Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who have served in the United States Army.
Dick Gregory has led a busy life: cross country champion, military veteran, presidential hopeful, prolific author, civil rights activist and comedian.
Gregory, born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1932, had a penchant for running. In 1950, he won the Missouri State Cross Country Championship.
This earned him a scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he set academic records as a half mile and miler.
His studies and his race 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 made his comedy debut while serving in the military, where he entered and won several talent shows.
After his military service, he moved to Chicago, where he began a career in comedy.
“Playboy” magazine editor Hugh Hefner hired him to perform comedy sketches at the Playboy Club in Chicago 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 campaign known as “Freedom Day” on October 7, 1963 .
In 1964, Gregory’s autobiography, “Nigger,” was published, and it was so popular that it is still in print. He has published 16 other books and appeared in numerous movies 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,” explained how fasting and the vegetarian diet lead to dramatic weight loss.
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 with a failed race against Richard J. Daley for mayor of Chicago in 1967.
Undeterred, he ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a written candidate for the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken with the Peace and Freedom Party. It received 47,097 votes.
As a peace activist, Gregory spoke at the Moratorium to End the Vietnam War protest in Washington, DC in 1969. He was also an outspoken feminist and joined with other activists to try to obtain the ratification of the amendment on equal rights to the Constitution.
In 1980, he traveled to Tehran, Iran, to try to negotiate the release of American hostages.
In 1984, he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight loss products. Through this endeavor, Gregory worked to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he said was hampered by unhealthy diets and drug and alcohol abuse.
In 2003, Gregory took on animal rights, in cooperation with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Gregory died of heart failure at a Washington, DC hospital on August 19, 2017, at the age of 84.