(October 12 1932 – August 19 2017)
Dick Gregory is known as a civil rights activist, comedian, Entrepreneur, health advocate, actor, husband and father. He was born Richard Claxton Gregory in St. Louis, Missouri. His family was very poor, his father abandoned his family when he was young. He excelled in athletics and then earned a scholarship in track to Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Whilst in college he was drafted into the US Army and he served in Texas, Virginia and Arkansas for about a year and a half. His career as a comedian began in the army, he participated in the talent shows in the army. He dropped out of college soon after he returned from his 2 year break, according to him “they didn’t want me to study, they wanted me to run”.
He moved to Chicago to pursue a career in comedy. He opened a night club that failed in 1958. In 1959, he stated performing in clubs, to predominantly black crowds. He began receiving widespread acclaim and was hired by Hugh Hefner to perform at the Chicago Playboy Club. He was the first black comedian to successfully cross over to white audiences. He mocked segregation and racism in his standup sets.
He got married in 1959 to Lilian Smith, they had 11 children together including a son who died at 2 months old. He was involved in the civil rights case in Selma, Alabama that involved registering black people to vote in 1963. He was vocal about the Vietnam war, economic reform, drugs in black communities and many political issues. He went on several hunger strikes. He also campaigned oversees, this led to his ban from Australia in the 70s.
He ran for mayor of Chicago in 1967 and lost, he also ran for president of the United States in 1968 as a write in candidate of the freedom and peace party. He was also outspoken on Feminism. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1999, he used herbs, vitamins and exercise as treatment. He was an active campaigner of a healthy diet, he became a vegetarian in his 60s and was involved with PETA (people for ethical treatment of animals). While he was alive he talked about how the intentional air and water pollution in black communities by the government led to an increase in violence.
He died of heart failure at the age of 84 in a hospital in Washington DC shortly after he was hospitalised for a bacterial infection.