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Sports Heroes Who Served: Author, Runner, Comedian, Civil Rights Activist Was Also a Soldier

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Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Dick Gregory led a full life: cross-country champion, Army veteran, presidential hopeful, prolific author, civil rights activist and comedian.

A man speaks as a phone is held to his mouth.
Dick Gregory
Comedian Dick Gregory in 1964.
Photo By: Library of Congress
VIRIN: 640901-O-D0439-001H

Gregory, born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1932, had a penchant for running. In 1950, he won the Missouri state cross-country championship.

That helped earn him a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he set school records as a half-miler and miler.

His studies and running were interrupted in 1954, when he was drafted into the Army. He served two years at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lee, Virginia; and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

Gregory got his start in comedy while serving in the Army, where he entered and won several talent shows. 

After his Army service, he moved to Chicago, where he began a career in comedy.

A man holds his fist in the air at a podium as another man applauds behind him.
Civil Rights Speech
Dick Gregory gives a civil rights speech at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.
Photo By: State library and Archives of Florida
VIRIN: 690901-O-D0439-001

"Playboy" magazine editor Hugh Hefner hired him to perform comedy sketches at the Chicago Playboy Club in 1961.

Gregory was active in the civil rights movement. On October 7, 1963, 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," Oct. 7, 1963.

In 1964, Gregory's autobiography, "Nigger," was published, and it has been so popular that it is still in print. He published 16 other books and appeared in many films and TV shows.

Beginning in 1965, Gregory became a vegetarian and fasting activist. His 1973 book, "Dick Gregory's Natural Diet For Folks Who Eat: Cookin' With Mother Nature," told how fasting and going on a vegetarian diet leads to a dramatic weight loss.

A man stands and speaks with a microphone while surrounded by people.
Supporting Protestors
Dick Gregory in 2014 at the Department of Justice, in support of the protestors of Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police.
Photo By: Courtesy of Dick Gregory
VIRIN: 140901-O-D0439-001

Gregory was number 82 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of all time and had his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Gregory began his political career by a failed run against Richard J. Daley for mayor of Chicago in 1967. 

Undeterred, he 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 garnered 47,097 votes.

As a peace activist, Gregory spoke at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam demonstration in Washington, D.C. in 1969. He was also an outspoken feminist and joined other activists in trying to get ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. 

A man smiles for a photo while wearing a Million Women March baseball cap.
Million Women March
Dick Gregory in the Million Women March in Philadelphia, 1997.
Photo By: Courtesy of John Mathew Smith
VIRIN: 970901-O-D0439-001

In 1980, he traveled to Tehran, Iran, in an attempt to negotiate the release of U.S. hostages.

In 1984, he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight-loss products. Through this company, Gregory endeavored to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he believed was being hindered by poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse.

In 2003, Gregory took on animal rights, in cooperation with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Gregory died from heart failure at a hospital in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19, 2017, at the age of 84.

More Sports Heroes Who Served
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Sports Heroes Graphic
Sports Heroes Who Served graphic - with title
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903

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