Sunday, 20 August 2017


My obituary of Dick Gregory, comedian and activist, and latterly health-food advocate, is up at the Guardian online. You can link to it here; it should be in the paper paper soon.

It is pretty much as I wrote it, some time ago for the paper's files. That they wanted a piece in stock is a good indication of just how important Gregory was, as a ground breaker in show business both on racial grounds and as a cross-over into activism.

I did do a quick update and polish on it, and then some of the piece was cut for space. What was lost was partly a speculation on my part about the causes of his activism being directed into more and more wide-ranging conspiracies: it seemed to me despite the relative success of his original civil rights activism (and to a lesser extent his opposition to the Vietnam war) he grew cynical about the lack of actual change in his lifetime.

I also speculated about the drive which caused him to spend so much time away from his family while he pursued his causes, leaving his wife Lillian to raise their 10 children. It seemed a strange recapitualisation of his own father's behaviour; Presley left his wife after each of their children was born before finally leaving for good. It was nice to note that this point was made in some of the other obituaries I saw today.

Gregory made his high school track team literally by running alongside the team outside the fence surrounding their field. I found this interesting because his move into nutrition echoed his early success in sport. He met his wife while he was attending college, where she worked in the offices. At the peak of his success they bought a 400 acre farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts--Gregory said he wanted to be ready to drive off the white people next time they landed. But twenty years later they had to sell the house, and move into an apartment, a sign of how his public profile had fallen. His support of Michael Jackson didn't help; after Jackson's death Gregory insisted he was murdered.

I didn't think there was a need to explain what a write-in vote is, but I would have liked to write a little bit more about Godfrey Cambridge, who was overweight himself and died of a heart attack on a movie set at 43. Because Gregory gained weight after that, I didn't see a direct connection. They were comedians who made white folks think, and Gregory, uniquely, was one who challenged that thinking to be put into action. RIP.


Anonymous said...

As a white kid growing up in housing, my dad gave Dick Gregory's book Nigger to me. After seeing a man get beaten after not being able to pay the meal at the diner, Mr. Gregory offered to pay the tab. The man said he'd just paid by taking the beating.
I became a social worker because of that story to use problem solving and advocating to eliminate the threat of 'beatings'.

Michael Carlson said...

Thanks for sharing that...