When you turn 80 these days, it’s something to celebrate. Living legend, national treasure and civil rights and health activist Dick Gregory turns 80 this Friday and will be celebrated via a 3-hour live radio tribute this Friday on “The Carl Nelson Show" on 1450 WOL Radio in Washington, D.C.
Gregory is practically his own chapter of Black history. The St. Louis native once ran for President and got his start as a civil rights leader after excelling at track in high school. After being drafted into the Army, his comic skills were discovered and he moved to Chicago after his service. There he became a cohort of comedians like Bill Cosby. But “Playboy” founder Hugh Hefner put Gregory on the map after hearing him perform a racially satiric routine in front of a predominantly white audience. Gregory began performing at the then popular Playboy Club and the rest is definitely black history.
Gregory’s popularity and his skits that dealt frankly with racism led to his involvement in civil rights. Gregory ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Chicago in 1967 and President of the United States in 1968 to draw attention to the problems of African-Americans. He’s supported feminism and the anti-apartheid movement as well as healthy living. Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma but has kept it at bay for over a decade with he says, his regimen of fruits, vegetables, supplements and exercise. His book “Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature” was published in 1973, putting him at the forefront of the early healthy living movement. Gregory is the author of several other books including a few memoirs, one entitled “Ni—er,” which details the hardships of his life growing up poor, black and without a father.
Gregory continues to be a force, speaking around the world and performing. He’s still keenly interested in politics and the state of the world. In his 80 years, he’s seen a lot of changes but says he believe actions are always better than ideals.
“I don’t believe in hope,” he told Democracynow.org earlier this year. “We got in outer space; there wasn’t hope. We made rockets; there wasn’t hope. You bring in the hardcore scientists and shine a light on it and say, "We have to do this." If I had a brain tumor, I don’t hope it’s going to get out; I’m going to ask you who’s the best brain surgeon here, and I’ll go to him. And that’s what’s going to happen. You shift the mindset of young folks that says, what you’re doing here goes out there. This don’t have to happen, that it’s not all right. I come up in a black community when a cop beat up you and your brother, they say, "Well, thank God they didn’t kill you." That’s no more. That’s no more.”