Rediscover: Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory, the pioneering black stand-up comedian who brought his sharp wit to the 1960s civil rights movement and other social causes, died last week at age 84. Gregory abandoned his comedy career for political and social activism, including a write-in campaign for president on the Freedom and Peace Party ticket in 1968 and frequent hunger strikes. He was also a proponent of conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing and 9/11, among other topics, and became interested in nutrition as a result of his hunger strikes (which brought him as low as 95 pounds).

Gregory enjoyed unprecedented success with both black and white audiences in the early '60s. On Jack Paar's Tonight Show, Gregory was the first black comedian allowed to chat after his set (they had traditionally left after performing, unlike white comics). His club sets brought dark humor to the grave situation of segregation, including what was perhaps his most famous joke: "Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, 'We don't serve colored people here.' I said, 'That's all right. I don't eat colored people.' " Gregory gradually abandoned stand-up as he became more directly involved in social activism.

He was also the author of more than a dozen books on a range of subjects, from autobiography, history and nutrition to conspiracies and humor. His final book, an essay collection titled Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies, will be released by Amistad on September 5 ($24.99, 9780062448699). --Tobias Mutter

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