On this day in 1932, Richard “Dick” Gregory was born in St. Louis, Missouri. The second of six children, Gregory grew up in an extremely impoverished household and was raised by a single mother.
At an early age, Gregory experienced a lot of bullying and discrimination. In his 1964 autobiography, he says of these childhood bullies, “They were going to laugh anyway, but if I made the jokes they’d laugh with me instead of at me. After a while, I could say anything I wanted,” he continued. “I got a reputation as a funny man. And then I started to turn the jokes on them.”
A high school track star, Gregory was accepted to Southern Illinois University. Shortly thereafter he was drafted into the Army. Around this time, he began to perform stand-up comedy. Working at several Chicago clubs while taking on the occasional odd job, Gregory’s break came in 1961 at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club in Chicago.
During the 1960’s, the comedian was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. He became close to several prominent figures of the era, such as Medgar Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Because of his activism, he was arrested on several occasions,
While jailed in 1963 in Alabama, Gregory wrote that he had received “the first really good beating I ever had in my life.” His activism continued throughout the remainder of the 60’s.
He attempted to run against Richard Daley for the office of mayor of Chicago in 1967. He was unsuccessful. Gregory spent his later years more focused on conspiracy theories, particularly those about the 9/11 attacks and the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1999, but he refused chemotherapy treatment. Instead, tried alternative treatments and diet modification, and the cancer went into remission.
Gregory died almost 18 years later, on August 19, 2017 at the age of 84.