Dick Gregory, comedian, Civil Rights icon and would-be presidential candidate, has died after being hospitalized with an undisclosed illness about a month go. He was 84.
You don’t know your history if you don’t know about Gregory’s legacy. He began his career as a comic during the 1950s, while serving in the military, becoming one of the first Black comedians to break through to white audiences. He used humor to address race and politics during the height of Jim Crow, and eventually became a Civil Rights activist. He attempted to write-in his candidacy for the 1968 presidential election, and while he was unsuccessful in getting his name on the ballot, he never stopped speaking truth to power and even shared his views passionately throughout Donald Trump’s campaign and administration.
But Gregory is perhaps best-known for his appearance on Tonight Starring Jack Paar, agreeing to perform only after being assured a spot on the show’s couch afterwards (unheard of for a Black comic), leading to a groundbreaking conversation between the pair. Indeed, there would be no Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle, Colin Kaepernick or Jesse Williams, if there was no Dick Gregory to pave the way.
Gregory’s son confirmed the sad news in a statement on Saturday night. “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.,” Christian Gregory said via a statement from his father’s rep. “The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”
Earlier in the day, Christian revealed on Facebook that his father had been in the hospital, but assured the comedian’s fans that he was in stable condition and due to be released in a few days:
Our thoughts and prayers are with Gregory’s family, and for all his fans who are mourning the loss of an American treasure.