The world lost two iconic comedians this weekend. Dick Gregory, 84, died after being hospitalized for a bacterial infection in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19. Jerry Lewis passed away on Aug. 20 in Las Vegas, Nevada, at age 91 from an undisclosed illness.
During the 1960s and height of the civil rights movement, Gregory was one of the first standup black comedians to connect with a white audience. He deftly parlayed his comedic career into civil rights activism.
In response to his passing, actress Cicely Tyson tweeted: “Humanity has lost a Giant. RIP my dear friend.” Economist and political analyst Dr. Boyce Watkins, added “#DickGregory passing is a reminder that all of us must pick up the torch and run with it. He’ll be watching with Malcolm and Ali.”
Gregory supported nonviolence and became friends with John Lennon in the late ‘60s. When Lennon and Yoko Ono held their infamous “bed in” for world peace, Gregory provided one of the background voices heard in the singer’s “Give Peace a Chance” record.
Gregory called attention to several causes over the years, including equal rights for women, peace in the Middle East, and animal rights. In 2000, the comedian was diagnosed with lymphoma. He took some time off from standup comedy but later returned and was still performing into his 80s. Earlier this month, he was forced to cancel two appearances due to poor health. He thanked fans for their kind messages on social media and noted that he was eager to return to the stage to discuss the clash in in Charlottesville, Va., between white supremacists and counter, left wing protesters.
Gregory leaves behind his wife, Lillian, and 10 children.
Lewis was known for his comedic and musical partnership with Dean Martin in the 1940s and 50s. They starred in 17 movies together, including “The Caddy,” “The Stooge” and “Pardners.” In the ‘60s Lewis opted to go solo and starred in several films, including “The Nutty Professor,” “The Bellboy” and “The Ladies Man.” He is credited with developing a filmmaking technique known as video assist, involving videotape and closed-circuit monitors.
He is largely recognized as leading telethons for muscular dystrophy. He raised over $2.5 billion over 54 years to fight the disease until he stopped hosting the Labor Day fundraising event in 2011.
Celebs paid tribute to the funnyman on social media. Jim Carrey tweeted: “That fool was no dummy. Jerry Lewis was an undeniable genius an unfathomable blessing, comedy’s absolute! I am because he was!” Whoopi Goldberg tweeted: “Jerry Lewis passed today, millions around the world loved him, millions of kids he helped w/his telethons. R.I.P. &condolences 2 his family.” Filmmaker Kevin Smith added, “Bad week for classic comedy: first #DickGregory passes now #JerryLewis dies. Both spent life making millions laugh. Fare thee well, Legends.”
Lewis starred as the devil in the Broadway production “Damn Yankees” in the mid ‘90s and was noted for his large salary—$40,000 a week. His paycheck was the highest ever given to a Broadway star.
A supporter of the right wing, Lewis was a bit of a polarizing figure who made headlines in 2007 after making a gay slur during his annual telethon. He was also known for incorporating racist and misogynistic remarks in his comedy routines.
He last appeared in the 2016 drama “Max Rose” and performed in Las Vegas throughout his 80s.
Lewis is survived by wife, SanDee Pitnick, and seven children.