Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dick Gregory R.I.P.

Satirist and comedian Dick Gregory died on August 19 2017 at the age of 84. The cause was heart failure.

Dick Gregory was born on October 12 1932 in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended Sumner High School in St. Louis. A track star in high school, he earned a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. He left college in 1954 to join the United States Army. It was his commanding officer who urged him to take up comedy, and he took part in several Army talent shows. After his service Mr. Gregory returned to Southern Illinois University, but he eventually dropped out.

It was in 1956 that he moved to Chicago in hopes of pursuing a career in comedy. During the day he worked various jobs, while at night he did stand-up comedy at various night clubs about the city. He opened his own club, the Apex Club, in 1958, but it did not last long. It was in 1961 that he received his big break. Comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey had cancelled a gig at the Playboy Club in Chicago and Dick Gregory was asked to fill in for him. It was that same year that he made his television debut on The Jack Paar Tonight Show.

Dick Gregory would appear frequently on television in the Sixties. He made appearances on The Tonight Show, The Jack Paar Program, That Regis Philbin Show, Firing Line, The Eamon Andrews Show, The Merv Griffin Show, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and The Ed Sullivan Show. He was a co-host on The Mike Douglas Show in 1962. In the Seventies he continued to appear frequently on television. He was a co-host again on The Mike Douglas Show. He also appeared on The David Frost Show, The Helen Reddy Show, Black Journal, and Soul Train. After the Seventies Dick Gregory's appearances on television decreased, although he appeared occasionally on such shows as Donahue, Hour Magazine, and Sharp Talk. 

Dick Gregory released a highly successful series of stand-up comedy records in his career. His first, In Living Black and White, was released in 1961. He released several albums in the Sixties, including East & West (1961), Dick Gregory Talks Turkey (1962), The Two Sides of Dick Gregory (1963), My Brother's Keeper (1963), Dick Gregory Running for President (1964), So You See... We All Have Problems (1964), Dick Gregory On: (1969), The Light Side: The Dark Side (1969), Dick Gregory's Frankenstein (1970), and Live at the Village Gate (1970). In the Seventies he released the albums At Kent State (1971), and Caught in the Act (1974). He released two more albums, 21st Century "State of the Union" and You Don't Know Dick in 2016.

Dick Gregory appeared in several films over the years, primarily as himself in concert films and documentaries. Over the years he appeared as himself in such films as It's a Revolution Mother (1969), Chicago Blues (1970), Prologue (1970), Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971), In Remembrance of Martin (1986), Comic Relief (1986), The N Word (2004), The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi (2009), and Irwin & Fran (2013). He also acted in a few films as well, including Sweet Love, Bitter (1967), Panther (1995), Children of the Struggle (1999), The Hot Chick (2002), Steppin: The Movie (2009), and Ir/Reconcilable (2014). He is set to appear in the film The Leisure Seeker.

 Dick Gregory also wrote several books, including his 1964 autobiography, Write me in!, From the Back of the Bus, What's Happening?, The Shadow that Scares Me, and many others.

Dick Gregory was certainly a revolutionary comic and satirist. Among other things he was a sharp break from African American comedians earlier in the 20th Century, such as Red Foxx and Slappy White, whose humour could often be quite earthy. In contrast, Mr. Gregory's humour tended to be wry and witty. Indeed, he openly addressed race relations at a time when most comedians chose not to. He did so not by preaching at audiences about the evils of racism, but instead showed its absurdity by making mocking observations about it. Given the subject matter of his routines in the early Sixties, some today might be surprised to know that Dick Gregory was one of the first black comedians to cross over to performing in front of white audiences. He was also wildly popular in the Sixties and Seventies.

In addition to being a comedian and satirist, Dick Gregory was also a civil rights activist. In 1962 he took part in his first demonstration for voting rights in Mississippi. He spoke in Selma, Alabama on October 7 1963 as part of a voter registration drive known as "Freedom Day". Beyond being active in the civil rights movement, Mr. Gregory was also involved in activism against the Vietnam War, for economic reform, and against drugs.

Dick Gregory was truly a groundbreaking satirist and comic, addressing racial concerns just as the civil rights movement was gaining ground. What is more, he was extremely funny. With wry humour and wit he exposed the absurdity of racism in American society, all the while remaining very funny.

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