He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to live”

Dick Gregory, a pioneering force of comedy in the 1960’s who parlayed his career as a stand-up comic into a life of social and political activism, has died of heart failure. He was 84.

Regarded as the first African-American comic to perform regularly in front of white audiences, Gregory appeared on all of the top TV talk shows of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Early in his career Mr. Gregory insisted in interviews that his first order of business on stage was to get laughs, not to change how White American treated Negroes. “Humor can no more find the solution to race problems than it can cure cancer,” he said. Nonetheless, as the civil rights movement was kicking into high gear, whites who caught his club act or listened to his routines on 

records came away with a deeper feel for the nation’s shameful racial history.

Mr. Gregory was a national sensation in the early 1960’s, earning thousands of dollars a week from club dates and from records like “In living black and White” and “Dick Gregory talks Turkey”. He wrote the first of his dozen books. Time magazine, enormously powerful then, ran a profile of him. Jack Paar, that era’s “tonight show” host, had him on as a guests-after Mr. Gregory demanded that he be invited to sit for a chat. Until, then Black performers did their numbers, and then had to leave.

Newspapers in those days routinely put Mr. Gregory on a par with two white performers, Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce. Just as routinely, he was later credited with paving the 

way for a new wave of black comedians who would make it big in the white world, notably two talents of the roughly different sensibilities: the reflective Bill Cosby and the trenchant Richard Pryor.

It was Mr. Gregory’s conviction that within a well delivered joke lays power. He learned that lesson growing up in St. Louis, achingly poor and fatherless.

Gregory’s sharp commentary led him into civil rights activism; where his ability to woo audiences through humor helped bring national attention to fledgling efforts at integration and social equality for Blacks.

Gregory briefly sought political office, running unsuccessfully for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and US President in 1968, when he got 

 

200,000 votes as the Peace and Freedom candidate. In the late ‘60s, he befriended John Lennon and was among the voices heard on Lennon’s antiwar anthem “Give Peace a Chance”, recorded in the Montreal hotel room.

Gregory went without solid food for weeks to draw attention to a wide range of causes, including Middle East Peace, American hostages in Iran, animal rights, police brutality, and the equal rights amendment for women and to support pop singer Michael Jackson when he was charged with sexual molestation in 2004.
Richard Claxton Gregory was born in 1932, the second of six children. His father abandoned the family leaving his mother poor and struggling. Though the family often went without food or electricity, Gregory’s intellect and hard work quickly earned him honors and he attended the mostly White Southern Illinois University.

He started winning talent contests for his comedy, which he continued in the army. After he was discharged, he struggled to break into the stand-up circuit in Chicago,

working odd jobs as a postal clerk and car washer to survive. His breakthrough came in 1961, when he was asked to fill in for another comedian at Chicago’s playboy club. His audience mostly white Southern businessmen, heckled him with racist gibes, but he stuck it out for hours and left them howling.

He remained active on the comedy scene until recently, when he fell ill and cancelled a show in San Jose.

Many of his colleagues expressed their condolences.

“He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to live” Civil rights activist rev. Reese Jackson tweeted. “Dick Gregory was committed to justice. I miss him already”.

“We lost a king” American Comedian Chris Rock posted on Instagram.

Comedian Larry Wilmore tweeted “What you did for comedy can’t ever be equaled”.

Yes, they all are right. We lost a king and nobody could replace him. RIP Dick Gregory!!!                         Sarika

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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