US comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory – who broke racial barriers in the 1960s and used his fame to counter racism and protested wars in Vietnam and the Middle East – has died aged 84.
Gregory died at a hospital in Washington DC late on Saturday after being hospitalised for a week following a bacterial infection, his family said on social media.
One of the first black stand-up comedians to find success with white audiences, Gregory rose from an impoverished childhood in St Louis to become a celebrated satirist who deftly commented on racial divisions at the dawn of the US civil rights movement.
His comedic style would pave the way for, and heavily influence, comedy greats such as Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle.
A close friend of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, Gregory was in the vanguard of the struggle for racial equality in the 1960s and championed integration.
An admirer of Gandhi, he embraced non-violence and in 1967 fasted for 22 days in opposition to the war in Vietnam.
He would later hold long fasts and would go without solid food for weeks to draw attention to a wide range of causes, including Middle East peace, police brutality, the Equal Rights Amendment for women, and animal rights – actions that would hurt his comedy career.
In the late 1980s he developed and distributed products for the popular Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet and when diagnosed with lymphoma in 2000, he fought it with herbs, exercise and vitamins. The disease went into remission a few years later.
Tributes poured in on social media on Sunday with politicians, comics, and activists praising the iconic performer’s civil rights efforts.