“Dick Gregory, the pioneering satirist who transformed cool humor into a barbed force for civil rights in the 1960s, then veered from his craft for a life devoted to protest and fasting in the name of assorted social causes, health regimens and conspiracy theories, died Saturday in Washington,” reports The New York Times.
The Times continues, “Mr. Gregory [who was 84] had been admitted to a hospital on Aug. 12, his son said in an earlier Facebook post.”
Writes Rolling Stone, “while at the hospital, Gregory suffered ‘a bifurcated thoracic aortic aneurysm,’ the family announced Sunday. ‘For a lifetime, my father took all the hits, however, this hit was too much,’ [Gregory’s son] Christian Gregory wrote.”
The Times story quotes from some of Gregory’s routines: “‘Segregation is not all bad,’ he would say. ‘Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?’ Or: ‘You know the definition of a Southern moderate? That’s a cat that’ll lynch you from a low tree.’ Or: ‘I heard we’ve got lots of black astronauts. Saving them for the first spaceflight to the sun.’”
Says Rolling Stone, “The St. Louis-born Gregory got his start in comedy while serving in the Army in the Fifties, where he worked on his craft in talent shows. After years of performing to predominately black audiences at nightclubs while holding down a day job at the post office, Gregory’s big break came in January 1961, when Hugh Hefner asked him to fill in at the Playboy Club in Chicago.”
Gregory “was invited to perform on ‘The Tonight Show’ in 1962,” notes The Hollywood Reporter, “but Gregory said he wouldn’t go unless he was able to sit down next to host Jack Paar after his routine and be interviewed. A black performer had never done that before.”
The Reporter adds, “After ‘The Tonight Show’ appearance, Gregory noted that his salary jumped from $250 for seven nights of work (three shows a night) at the Playboy Club to $5,000 a night. ‘And the next year and a half, I made $3.9 million,’ he said. ‘That is the power.’”
Here’s Dick Gregory in an appearance on Arsenio Hall’s old late-night talk show that we found on YouTube: