Comedian, civil rights activist Dick Gregory dies at 84

Published On: August 21, 2017 10:45 AM NPT By: Reuters

WASHINGTON, August 21: Dick Gregory, an American comedian who lambasted racism and played a prominent role in the 1960s civil rights movement after becoming one of the first black comics to perform for white audiences, died on Saturday at age 84, his son said.

"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, wrote on Instagram. Dick, who lived in Washington, checked into Sibley Memorial Hospital a week ago after falling ill, said his longtime publicist Steve Jaffe. He died at the facility of heart failure, Jaffe said.

Dick's success as a comedian in the early 1960s helped pave the way for other black comics, such as Richard Pryor, to gain greater fame by reaching a mainstream audience. Born in St Louis, Missouri, Dick grew up in poverty. He was working for the US Postal Service and performing in front of largely black audiences for low pay when Playboy founder Hugh Hefner saw Dick's act and hired the comedian to perform at his nightclub in 1961.

At the time, stand-up comedy was largely segregated."When I started, a black comic couldn't work a white nightclub," Gregory told the Florida Times-Union. "You could sing, you could dance, but you couldn't stand flat-footed and talk - then the system would know how brilliant black folks were."

Soon after his break at the Playboy Club, Dick recorded a number of comedy albums and appeared on television talk shows, becoming one of the highest paid black entertainers in the early 1960s. Dick's stand-up comedy tackled racism, often with quips that took his audience by surprise. If his comedy routine was at times disarming, his civil rights activism left no doubt where he stood.

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