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Entrepreneur, activist, and comedian Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory has died at 84 after a protracted battle with an undisclosed illness. Gregory's son Christian confirmed his father's passing Saturday night on social media.
Christian had revealed his father’s recent health struggles in a Facebook post on August 17.
“After feeling ill last Wednesday (August 9th), Mr. Gregory was taken to the hospital,” Christian wrote. “He was evaluated, treated and released. Showing only minimal improvement we returned him to the hospital Saturday (August 12) he was evaluated and admitted.”
Christian Gregory only wrote vaguely of the illness, noting, “there is no such thing as a ‘simple’ condition. In advanced age a simple cold or a simple infection could be catastrophic.”
Gregory rose to fame as a standup comic in the 1950’s with routines that regularly offered pointed social commentary on segregation and white supremacy.
In 1963, Gregory chartered a plane to bring in food to Greenwood, Mississippi to aid in a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voter registration drive when local government officials quit distributing federal food surpluses to poor blacks in the area.
Dick Gregory was one of 12 demonstrators arrested during a 1963 sit-in at the regional Toddle House restaurant chain to desegregate dining establishments. His later disclosure that he owned stock in Toddle House would hint at an entrepreneurial side.
Five years later, Gregory ran for President as a write-in candidate for the Freedom and Peace Party.
In 1980, Gregory led a fast and one-man prayer vigil in front of the White House for a peaceful settlement of the Iranian hostage crisis with Ayatollah Khomeini.
During the mid-’80s, Gregory’s penchant for financial independence dovetailed with an interest in health, as he reportedly signed a multimillion-dollar distribution deal to market his Slim/Safe Bahamian Diet.
“[They] thought I was crazy when I told people not to take no swine flu shots named after something as dirty as a pig,” Gregory told Barbara Reynolds of the Chicago Tribune, during a 1980 profile article. “In the 1960s, I told people the students would stop the Vietnam War, and in 1971 I predicted the oil companies would cook up an energy crisis.”
Such predictions, as well as a plan to introduce a car netting 100 miles per gallon during the ’80s, earned Gregory the label of an eccentric and conspiracy theorist in some circles.
Some of those theories, such as Gregory’s assertion that the Central Intelligence Agency supplied cocaine to predominately African-American communities during the ’80s and ’90s would ultimately be corroborated by more mainstream sources.
“A life well-lived but heavily sacrificed, has definitively taken its toll,” Christian Gregory wrote of his father’s entrepreneurial and activist roles. Gregory was performing upwards of 200 standup comedy shows per year well into 2009 at the age of 77.
Dick Gregory is survived by his wife Lily and their 10 children Michele, Lynne, Pamela, Paula, Stephanie (aka Xenobia), Gregory, Christian, Miss, Ayanna, and Yohance.