It’s been a sad weekend for the comedy world. On Saturday night, multiple outlets reported that trailblazing comedian and activist Dick Gregory passed away in his home of Washington DC. Gregory was 84 years old. Gregory’s death was confirmed by his son Christian, who posted the following message on Instagram:
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 - Christian Gregory
A pioneer in multiple ways, Gregory combined his work as a comedian with his passion for activism throughout his entire career. He began performing comedy during his time in the Army in the ‘50s, and as his career took off the following decade he focused on issues like racial discrimination, desegregation, and the Vietnam War in both his act and social activism alongside figures like Martin Luther King Jr. One of his most famous jokes:
“We tried to integrate a restaurant, and they said, ‘We don’t serve colored folk here,’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t eat colored folk nowhere. Bring me some pork chops.’ And then Ku Klux Klan come in, and the woman say, ‘We don’t have no pork chops,’ so I say, ‘Well, bring me a whole fried chicken.’ And then the Klan walked up to me when they put that whole fried chicken in front of me, and they say, ‘Whatever you do to that chicken, boy, we’re going to do to you.’ So I opened up its legs and kissed it in the rump and tell you all, ‘Be my guest.’”
Gregory also ran for office – once for the Mayor of Chicago in 1968 and again in 1968, when he ran for President of the United States and received about 47,000 votes. He also wrote over a dozen books, from his 1964 autobiography to his most recent release Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies last year. In the early ‘60s he also made history by becoming the first black performer invited to sit on the couch on Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show.
Gregory continued to perform comedy up until his death, and he’s survived by ten children and his wife of 58 years. Another one of Gregory’s Instagram posts that has been circulating since his death is this heartfelt message to fans back in March. It’s well worth the read:
As I approach my 85th revolution around the sun this year, I wonder why has it been so difficult for humankind to be kind. So difficult to be loving and lovable. For my militant brothers and sisters, please don’t misconstrue loving and lovable to be weak or submissive. Love will always be triumphant over hate. I know I will not be here forever, nor do I desire to be. I have seen progress like most cannot appreciate because they were not there to bear witness. I dedicated my life to the movement. By doing so, I never thought I’d still be here. So many of my friends are not here. They were cut down by a system of hatred and evil. If they were here, they’d see the progress that I see. The reality is far from perfect, but profoundly better than what daily reality was for my generation. Young folks if you are wise you would talk less and spend more time listening to the elders who saw evil up front and personal everyday. #howlong I’ve been asking this question for over 40 years! How long before we realize our Universal God given potential? We have made immeasurable progress that cannot be debated. That said, we still have a long way to go. I have no desire to see this all the way through, the dreams I dreamed about 60 years ago have definitively been realized. To the young folks of all ethnicities I say #staywoke not as a catchphrase but as a lifestyle. Most of the things that are killing us are in our minds and our daily routines. The way we think, the “food” we eat and the water we drink or so often don’t drink. While so many go out and protest the small evils, the big evils are ever present and welcomed into our homes. From the top to bottom of my heart I say #staywoke Love you to life, Dick Gregory
Read Gregory’s New York Times obituary here.