WASHINGTON D.C. (CelebrityAccess) — Dick Gregory, an African-American civil rights activist and comedian, who was part of the 'Troika of Satire' has died. He was 84.
News of Gregory's death was confirmed by his son Christian in a post via social media:
"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 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."
A native of St. Louis, MO, Gregory began his career in comedy while serving in the military. After his release, he launched a nightclub in Chicago, but the club failed, leaving Gregory in dire financial straits, prompting him instead to become the master of ceremonies for the Roberts Show Lounge in Chicago. W
While there, Gregory honed his comedic chops and increasingly found himself performing in front of a white audience and often highlighted issues of race and segregation in his comedy. Despite the politically charge context of his material, Gregory's soft, self-deprecating observational style of satire helped him connect with his audience, despite cultural differences.
“They were going to laugh anyway, but if I made the jokes they’d laugh with me instead of at me,” he said in a 1964 autobiography, written with Robert Lipsyte. “After a while, I could say anything I wanted. I got a reputation as a funny man. And then I started to turn the jokes on them.”
Gregory's satirical style put him in lofty company, and he was often compared with two white performers, Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, with newspapers of the era describing the three as a 'troika of modern satire.'
However, in the early 1960s, Gregory became increasingly focused on civil rights advocacy and less focused on his profession. As the '60s wore on Gregory's habit of attending demonstrations instead of booked comedy gigs led to declining bookings and by the end of the decade, he found more success as regular on the college lecture circuit than as a stand-up comic.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, Gregory would be associated with numerous causes, from civil rights and the Vietnam peace movement to advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1965, he was shot in the leg while trying to act as a mediator during the infamous Watts Riot in Los Angeles, but recovered from the injury.
In addition to his comedy and activism, Gregory was a prolific author, penning more than a dozen books, ranging from his autobiography to diet guides.
Besides his son Christian, Mr. Gregory is survived by his wife, Lillian; two other sons, 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.