Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dick Gregory is an influential American comic who has used his performance skills to convey to both white and black audiences his political message on civil rights. Influenced to stand up for civil rights by his early surroundings of poverty and violence, Gregory became the first comedian to successfully perform for both black and white audiences.
Active in the civil rights movement, he came to Selma, Alabama and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as "Freedom Day" (October 7, 1963) (Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train [Beacon Press, 1994; rev. ed. 2002], p. 58).
Dick Gregory's first TV appearance was on the Jack Paar late night show. He soon began appearing nationally and on television and his 1964 autobiography, Nigger, sold seven million copies. At the same time, he became more involved in struggles for civil rights, activism against the American War in Vietnam, economic reform, anti-drug issues, conspiracy theories, and others. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes. Gregory began his political career by running against Richard J. Daley for the mayoralty of Chicago in 1967. Though he did not emerge victorious, this would not prove to be the end of Dick Gregory's dalliances with electoral politics.
Gregory unsuccessfully ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from the Peace and Freedom Party. He won 47,097 votes (including one from Hunter S. Thompson) with fellow activist Mark Lane as his running mate in some states, David Frost in others, garnering more than the party he had left. The Freedom and Peace Party also ran other candidates, including Beulah Sanders for New York State Senate and Flora Brown for New York State Assembly. His efforts landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents.
He then wrote Write Me In about his presidential campaign. One interesting anecdote in the book related the story of a publicity stunt which came out of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago where the campaign had printed $1 bills with Gregory's image on them. Some of these bills made it into circulation in cash transactions causing considerable problems, but priceless publicity.
The majority of these bills were quickly seized by the Federal Govt. A large contributing factor to the seizure came from the bills resembling authentic US currency enough that they worked in many dollar cashing machines of the time. Gregory avoided being charged with a federal crime, later joking that the bills couldn’t really be considered US currency because everyone knows a black man will never be on a US bill.
On July 21, 1979, Gregory appeared at the Amandla Festival where Bob Marley, Patti LaBelle and Eddie Palmieri, amongst others, had performed. Gregory held a speech before Marley's performance, blaming President Carter and the political failures, and showed his support for the international Anti-Apartheid movements. Gregory and Mark Lane did landmark research into the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which helped move the U.S. House Assassinations Committee to investigate the murder along with that of John F. Kennedy. Lane was author of conspiracy theory books such as Rush to Judgment. The pair wrote the MLK conspiracy book Code Name Zorro, which postulated that convicted assassin James Earl Ray did not act alone.
Gregory was an outspoken activist during the US Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran. In 1980 he traveled to Tehran to attempt to negotiate the hostages' release and engaged in a public hunger strike there, weighing less than 100 pounds (45 kg) when he returned to the United States.
In recent years, Gregory has been a figure in the health food industry, becoming better known as a nutrition guru during the 1980s, advocating for a raw fruit and vegetable diet. Gregory first became a vegetarian in the 1960s, and has lost a considerable amount of weight by going on extreme fasts, some lasting upwards of 50 days. He developed a diet drink called "Bahamian Diet Nutritional Drink" and went on TV shows advocating for his diet and to help the morbidly obese. He is probably best remembered for his attempts, chronicled in the media on daytime talk shows in early 1988, at helping 1,200 pound (540 kg) Long Island man Walter Hudson drop nearly 600 pounds (270 kg) in only a few months on a liquid diet. Mr. Hudson shortly gained the weight back and later died from complications from his extreme obesity. Nonetheless, Gregory claims his diet has kept him in good health and continues to advocate for a natural diet lifestyle.
In early June 2005, during the late stages of the 2005 trial of Michael Jackson, he was invited by Jackson's father, Joseph Jackson, to advise Jackson on his health. On June 4, Gregory brought a blood-circulating machine to Jackson's house, but Jackson refused to use it. On February 26, 2006, in Atlanta, Georgia, while making a speech at Soul Vegetarian, he fainted; paramedics arrived soon afterwards.
Gregory married his wife Lillian in the 1960s, and they now have ten children. One of his sons, Dr. Christian Gregory, is a private Chiropractor at Advance Family Chiropractic. As of 2008, he resides in Washington, DC.
At a Civil Rights rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Gregory criticized the United States, calling it "the most dishonest, ungodly, unspiritual nation that ever existed in the history of the planet. As we talk now, America is 5 percent of the world's population and consumes 96 percent of the world's hard drugs", Gregory said.
Gregory was a former co-host with radio magnate Cathy Hughes, and is still a frequent morning guest, on WOL 1450 AM talk radio's "The Power", the flagship station of Hughes' Radio One. Gregory appears as "Mr. Sun" in the television show Wonder Showzen (the third episode, titled "Ocean", aired in 2005). As Chauncey, a puppet character, imbibes a hallucinogenic substance, Mr. Sun warns, "Don't get hooked on imagination, Chauncey. It can lead to terrible, horrible things." Gregory also provides guest commentary on the Wonder Showzen Season One DVD. Large segments of his commentary were intentionally bleeped out, including the names of several dairy companies, as he makes possibly slanderous remarks concerning the ill effects that consumption of cow milk has on human beings.