Comedian and civil rights pioneer Dick Gregory died of heart failure in Washington, DC on Saturday, August 19. He was 84.
Gregory was among the first comedians in the 1950s to incorporate racism and anti-war protests into his stand-up sets.
The civil rights activist was also one of the first black comedians to perform for primarily white audiences in the 1950s and ’60s.
He was arrested multiple times for participating in protest marches and he often went on hunger strikes in his jail cell for weeks or months at a time.
Gregory was discovered by Hugh Hefner at a black-owned bar in Chicago in 1961. One of the jokes he told that night was:
“Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, ‘We don’t serve colored people here.’ I said, ‘That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.'”
On the basis of that performance, Hefner hired Gregory to work full-time at his Chicago Playboy Club.
Gregory credited Hefner with launching his career.
Gregory became a millionaire when he partnered with a distribution company to sell his weight loss powdered drink product under the brand names “Bahamian Diet” and “Caribbean Diet for Optimal Health”.
Gregory is survived by his wife of 58 years, Lilian Smith, who bore him 11 children. Son Richard Jr. died at two months.
Photo by Jason Merritt / Staff