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Comedian, activist Dick Gregory dies at 84

Comedian, activist Dick Gregory dies at 84

DICK Gregory, a 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. Gregory, who lived in Washington, died of heart failure.

Gregory’s success as a comedian in the early 1960s helped pave the way for other black comics to gain greater fame by reaching a mainstream audience.

Born in St Louis, Gregory 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 his act and hired the comedian to perform at his nightclub in 1961. At the time, stand-up comedy was largely segregated.

Soon after his break at the Playboy Club, Gregory recorded a number of comedy albums and appeared on television talk shows, becoming one of the highest paid black entertainers in the early 1960s.

Gregory was arrested several times for taking part in demonstrations in the 1960s, befriending the late Martin Luther King Jr as he used his fame to help push for desegregation. The comedian also protested the Vietnam War, took part in hunger strikes and ran for US president in 1968 as a write-in candidate for the obscure Peace and Freedom Party.

In the early 1970s, Gregory left stand-up comedy to spend more time on political activism. In the 1980s, he turned his focus to promoting healthy eating and became a diet food entrepreneur. He returned to stand-up in the 1990s.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2017

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