Famed civil rights advocate and comedian Dick Gregory died Saturday at age 84, his family confirmed 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, D.C. The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time,” Gregory’s son Christian wrote.
In a subsequent post, Christian added a lengthy obit and tribute to his father, detailing his final days:
“I was probably 25 years old before I realized my father called many people champ. I was clearly paying attention yet I never heard it other than when he was calling me. One of his finest gifts was the ability to make you sit up and pay attention.
For a week, I watched my father cause some of the sharpest medical minds to sit up and pay attention. What began a little over a week ago as a simple Urinary Tract Infection wrecked havoc on my father’s slim frame. Events were set in motion that ultimately proved to be too much. A bifurcated thoracic aortic aneurysm ultimately was too big a blow. For a lifetime, my father took all the hits, however, this hit was too much. A life heavily sacrificed had ultimately taken its toll. Years of severe fasting, not for health but for social change, had damaged his vasculature system long ago. He always reminded us, many of his fasts were not about his personal health but an attempt to heal the world.
He added, “From comedy to civil rights to a life dedicated to equality, he never waned. Immeasurable generational sacrifice. A transformative blockbuster comedian who obliterated the color line. He quickly realized that the inequities and travesties of life were no laughing matter. There is no question humanity is better for it, we will allow his legendary history to stand for itself. Generations will delve into his sacrifice, comedic genius, focus and aptitude. For now, we simply want to reflect on his Service and Grace. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Children’s Rights, Human Rights, Disabled Rights, Animal Rights. Dick Gregory’s DNA is virtually on every movement for fairness and equality for all livings things on this planet.
He was rarely one to rest and never one to stop championing for peace. Hopefully, now he may find some semblance of them both.”
Born in 1932 in St. Louis, Gregory rose to fame in the 1960s as a comedian and social satirist unafraid to tackle racial injustice in his act. He’s widely regarded as the first black comic to perform in front of white audiences and scored what would become his big break in 1961 when Hugh Hefner hired him to work at the Chicago Playboy Club.
“When I started, a black comic couldn’t work a white nightclub. 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,” Gregory said in an interview last year. “So Hugh Hefner, he came up to this black club, when Sammy Davis and all of them were there, and he saw me. And then, one day, Professor Irwin Corey decided that he wasn’t going to work seven days, and they brought me in [as a replacement at the Playboy Club] because Hefner saw me. No other reason. And that started a whole new industry.”
In the wake of Gregory’s death, numerous celebrities paid tribute to his societal impact. “Always thought of Dick Gregory as a family member, even though I’d never met him,” RuPaul wrote.
“He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to fight.He taught us how to live. Dick Gregory was committed to justice. I miss him already,” wrote Rev. Jesse Jackson.
See more tributes below.