I can remember my dad going into these long-winded, side-splitting, barely breathing fits of laughter when he listened to Lewis Grizzard, the humor writer from Georgia whose columns, books, and monologues wove through Southern culture in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Grizzard couldn’t have looked any more like Southern newspaper columnist, with his oversized glasses and mustache, which added dimension to his sardonically expressive face. His subject matter included odd observations about life and the South, about language use, about family and women and divorce, seemingly about anything that rattled around in that peculiar head of his.
Lewis Grizzard died twenty-five years ago, in 1994, of complications from heart surgery at Emory University Hospital. Though he was only 47, Grizzard had already had three prior heart surgeries in 1982, 1985, and 1993. News reports in ’94 explained that doctors basically knew that, if he survived this one, he wouldn’t live long afterward.
Grizzard was born into a military family at Fort Benning and later got his journalism degree from the University of Georgia, an alma mater of which he was very, very proud. Throughout his career as a columnist, he amassed a large and devoted following, but he also offended plenty of people with his off-color and insensitive remarks. In addition to his columns, of course, there were his uniquely titled books, like Daddy Was a Pistol and I’m a Son of a Gun, and comedy albums, like Alimony: The Bill You Get for the Thrill You Got, which gave longer form to his ideas and expressive abilities. Grizzard was one of the last vestiges of a pre-politically correct media landscape. A 2016 remembrance of Grizzard by the Journal-Constitution reminded audiences that he was an “equal-opportunity offender,” but that he also “gave voice to the region through changing times.”
While Pat Conroy may have found Grizzard to be loathsome, and though one of his co-workers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described him as “racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic, [and] suspicious of anything that’s different from himself,” all I know is this . . . Lewis Grizzard made my hard-working, blue-collar father laugh ’til his sides hurt, and that made life a little easier and more pleasant around the ol’ Dickson household.