"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, D.C.," his son, Christian, wrote on Instagram.
Gregory, who lived in Washington, died of heart failure in
Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he had checked in a week ago
after falling ill, said his longtime publicist Steve Jaffe.
Gregory's success as a comedian in the early 1960s helped pave
the way for other black comics, such as Richard Pryor, to gain
greater fame by reaching a mainstream audience.
Born in St. Louis, Gregory grew up in poverty. He was working
for the U.S. Postal Service and performing in front of largely
black audiences for low pay when Playboy founder Hugh Hefner saw
his act and hired the comedian to perform at his nightclub in
At the time, stand-up comedy was largely segregated.
"When I started, a black comic couldn't work a white nightclub,"
Gregory told the Florida Times-Union. "You could sing, you could
dance, but you couldn't stand flat-footed and talk - then the
system would know how brilliant black folks was."
Soon after his break at the Playboy Club, Gregory recorded a
number of comedy albums and appeared on television talk shows,
becoming one of the highest paid black entertainers in the early
Gregory's stand-up comedy tackled racism, often with quips that
took his audience by surprise. "Segregation is not all bad," he
once joked. "Have you ever heard of a collision where the people
in the back of the bus got hurt?"
If his comedy routine was at times disarming, his civil rights
activism left no doubt where he stood.
Gregory was arrested several times for taking part in
demonstrations in the 1960s, befriending the late Martin Luther
King Jr. as he used his fame to help push for desegregation.
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The comedian also protested the Vietnam War, took part in hunger
strikes and ran for U.S. president in 1968 as a write-in candidate
for the obscure Peace and Freedom Party.
In the early 1970s, Gregory left stand-up comedy to spend more time
on political activism. In the 1980s, he turned his focus to
promoting healthy eating and became a diet food entrepreneur. He
returned to stand-up in the 1990s.
This month, he was in the middle of a comedy tour when he became
ill, Jaffe said.
Gregory still had a lot to say about politics and race relations in
the United States.
He made his last post on Twitter on Tuesday, days after a fatal
clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters elicited
seemingly contradictory statements by President Donald Trump that
galvanized his political opponents.
"Iíve so much to say and canít wait to get out of here to say it,"
Gregory wrote from his hospital bed. "We have so much work still to
be done, the ugly reality on the news this weekend proves just
Gregory, in a 2011 interview with Reuters, played down the
importance that an entertainer alone could have in bringing about
"People like glamour," he said. "That's what messes up America."
(Additional reporting by Ruthy Munoz in Houston; Editing by Mark
Heinrich and Lisa Von Ahn)
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