It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr. Dick Gregory departed this earth tonight in Washington, DC. The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time. More details will be released over the next few days – Christian Gregory
Rolling Stone reports that Gregory was hospitalized at Washington, D.C.’s Sibley Memorial Hospital with a urinary tract infection on August 9. He wrote on Instagram on August 16 that his "prognosis is excellent and [he] should be released within the next few days," but Christian wrote to Rolling Stone that he later suffered "a bifurcated thoracic aortic aneurysm."
"For a lifetime, my father took all the hits, however, this hit was too much," he wrote.
Per Rolling Stone’s biography, the St. Louis-born artist started performing stand-up comedy during a 1950s U.S. Army stint. He earned significant acclaim as one of the first Black comics to perform for predominantly White audiences, addressing difficult racial justice topics at a time when most comedy clubs were segregated. He later joined the Civil Rights Movement, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, and befriending both Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. He attempted a stint in politics by running for both Chicago mayor and U.S. president. Gregory remained active on the stage up until his death over the weekend.
I was probably 25-years-old before I realized my father called many people champ. I was clearly paying attention yet I never heard it other than when he was calling me. One of his finest gifts was the ability to make you sit up and pay attention. For a week, I watched my father cause some of the sharpest medical minds to sit up and pay attention. What began a little over a week ago as a simple Urinary Tract Infection wrecked havoc on my father’s slim frame. Events were set in motion that ultimately proved to be too much. A bifurcated thoracic aortic aneurysm ultimately was too big a blow. For a lifetime, my father took all the hits, however, this hit was too much. A life heavily sacrificed had ultimately taken its toll. Years of severe fasting, not for health but for social change, had damaged his vasculature system long ago. He always reminded us, many of his fasts were not about his personal health but an attempt to heal the world. A routine few days in the hospital suddenly turned dire. My father transitioned encircled by his family in love. It was actually purifying and a blessing to bear witness to unbridled familial love and peaceful understanding. For a week, my family stood 24 hour vigil over our father, even when it appeared routine. Way too much laughter for a hospital room I am certain. From comedy to civil rights to a life dedicated to equality, he never waned. Immeasurable generational sacrifice. A transformative block buster comedian who obliterated the color line. He quickly realized that the inequities and travesties of life were no laughing matter. There is no question humanity is better for it, we will allow his legendary history to stand for itself. Generations will delve into his sacrifice, comedic genius, focus and aptitude. For now, we simply want to reflect on his Service and Grace. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, children’s Rights, Human Rights, Disabled Rights, Animal Rights. Dick Gregory’s DNA is virtually on every movement for fairness and equality for all livings things on this planet. He was rarely one to rest and never one to stop championing for peace. Hopefully now he may find some semblance of them both. (Cont.)
Gregory helped pave the way for Black creators to attack anti-Blackness and promote change through art. Here’s how seven of those creators reacted to his passing:
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) August 20, 2017
Absolutely no one gave more to art of making you laugh and think… his knowledge of life and his perspective will be greatly missed… Especially during this time where racism and bigotry has reared its ugly head… I will never forget the word you told me… Get a radio station so you can always have a voice….God bless you. #dickgregory ?
— George Wallace (@MrGeorgeWallace) August 20, 2017
Humanity has lost a Giant. RIP my dear friend #DickGregory -CT
— Cicely Tyson (@IAmCicelyTyson) August 20, 2017