Comic and activist Dick Gregory
Comic and activist Dick Gregory received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Feb. 2 before a crowd of actors, comedians, officials and a host of family and friends.
“Today we are honouring a great comedian and civil rights activist…with the 2,542nd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” said Leron Gubler, president and CEO, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which presented the program.
Faye Williams, who headed the committee that lobbied to get Gregory the star, said the recognition was a long time coming. “Hello Hollywood. The star has arrived to get his star today. I know if Beyoncé or Etta James were here they’d break out into ‘At Last,’” she said.
A St. Louis, Mo., native, Gregory began his comic career in the mid-1950s while enlisted in the Army. By 1962, however, Gregory’s ironic, satiric style had made him into a nationally-known headline performer, selling out nightclubs, making numerous national television appearances, and recording popular comedy albums.
“By being both outspoken and provocative he became a household name and opened many doors for Black entertainers,” Gubler said.
Sitting in the crowd Monday were comedians and actors such as Roseanne Barr, Lou Gossett Jr., George Lopez and Nick Cannon. Comedian and actor Tommy Davidson, of “In Living Color” fame, shared the sentiments of many when he expressed his gratitude for Gregory’s pioneering work and his humble, caring spirit. “ a wonderful entertainer; and all of his comedy comes from the heart,” Davidson said. But more than that, he added, “This man deserves his props for what he has done for America and the world in general. There is positively and without a doubt a place in Hollywood for a person who cares about people.”
Gregory joined the Civil Rights Movement when he got a call from Medgar Evers in October 1963 asking him to come to Selma, Ala., and speak at a forum just two days before the public registration drive dubbed Freedom Drive. It was a call, Gregory has said that changed his life. From then on, Gregory became a fixture on the frontlines of many human and civil rights causes. He’s agitated against war and drugs and for immigration reform, women’s rights, the Occupy Movement, livable wage policy, changing the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins team, and much more.
Williams said she even joined him in jail with Martin King III and George Clooney in an effort to prevent starvation in the Sudan. “You can’t be Dick Gregory’s friend and not have held a picket sign somewhere in your lifetime or gone to jail with him,” she said, adding that he has left an indelible mark on society.
“If you go to Washington, D.C., be sure to go by the Dr. Martin Luther King bookstore,” Williams added. “Look in the indexes there and on every index page you will find the name ‘Dick Gregory.’ And in one special book called 1,000 People Who Made America, Dick Gregory’s name is there.”
As expected, when Gregory took the stage he led with funny yet provocative remarks. “A couple of you said what took you so long (to get the star)? Because I hadn’t been a bad boy—no scandals, no drugs… I haven’t slept with any White women,” Gregory said to a laughing crowd.
The 82-year-old also expressed his gratitude to the ultimate playboy Hugh Hefner, saying he gave him the needed break at a time when clubs were run by the mafia and Black entertainers were only permitted to sing and dance. “I’m going by Hefner to hug him and thank him,” Gregory said.
The activist also explained why he could never turn his back on the Black community. “I’ve always been listed in the phone book; I’ve never had a bodyguard because it’s Black folks that made me; when I was trying to be funny Black folks paid their 35 cents for their bottle of beer and they listened to me talk…. I have no choice but to give back.”
Continuing Gregory’s induction celebration, the Dick Gregory Foundation hosted an “All-Star Tribute and Toast to Dick Gregory” Feb. 3 at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre. The event was hosted by comedian and actor Chris Tucker.