“I walked into this restaurant and this waitress said ‘we don’t serve coloured people here’ and I said ‘that’s all right, I don’t eat coloured people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.’”
This iconic joke epitomizes the life and legacy of comedian, political activist and dietary expert Richard Claxton Gregory. Dick Gregory—the name by which he was most commonly known—died on Aug. 19 at the age of 84 due to heart failure.
Gregory made his mark on the world as a comedian who used civil rights activism and racsism as the through-line in his jokes and delivery. Here are 15 more facts about the man who revolutionized black comedy, political and civil rights activism and the remedy of using a vegetarian diet to heal the human body.
Gregory was born on Oct. 12, 1932 in St Louis, Missouri and raised with five siblings by his mother, Lucille.
He attended Southern Illinois University on a track scholarship. While in college, Gregory used comedy as a coping mechanism against the constant racism he encountered as a black student on campus.
In 1954, Gregory was drafted into the United States Army. During his two years of service, he entered and won several Army talent shows with his comedy routines.
In 1956, after being discharged from the army, Gregory returned to college but dropped out because he said the university “didn’t want me to study, they wanted me to run.”
In 1958, Gregory opened the APEX nightclub in Chicago as one of his first entrepreneurial ventures. But in 1959, Gregory landed a job as master of ceremonies at the Roberts Show Club after the APEX failed and closed. This job put him on stage in front of Hugh Hefner who hired him in 1961 to work at the Chicago Playboy Club as a replacement for comedian “Professor” Irwin Corey.
In 1959, Gregory married his wife Lillian (who survives him). They had 11 children together, one who died in infancy.
In 1964, Gregory published his autobiography, Nigger, written with the journalist Robert Lipsyte.
In 1967 Gregory staged a public fast to protest against the Vietnam War. That year, he ran as mayor of Chicago against Richard Daley and lost.
Gregory ran as a write-in candidate for the Freedom and Peace party in the 1968 presidential race against Richard Nixon. His candidacy put him under FBI surveillance under orders of Richard Nixon.
In 1971, Gregory and his former running mate Mark Lane penned Murder in Memphis (originally titled Code Name Zorro), which accused governmental authorities of a cover-up in the Martin Luther King assassination.
Gregory staged several hunger strikes and protests including one in Iran for the 1980 Tehran hostage crisis and in 2004 for the late music icon Michael Jackson when he faced charges of child molestation.
In 1984, Gregory founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight-loss products. With this company, Gregory made efforts to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he believed was being hindered by poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse.
In 2000, Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma and treated himself with a self-prescribed vegetarian diet of herbs and what he described as “devices not yet known to the public.” His cancer went into remission.
In 2004, Gregory was arrested outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington while protesting against genocide.
Gregory was named number 82 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of all time and has his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.