Civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory has died, his family has confirmed. He was 84.
Gregory’s son Christian Gregory announced the news in an Instagram post late Saturday night, confirming that his father — who had been hospitalized for a week — had passed away in Washington D.C.
“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,” Christian said in a statement. “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.”
On Thursday, Gregory’s family had revealed that the comedian had been hospitalized since Aug. 12 in a “serious but stabled medical condition.” However, they remained hopeful that he would recover and be released soon.
“My father, Dick Gregory remains hospitalized with a serious but stable medical condition,” the family wrote on Instagram. “His prognosis is excellent and he should be released within the next few days.
“When it comes to sickness and disease one’s age is highly significant,” the family continued. “There is no such thing as a ‘simple’ condition. In advanced age a simple cold or a simple infection could be catastrophic. At soon to be chronologically 85, my father’s true age far exceeds that. A life well-lived but heavily sacrificed, has definitively taken its toll.
“Laughter is truly good medicine,” they said on Thursday. “I’ve watched my father for a lifetime heal the world. Today he is in need of your healing. We are truly grateful for the phenomenal care he has been receiving.”
Gregory made a name for himself in the early ’60s for his wry observations and jokes about racism in America. He became one of the first African-American comedians to cross over and appeal to both black and white audiences.
Some of his most classic lines include a bit about a restaurant waitress in the South telling him that they “don’t serve colored people here.” His reply: “That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Just bring me a whole fried chicken.”
Gregory went on to release wildly successful comedy records like In Living Black and White and Dick Gregory Talks Turkey and became the first black comedian to appear on the couch on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show after he finished his set. (According to the New York Times, black comedians usually left after their set.)
The comedian was also well-known for his involvement in civil rights and social justice issues around the world. He was arrested dozens of times for taking part in peaceful protests in the South, including Birmingham, Alabama. He also later went on dozens of hunger strikes to protest various causes, including the Vietnam War, the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, apartheid in South Africa and Native American rights. Due to his weeks-long hunger strikes, Gregory shrunk down to a skinny 95 lbs.
Later in his life, Gregory also became involved in various conspiracy theories, including ones about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the crack epidemic of the ’80s.
Celebrities from Samuel L. Jackson to Nick Cannon remembered the late comedian on Twitter after his death.
Gregory is survived by his wife, Lillian, and his 10 children.