Dick Gregory, "the pioneering black satirist who transformed cool humor into a barbed force for civil rights in the 1960s, then veered from his craft for a life devoted to protest and fasting in the name of assorted social causes, health regimens and conspiracy theories," died August 19, the New York Times reported. He was 84. Gregory's conviction was that "within a well-delivered joke lies power. He learned that lesson growing up in St. Louis, achingly poor and fatherless and often picked on by other children in his neighborhood," the Times noted.
"They were going to laugh anyway, but if I made the jokes they'd laugh with me instead of at me,” he wrote in his 1964 book nigger: an autobiography (with Robert Lipsyte). "After a while, I could say anything I wanted. I got a reputation as a funny man. And then I started to turn the jokes on them."
One of his best-known jokes involved, the Times recalled, "a restaurant waitress in the segregated South who told him, 'We don't serve colored people here,' to which Mr. Gregory replied: 'That's all right, I don't eat colored people. Just bring me a whole fried chicken.' "
He also ran for president in 1968 as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party.
His fasting led to a keen interest in nutrition and he became a fervent health-food advocate, sharing his philosophy in the book Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin' With Mother Nature. Other books include Callus On My Soul: A Memoir (with Sheila P. Moses); The Shadow That Scares Me (with James R. McGraw); and Dick Gregory's Political Primer.