Dick Gregory, the trailblazing comic and civil rights activist whose unique brand of comedy combined cutting wit and contemporary headlines, died Saturday.
He was 84.
Gregory died in Washington D.C. two days after his son revealed that he was hospitalized with a “serious but stable medical condition.”
“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, DC.,” his son Christian Gregory wrote on Instagram.
“The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”
Born in St. Louis, Gregory first started performing stand-up comedy in the Army in the 1950s.
His major break came in 1961 when he was spotted by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner performing before an all-white audience at the Roberts Show Bar in Chicago.
“It was the first time they had seen a black comic who was not bucking his eyes, wasn’t dancing and singing and telling mother-in-law jokes,” Gregory said in a 2000 Boston Globe interview. “Just talking about what I read in the newspaper.”
Gregory instantly shot to fame, landing gigs at the country’s top clubs and raking in as much as $ 25,000 a night.
At the same time, the civil rights movement was gathering momentum and Gregory bravely injected himself into the cause, trading stage performances for sit-ins and marches.
Some critics called him out for allowing his activism to impede his comedy career.
“My career is interfering with my demonstrating,” Gregory shot back.
A friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he was shot in the leg during Los Angeles’ Watts Riots in 1965 and even ran for president as a write-in candidate in 1968.
“He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to fight. He taught us how to live,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “Dick Gregory was committed to justice. I miss him already. #RIP.”
TV One host Roland Martin described Gregory as “honest, truthful, unflinching, unapologetically black.”
“He challenged America at every turn,” Martin added.
The death of the comic giant even prompted Bill Cosby to issue a rare public statement.
“His comedy showed his education, intelligence, and was inclusive of humanitarianism along with great timing,” Cosby tweeted.