As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history,
the more that fact and legend become intertwined.
It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
August 22, 1932
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) began its first TV broadcast in England.
The BBC began its own regular television programming from the basement of Broadcasting House, London, on 22 August 1932. The studio moved to larger quarters in 16 Portland Place, London, in February 1934, and continued broadcasting the 30-line images, carried by telephone line to the medium wave transmitter at Brookmans Park, until 11 September 1935, by which time advances in all-electronic television systems made the electromechanical broadcasts obsolete.
August 27, 1952
Paul Reubens is born Paul Rubenfeld.
Actor, writer, film producer, game show host, and comedian, best known for his character Pee-wee Herman.
Paul Reubens (born Paul Rubenfeld; August 27, 1952) is an American actor, writer, film producer, game show host, and comedian, best known for his character Pee-wee Herman. Reubens joined the Los Angeles troupe The Groundlings in the 1970s and started his career as an improvisational comedian and stage actor. In 1982, Reubens put up a show about a character he had been developing for years. The show was called The Pee-wee Herman Show and it ran for five sold-out months with HBO producing a successful special about it. Pee-wee became an instant cult figure and for the next decade, Reubens would be completely committed to his character, doing all of his public appearances and interviews as Pee-wee. In 1985 Pee-wee's Big Adventure, directed by the then-unknown Tim Burton, was a financial and critical success, and soon developed into a cult film. Big Top Pee-wee, 1988's sequel, was less successful than its predecessor. Between 1986 and 1990, Reubens starred as Pee-wee in the CBS Saturday-morning children's program Pee-wee's Playhouse.
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".
Monday, August 21, 2017
Sunday, August 20, 2017
I've had great success being a total idiot.
|Jerry LewisMarch 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017|
Lewis was born on March 16, 1926, at Newark Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, to Russian Jewish parents.His father, Daniel Levitch (1902–80), was a master of ceremonies and vaudeville entertainer who used the professional name Danny Lewis. His mother, Rachel ("Rae") Levitch (née Brodsky), was a piano player for a radio station. Lewis started performing at age five and would often perform alongside his parents in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. By 15, he had developed his "Record Act" in which he exaggeratedly mimed the lyrics to songs on a phonograph.
He used the professional name Joey Lewis but soon changed it to Jerry Lewis to avoid confusion with comedian Joe E. Lewis and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Lewis then dropped out of Irvington High School in the tenth grade. He was a "character" even in his teenage years, pulling pranks in his neighborhood including sneaking into kitchens to steal fried chicken and pies. During World War II, he was rejected for military service because of a heart murmur.
Lewis initially gained attention as part of a double act with singer Dean Martin, who served as straight man to Lewis' zany antics in the Martin and Lewis comedy team. The performers were different from most other comedy acts of the time because they relied on their interaction instead of planned skits. After forming in 1946, they quickly rose to national prominence, first with their popular nightclub act, next as stars of their own radio program. The two men made many appearances on early live television, their first on the June 20, 1948, debut broadcast of Toast of the Town on CBS (later officially renamed The Ed Sullivan Show on September 25, 1955).
This was followed on October 3, 1948, by an appearance on the NBC series Welcome Aboard, then a stint as the first of a series of hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1950. Just before appearing on The Colgate Comedy Hour, Lewis hired Norman Lear and Ed Simmons to become regular writers for the Martin and Lewis bits. The duo began their Paramount film careers as ensemble players in My Friend Irma (1949), based on the popular radio series of the same name. This was followed by a sequel My Friend Irma Goes West (1950).
Both Martin and Lewis went on to successful solo careers, and neither would comment on the split nor consider a reunion. They made occasional public appearances together until 1961, but were not seen together again until a surprise reunion on a Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in 1976, arranged by Frank Sinatra. The pair eventually reconciled in the late 1980s after the death of Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin, in 1987. The two men were seen together on stage for the last time when Martin was making what would be his final live performance at Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1989. Lewis wheeled out a cake for Martin's 72nd birthday, sang "Happy Birthday" to him, and joked, "Why we broke up, I'll never know."Starting with At War with the Army (1950), Martin and Lewis were the stars of their own vehicles in fourteen additional titles, That's My Boy (1951), Sailor Beware (1952), Jumping Jacks (1952; also appearing in the Crosby and Hope film, Road to Bali as cameos), The Stooge (1952), Scared Stiff (1953), The Caddy (1953), Money from Home (1953), Living It Up (1954), 3 Ring Circus (1954), You're Never Too Young (1955), Artists and Models (1955) and Pardners (1956) at Paramount, ending with Hollywood or Bust (1956). All sixteen movies were produced by Hal B. Wallis. Attesting to the comedy team's popularity, DC Comics published the best-selling The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comics from 1952 to 1957. In 1954, the team appeared on episode 191 of What's My Line? as mystery guests. As Martin's roles in their films became less important over time, the partnership came under strain. Martin's participation became an embarrassment in 1954 when Look magazine published a publicity photo of the team for the magazine cover but cropped Martin out. The partnership ended on July 24, 1956.
After his partnership with Martin ended, he and his wife Patty took a vacation in Las Vegas to consider the direction of his career. He felt his life was in a crisis state: "I was unable to put one foot in front of the other with any confidence. I was completely unnerved to be alone ..." While there, he received an urgent request from his friend Sid Luft, who was Judy Garland's husband and manager, saying that she couldn't perform that night in Las Vegas because of strep throat, and asking Lewis to fill in. However, Lewis had not sung on a stage since he was five years old, twenty-five years before. But he appeared before the audience of a thousand nonetheless, doing jokes and clowning with the audience while Garland sat off-stage, watching. He then sang a rendition of a song he'd learned as a child, "Rock-A-Bye Baby", along with "Come Rain or Come Shine." Lewis recalled, "When I was done, the place exploded. I walked off the stage knowing I could make it on my own..." At his wife's pleading, Lewis used his own money to record the songs on a single.
Capitol Records heard it and insisted he do an album. The album, Jerry Lewis Just Sings, went to number 3 on the Billboard charts, staying near the top for four months and selling a million and a half copies. Having now proven he could sing and do live shows, he began performing regularly at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas beginning in late 1956, which marked a turning point in his life and career. The Sands signed him for five years, to perform six weeks each year, and paid him the same amount they had paid Martin and Lewis as a team. The critics gave him positive reviews: "Jerry was wonderful. He has proved that he can be a success by himself," wrote one. He appeared on his first solo television show for NBC in January 1957, followed by performances for clubs in Miami, New York, Chicago and Washington. In February he followed Judy Garland at the Palace Theater in New York; ex-partner Martin called during this period to wish him the best of luck. "I've never been happier," said Lewis. "I have peace of mind for the first time."
Lewis rose to stardom as a solo act in television and movies starting with the first of six appearances on What's My Line? from 1956 to 1966, then starred in "The Jazz Singer" episode of Startime. Lewis remained at Paramount and became a comedy star in his own right with his first film as a solo comic, The Delicate Delinquent (1957). Meanwhile, DC Comics published a new comic book series titled The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, running from 1957 to 1971. Teaming with director Frank Tashlin, whose background as a Warner Bros.Looney Tunes cartoon director suited Lewis's brand of humor, he starred in five more films, The Sad Sack (1957), Rock-A-Bye Baby(1958), The Geisha Boy (1958), Don't Give Up The Ship (1959) and even appeared uncredited as Itchy McRabbitt in Li'l Abner (1959). By the end of his contract with producer Hal B. Wallis, Lewis had several productions of his own under his belt. In 1959, a contract between Paramount Pictures and Jerry Lewis Productions was signed specifying a payment of $10 million plus 60% of the profits for 14 films over a seven-year period. In 1960, Lewis finished his contract with Wallis with Visit to a Small Planet (1960) and wrapped up work on his own production Cinderfella, which was postponed for a Christmas 1960 release and Paramount, needing a quickie feature film for its summer 1960 schedule, held Lewis to his contract to produce one.
Lewis came up with The Bellboy (1960). Using the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami as his setting—and on a small budget, with a very tight shooting schedule, and no script—Lewis shot the film by day and performed at the hotel in the evenings. Bill Richmond collaborated with him on the many sight gags. Lewis later revealed that Paramount was not happy financing a 'silent movie' and withdrew backing. Lewis used his own funds to cover the $950,000 budget. Lewis would next star in an episode of Celebrity Golf. During production Lewis pioneered the technique of using video cameras and multiple closed circuit monitors, which allowed him to review his performance instantly. His techniques and methods of video assist, documented in his book and his USC class, enabled him to complete most of his films on time and under budget. He popularized the practice, though he did not explicitly invent it. Lewis followed The Bellboy by directing several more films that he co-wrote with Richmond while some were directed by Tashlin, including The Ladies Man (1961), The Errand Boy (1961), It's Only Money (1962) and The Nutty Professor (1963). Lewis did a cameo appearance in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Further on, more Lewis films were Who's Minding the Store? (1963), The Patsy (1964) and The Disorderly Orderly(1964). Also in 1961, Lewis guest starred in an episode of The Garry Moore Show. Lewis hosted two different versions of The Jerry Lewis Show (a 1963 lavish, big-budget 13-week show for ABC and a 1967 one-hour variety show for NBC).
Lewis appeared on an episode of Playboy After Dark. He then starred in Hook, Line & Sinker(1969). Lewis taught a film directing class at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles for a number of years and his students included Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. In 1968, he screened Spielberg's early film Amblin' and told his students, "That's what filmmaking is all about." In 1970, Lewis guest appeared on The Red Skelton Show, then directed an episode of The Bold Ones. Lewis guest starred in an episode of The Engelbert Humperdinck Show.Lewis directed and co-wrote The Family Jewels (1965) about a young heiress who must choose among six uncles, one of whom is up to no good and out to harm the girl's beloved bodyguard who practically raised her. Lewis played all six uncles and the bodyguard. Lewis would next appear in Boeing Boeing (1965). Also in 1965, Lewis made television appearances on Ben Casey, The Andy Williams Show and Hullabaloo. By 1966, Lewis, then 40, was no longer an angular juvenile, his routines seemed more labored and his box office appeal waned to the point where Paramount Pictures new executives felt no further need for the Lewis comedies and did not wish to renew his 1959 profit sharing contract. Undaunted, Lewis packed up and went to Columbia Pictures, where he made Three On A Couch (1966), then appeared in Way...Way Out (1966) for 20th Century Fox. During 1966, Lewis guest starred in Batman, Password and in a pilot for Sheriff Who. Lewis continued with more movies, such as The Big Mouth (1967) and Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (1968).
He then directed and made his first offscreen voice performance as a bandleader in One More Time (1970), which starred Sammy Davis Jr. (a friend of Lewis) and also produced, directed and starred in Which Way to the Front? (1970). He would then make and star in the unreleased The Day the Clown Cried (1972), a drama set in a Nazi concentration camp. Lewis rarely discusses the film, but once suggested that litigation over post-production finances prevented the film's completion and release. However, he admitted during his book tour for Dean and Me that a major factor for the film's burial is that he is not proud of the effort. In 1973, Lewis was a guest on The Dick Cavett Show, then appeared on Celebrity Sportsman in 1974. Lewis appeared in a revival of Hellzapoppin' with Lynn Redgrave in 1976, but it closed on the road before reaching Broadway. In 1979, Lewis guest hosted (as ringmaster) in Circus of the Stars.
Lewis starred in the ABC televised drama movie Fight For Life (1987) with Patty Duke. He starred in five episodes of Wiseguy, then appeared in Cookie (1989). Lewis had a cameo in Mr. Saturday Night (1992) then in 1993, guest appeared in an episode of Mad About You as an eccentric billionaire. Lewis made his Broadway debut, as a replacement cast member playing the devil in a revival of Damn Yankees, choreographed by Rob Marshall. while also starring in the film Arizona Dream (1994), as a car salesman uncle. Lewis then starred as a father of a young comic in Funny Bones (1995). In 2003, Lewis did a guest voice as Professor Frink's dad in an episode of The Simpsons then in 2006, guest appeared in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.After an absence of 11 years, Lewis returned to film in Hardly Working (1981), a movie in which he both directed and starred. Despite being panned by critics, it eventually earned $50 million. Lewis next appeared in Martin Scorsese's film The King of Comedy (1983), in which he portrayed a late-night television host plagued by two obsessive fans, played by Robert De Niroand Sandra Bernhard. Lewis guest hosted Saturday Night Live and also appeared in Cracking Up a.k.a. Smorgasbord (1983) and Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1984). In France, Lewis starred in both To Catch a Cop a.k.a. The Defective Detective (1984) and How Did You Get In? We Didn't See You Leave (1984). Lewis has stated that as long as he has control over distribution of those movies, they will never have an American release. Meanwhile, a syndicated talk show Lewis hosted for Metromedia in 1984 was not continued beyond the scheduled five shows.
In December 2016, Lewis expressed interest in making another film.Lewis has remained popular in France, evidenced by consistent praise by French critics in the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma for his absurd comedy, in part because he had gained respect as an auteur who had total control over all aspects of his films, comparable to Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock. Liking Lewis has long been a common stereotype about the French in the minds of many English-speakers, and is often the object of jokes in English-speaking world pop culture. "That Americans can't see Jerry Lewis's genius is bewildering," says N. T. Binh, a French film magazine critic. Such bewilderment was the basis of the book Why the French Love Jerry Lewis. In 2012, Lewis directed a musical theatre version of The Nutty Professor at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville from July 31 to August 19 over the summer. In Brazil, Lewis appeared in Till Luck Do Us Part 2 (2013). He then next starred in a small role in the crime drama The Trust (2016). Lewis made a comeback in a lead role in Max Rose (2016).
On August 3, 2011, it was announced that Lewis would no longer host the MDA telethons and is no longer associated with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. On May 1, 2015, it was announced that in view of "the new realities of television viewing and philanthropic giving", the telethon was being discontinued. In early 2016, Lewis broke a five-year silence by making an online video statement for the organization on its website in honor of its rebranding, marking his first (and as it turned out, his final) appearance in support of MDA since his last telethon in 2010 and the end of his tenure as national chairman in 2011.Throughout his entire adult life and career, Lewis was a world-renowned humanitarian who supported fundraising for research into muscular dystrophy. Until 2011, he served as national chairman of and spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (formerly, the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America). Lewis began hosting telethons to benefit the company from 1952 to 1959, then every Labor Day weekend from 1966 to 2010, he hosted the annual live Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon (also referred to as Jerry Lewis Extra Special Special, Jerry Lewis Super Show and Jerry Lewis Stars Across America). Over nearly half a century, he raised over $2.6 billion in donations for the cause.
Good Night Mr. Lewis
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Once I realised the value of making people laugh, I got very good at it. Fast.
|Richard Claxton Gregory|
October 12, 1932 – August 19, 2017
Gregory was a student who excelled at running, and was aided by teachers at Sumner High School, among them Warren St. James. Gregory earned a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. There he set school records as a half-miler and miler. His college career was interrupted for two years in 1954 when he was drafted into the United States Army. The Army was where he got his start in comedy, entering and winning several Army talent shows at the urging of his commanding officer, who had taken notice of Gregory's penchant for joking. In 1956, Gregory briefly returned to SIU after his discharge, but dropped out because he felt that the university "didn't want me to study, they wanted me to run."
In the hopes of performing comedy professionally, Gregory moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he became part of a new generation of black comedians that included Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, and Godfrey Cambridge, all of whom broke with the minstrel tradition that presented stereotypical black characters. Gregory drew on current events, especially racial issues, for much of his material: "Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?"
In 1958, Gregory opened a nightclub called the Apex Club in Illinois. The club failed, landing Gregory in financial hardship. In 1959, Gregory landed a job as master of ceremonies at the Roberts Show Club.Gregory began his career as a comedian while serving in the military in the mid 1950s. He served in the army for a year and a half at Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Lee in Virginia, and Fort Smith in Arkansas. He was drafted in 1954 while attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale. After being discharged in 1956 he returned to the university but did not receive a degree. With a desire to perform comedy professionally, he moved to Chicago.
Gregory performed as a comedian in small, primarily black-patronized nightclubs, while working for the United States Postal Service during the daytime. He was one of the first black comedians to gain widespread acclaim performing for white audiences. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Gregory describes the history of black comics as limited: "Blacks could sing and dance in the white night clubs but weren't allowed to stand flat-footed and talk to white folks, which is what a comic does."
In 1961, while working at the black-owned Roberts Show Bar in Chicago, he was spotted by Hugh Hefner performing the following material before a largely white audience:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, "We don't serve colored people here." I said, "That's all right. I don't eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken."Then these three white boys came up to me and said, "Boy, we're giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we're gonna do to you." So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, "Line up, boys!"
Gregory's first television appearance was on the late night show Tonight Starring Jack Paar. He soon began appearing nationally and on television.
Early in Dick Gregory's career, he was offered an engagement on Tonight Starring Jack Paar. Paar's show was known for helping propel entertainers to the next level of their careers. At the time, black comics did perform on the show, but were never asked to stay after their performances to sit on the famous couch and talk with the host. Dick Gregory declined the invitation to perform on the show several times until finally Jack Paar called him to find out why he refused to perform on the show. Eventually, in order to have Gregory perform, the producers agreed to allow him to stay after his performance and talk with the host on air. This was a first in the show's history. Dick Gregory's interview on Tonight Starring Jack Paar spurred conversations across America.
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.
He was a former co-host with radio personality Cathy Hughes, and was a frequent morning guest, on WOL 1450 AM talk radio's "The Power", the flagship station of Hughes' Radio One. He also appeared regularly on the nationally syndicated Imus in the Morning program.
Gregory appeared as "Mr. Sun" on the television show Wonder Showzen (the third episode, entitled "Ocean", aired in 2005). As Chauncey, a puppet character, imbibes a hallucinogenic substance, Mr. Sun warns, "Don't get hooked on imagination, Chauncey. It can lead to terrible, horrible things." Gregory also provided guest commentary on the Wonder Showzen Season One DVD. Large segments of his commentary were intentionally bleeped out, including the names of several dairy companies, as he made potentially defamatoryremarks concerning ill effects that the consumption of cow milk has on human beings.
Gregory was an occasional guest on the Mark Thompson's Make It Plain Sirius Channel 146 Radio Show from 3pm to 6pm PST.
Gregory appeared on The Alex Jones Show on September 14, 2010, March 19, 2012, and April 1, 2014.
Gregory gave the keynote Address for Black History Month at Bryn Mawr College on February 28, 2013. His take-away message to the students was to never accept injustice.
Once I accept injustice, I become injustice. For example, paper mills give off a terrible stench. But the people who work there don't smell it. Remember, Dr. King was assassinated when he went to work for garbage collectors. To help them as workers to enforce their rights. They couldn't smell the stench of the garbage all around them anymore. They were used to it. They would eat their lunch out of a brown bag sitting on the garbage truck. One day, a worker was sitting inside the back of the truck on top of the garbage, and got crushed to death because no one knew he was there.
In 2013, Dick Gregory continued to be a ringing voice of the black power movement. Recently, he was featured in a Fantagraphics book by Pat Thomas entitled Listen, Whitey: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965–1975, which uses the political recordings of the Civil Rights era to highlight sociopolitical meanings throughout the movement. Dick Gregory is known for comedic performances that not only made people laugh, but mocked the establishment. According to Thomas, Dick Gregory’s monologues reflect a time when entertainment needed to be political to be relevant, which is why he included his standup in the collection. Dick Gregory is featured along with the likes of Huey P. Newton, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes and Bill Cosby.
Joe Morton played Dick Gregory in 2016 in the play Turn Me Loose at the Westside Theatre in Manhattan.
Gregory met his wife Lillian Smith at an African-American club; they married in 1959. They had eleven children (including one son, Richard Jr., who died at two months): Michele, Lynne, Pamela, Paula, Stephanie (a.k.a. Xenobia), Gregory, Christian, Miss, Ayanna, and Yohance. He has been criticized for being an absent father. In a 2000 interview with The Boston Globe, Gregory was quoted as saying, "People ask me about being a father and not being there. I say, 'Jack the Ripper had a father. Hitler had a father. Don't talk to me about family.'"
Active in the Civil Rights Movement, on October 7, 1963, Gregory came to Selma, Alabama, and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as "Freedom Day" (October 7, 1963).
In 1964, Gregory became more involved in civil rights activities, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, and anti-drug issues. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes and campaigns in America and overseas.
Gregory began his political career by running against Richard J. Daley for the mayoralty of Chicago in 1967. Though he did not win, this would not prove to be the end of his participation in electoral politics.
Gregory then wrote the book Write Me In about his presidential campaign. One anecdote in the book relates the story of a publicity stunt that came out of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago. The campaign had printed dollar bills with Gregory's image on them, some of which made it into circulation, causing considerable problems, but priceless publicity. The majority of these bills were quickly seized by the federal government. A large contributing factor to the seizure came from the bills resembling authentic United States currency enough that they worked in many dollar-cashing machines of the time. Gregory avoided being charged with a federal crime, later joking that the bills couldn't really be considered United States currency, because "everyone knows a black man will never be on a U.S. bill." For modest prices, the bills are still readily available from online auction sites.Gregory unsuccessfully ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from the Peace and Freedom Party. He garnered 47,097 votes, including one from Hunter S. Thompson, with fellow activist Mark Lane as his running mate in some states, David Frost in others, and Dr. Benjamin Spock in Virginia and Pennsylvania garnering more than the party he had left. The Freedom and Peace Party also ran other candidates, including Beulah Sanders for New York State Senateand Flora Brown for New York State Assembly. His efforts landed him on the master list of Nixon's political opponents.
Shortly after this time Gregory became an outspoken critic of the Warren Commission findings that President John Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. On March 6, 1975, Gregory and assassination researcher Robert J. Groden appeared on Geraldo Rivera's late night ABC talk show Goodnight America. An important historical event happened that night when the famous Zapruder film of JFK's assassination was shown to the public on TV for the first time. The public's response and outrage to its showing led to the forming of the Hart-Schweiker investigation, which contributed to the Church Committee Investigation on Intelligence Activities by the United States, which resulted in the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation.
Gregory was an outspoken feminist, and in 1978 joined Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Margaret Heckler, Barbara Mikulski, and other suffragists to lead the National ERA March for Ratification and Extension, a march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the United States Capitol of over 100,000 on Women's Equality Day (August 26), 1978, to demonstrate for a ratification deadline extension for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution, and for the ratification of the ERA. The march was ultimately successful in extending the deadline to June 30, 1982, and Gregory joined other activists to the Senate for celebration and victory speeches by pro-ERA Senators, Members of Congress, and activists. The ERA narrowly failed to be ratified by the extended ratification date.
On July 21, 1979, Gregory appeared at the Amandla Festival where Bob Marley, Patti LaBelle, and Eddie Palmieri, amongst others, had performed. Gregory gave a speech before Marley's performance, blaming President Carter, and showing his support for the international anti-apartheid movement. Gregory and Mark Lane conducted landmark research into the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., helping move the U.S. House Select Assassinations Committee to investigate the murder, along with that of John F. Kennedy. Lane was author of conspiracy theory books such as Rush to Judgment. The pair wrote the King conspiracy book Code Name Zorro, which postulated that convicted assassin James Earl Ray did not act alone. Gregory also argued that the moon landing was faked and the commonly accepted account of the 9/11 attacks is incorrect, among other conspiracy theories.
Gregory was an outspoken activist during the US Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran. In 1980 he traveled to Tehran to attempt to negotiate the hostages' release and engaged in a public hunger strike there, weighing less than 100 pounds (45 kg) when he returned to the United States.
In 1998 Gregory spoke at the celebration of the birthday of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., with President Bill Clinton in attendance. Not long after, the President told Gregory's long-time friend and public relations Consultant Steve Jaffe, "I love Dick Gregory; he is one of the funniest people on the planet." They spoke of how Gregory had made a comment on Dr. King's birthday that broke everyone into laughter, when he noted that the President made Speaker Newt Gingrich ride "in the back of the plane," on an Air Force One trip overseas.
Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma in late 1999. He said he was treating the cancer with herbs, vitamins, and exercise, which he believes kept the cancer in remission.
Since the late 1980s, Gregory was a figure in the health food industry by advocating for a raw fruit and vegetable diet. He wrote the introduction to Viktoras Kulvinskas' book Survival into the 21st Century. Gregory first became a vegetarian in the 1960s, and has lost a considerable amount of weight by going on extreme fasts, some lasting upwards of 50 days. He developed a diet drink called "Bahamian Diet Nutritional Drink" and went on TV shows advocating his diet and to help the morbidly obese. In 2003, Gregory and Cornel Westwrote letters on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to Kentucky Fried Chicken's CEO, asking that the company improve its animal-handling procedures.
At a Civil Rights rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Gregory criticized the United States, calling it "the most dishonest, ungodly, unspiritual nation that ever existed in the history of the planet. As we talk now, America is 5 percent of the world's population and consumes 96 percent of the world's hard drugs".
In 2008, Gregory stated he believed that air pollution and intentional water contamination with heavy metals such as lead and possibly manganese may be being used against black Americans, especially in urban neighborhoods, and that such factors could be contributing to high levels of violence in black communities.
Gregory announced a hunger strike on September 10, 2010, saying in a commentary published by the website Centre for Research on Globalisation in Montreal that he doubted the official U.S. report about the attacks on September 11, 2001. "One thing I know is that the official government story of those events, as well as what took place that day at the Pentagon, is just that, a story. This story is not the truth, but far from it. I was born on October 12, 1932. I am announcing today that I will be consuming only liquids beginning Sunday until my eightieth birthday in 2012 and until the real truth of what truly happened on that day emerges and is publicly known."
In 1984 he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight-loss products. With this company, Gregory made efforts to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he believes is being hindered by poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse. In 1985, Gregory introduced the "Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet", a powdered-diet mix. He launched the weight-loss powder at the Whole Life Expo in Boston under the slogan "It's cool to be healthy". The diet mix, drunk three times a day, was said to provide rapid weight loss. Gregory received a multimillion-dollar distribution contract to retail the diet.