Comedian and international human and civil rights activist Dick Gregory will achieve Hollywood immortality on Feb. 2 when his star is etched into the Walk of Fame.
Gregory’s career, which began in the mid-1950s while he was in the Army, has stood the test of time. By 1962, Gregory was a nationally-known headline performer, selling out nightclubs, making numerous national television appearances, and recording popular comedy albums.
Known as the first African-American satirist, Gregory, now 82, broke away from the minstrel tradition and opened the doorways for Black comedians such as Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and, most importantly, Richard Pryor.
“Dick Gregory is the godfather of comedy” and a “groundbreaking entertainer,” said activist and radio host Joe Madison.
Madison, who led the effort to secure Gregory’s spot on the Walk of Fame along with E. Faye Williams, national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, and others, said the recognition was long overdue.
“If anybody deserves a star on the Walk of Fame it is Dick Gregory,” the SiriusXM host said. “He should have had a star on the Walk of Fame decades ago.”
Even more than his star power, Gregory’s social conscience and continued connection to everyday people is what qualifies him for this recognition, Williams told the AFRO.
“He’s not like other celebrities who shun people when they become a star,” she said. “He’s always willing to listen to you, spend time with you or share his knowledge.”
Also, unlike some stars, Gregory was never afraid to use his celebrity to advance social causes he believed in. Over the years, he frequently put his comedic career aside to focus on his activism.
“Dick Gregory has been at the forefront of every major social movement in this country,” Madison said.
During the Civil Rights Movement, for example, Gregory joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and others to fight segregation and disenfranchisement in the South. He joined the SNCC in its voter registration efforts, marched, participated in sit-ins and was even jailed. According to his biography, when local Mississippi governments stopped distributing federal food surpluses to poor Blacks in retaliation against SNCC’s voter registration efforts, Gregory chartered a plane to bring in several tons of food.
Over the decades, the comedian-activist has supported a range of causes including healthy living, opposition to the Vietnam War, world hunger, drug abuse, crime and suspected corruption in the CIA and other government agencies; he has fought for Native American fishing rights in Canada and the United States and sought to change the name of Washington, D.C.’s football team.
“I have seen him stand out in the cold to explain why the name ‘Redskins’ is dehumanizing to Native Americans,” Williams said, later adding, “Wherever he feels he’s needed, he’s there.”
Gregory’s dedication to service made the process for obtaining the Hollywood star—which took about a year—easy, Williams said. A large part of the process involved waiting for the next class of star recipients to be accepted. His supporters also had to pay a $30,000 application fee, which they raised without Mr. Gregory’s involvement, she said.
“Within 10 days to two weeks, fans of Mr. Gregory from across the country had donated the money,” she said. “We heard from doctors, lawyers and normal people from across the country, who all had stories about how Mr. Gregory had helped them. It was a real compliment to Mr. Gregory that is was so easy to do this.”
With the Hollywood star in the bag, Williams and others are focusing their efforts on the newly-formed Dick Gregory Foundation.
“The foundation will carry on the work of Dr. Gregory, fighting for those things he continues to fight for—equality and equal opportunity for all people regardless of creed, race and nationality,” she said.
Madison said he is happy Gregory is alive to receive the honor and to see his work being continued.
“My motivation was to get him this star while he is still alive so he can appreciate the fact that we appreciate him.”
Dick Gregory will receive his Hollywood Star at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 2 at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Vine St. in Hollywood, Calif. Those interested in attending the 30-minute ceremony are encouraged to call 202-753-2644.