previous book, “Nigger.”
Aside from working as an activist, Gregory was a family man. He leaves behind his wife Lillian and their 10 children, Lynne, Pamela, Paula, Stephanie (aka Xenobia), Gregory, Christian, Miss, Ayanna, Yohance, and Michele; two brothers, Ron and Garland; two sisters, Pauline Hariston and Delores Hill; 16 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.