Dick Gregory: Here's All You Need to Know About the Pioneering Comedian and Civil Rights Activist who Died, Aged 84

Dick Gregory attends the Roger Ebert Memorial Tribute at Chicago Theatre on April 11, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images

Groundbreaking civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory has died, aged 84.

Gregory's family shared news of their "enormous sadness" on social media, announcing his death after he was admitted to a hospital in Washington D.C. with an undisclosed illness.

"It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr Dick Gregory departed this earth tonight in Washington, D.C.," his son, Christian, wrote on Instagram.

He added that the family "appreciates the outpouring of support and love" but requested that their privacy be respected "during this very difficult time."

Gregory became famous for his no-holds-barred stand up routines in the 1960s, in which he mocked racism and bigotry.

Prior to 1961 he mostly played in clubs to black audiences, but that year he was offered a gig at the Playboy Club in Chicago and after winning over the mostly white audience he received a three year contract.

As his fame grew, he appeared on TV and recorded comedy albums, becoming a headline performer and the first African-American comedian to win a large crossover audience.

Gregory's caustic humor struck home in a 1960s America riven by disputes over race and war.

"A Southern liberal?" he once said, "that's a guy that'll lynch you from a low tree."

"Segregation is not all bad," Gregory said on another occasion. "Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?"

Also an activist, he took part in anti-Vietnam war protests and went on hunger strikes for a range of causes, gradually abandoning lucrative club gigs. He was arrested a number of times for taking part in civil rights protests in the 1960s.

Gregory went on to become a motivational speaker, and campaign on health and spiritual issues.

Tributes poured in for Gregory as news of his death broke.

He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to fight.He taught us how to live.Dick Gregory was committed to justice.I miss him already. #RIP pic.twitter.com/3CfpM2O17D

— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) August 20, 2017

Musician John Legend, who produced a play that focuses on Gregory's life last year, praised Gregory on Twitter.

"Dick Gregory lived an amazing, revolutionary life. A groundbreaker in comedy and a voice for justice," Legend tweeted.