Comedian and civil rights crusader Dick Gregory died Saturday night in Washington, D.C., after being hospitalized for about a week. His family made an announcement publicly on Facebook. The Associated Press reports that Gregory died after suffering a severe bacterial infection. The legend who used his humor to talk about social justice was 84 years old.
The author and social activist had an impoverished childhood in St. Louis. He earned a college track scholarship and became a celebrated satirist who often commented on racial division during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. In the early 1960s, Gregory gained attention as a comedian and broke down barriers by appearing on television, ultimately paving a way for Bill Cosby and other comedians to come.
Gregory never minced words when it came to race and civil rights. He admired Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and became a voice for the movement, embracing nonviolence and participating in the historic 1963 March on Washington. As a civil rights activist, Gregory used hunger strikes to protest the war and, most recently in 2000, to protest police brutality. Gregory also authored a number of books including nigger: An Autobiography which he co-wrote with Robert Lipsyte.
In 1967, Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago and ran for president under the Freedom and Peace Party in 1968, appearing on the ballot in eight states and receiving 47,133 votes.
On MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Rev. Al Sharpton on Sunday morning, Martin Luther King III said the legend will be missed by many.
“We lost a giant yesterday,” he said. “This man will never be forgotten. I will sorely remember this great, great spirit and I know our nation and world will.”
The black community, including actors, politicians and comedians who looked up to Gregory, reacted on social media to the news of his death.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 20, 2017
Because many of you probably only knew Dick Gregory as an older man, I wanted to show you these young images.
Rest in power good sir. pic.twitter.com/ZayInokcaJ
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) August 20, 2017
— Lucas Bros (@lucasbros) August 20, 2017
#ripdickgregory❤️ I am deeply saddened by the loss of not just a legend but a courageous leader. a brilliant man brilliant comedian an activist … a timeless purpose with eternal relevance. An example of what we all need to do… use our stage as more than a place to tell jokes but as a platform to unite people through laughter. Don’t just make them laugh, make them think, make them feel! If you stand for nothing you will fall for anything. #legend
— The Comedy Store (@TheComedyStore) August 20, 2017
About being black in America Dick Gregory has passed away, Condolences to his family and to us who won’t have his insight 2 lean on
— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) August 20, 2017
— Holly Robinson Peete (@hollyrpeete) August 20, 2017
Gregory was married for more than 50 years with 10 children and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.