Grizzard, Lewis (1946-1994)

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Grizzard, Lewis (1946-1994)

Lewis McDonald Grizzard, Jr., was a popular and sometimes controversial newspaper columnist who gained fame in the 1980s and 1990s with his popular syndicated newspaper column. Throughout his career, Grizzard's wit entertained readers with a commentary that was unabashedly pro-Southern. His love for his alma mater, the University of Georgia, his attitude toward Yankees, and his well-known marital failures all provided material for his columns, numerous books, audiocassettes, and personal and television appearances. But it was in his life-and-death struggle with heart disease that he touched the hearts of his loyal readers.

Grizzard grew up in the small town of Moreland, Georgia, where he had been born on October 20, 1947. He attended the University of Georgia in Athens, but because he accepted a job with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in his senior year, he did not graduate until years later. Despite his delayed graduation, Grizzard was awarded the distinguished alumni award from his alma mater's College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Before settling down as a syndicated newspaper columnist, Grizzard worked as sports editor at newspapers in Atlanta and Chicago. By the time of his death in 1994, his columns had appeared in more than 200 newspapers across the United States, and he had authored 14 books of his collected humor. Many of Grizzard's books found their way to the New York Times best-selling list, and most remain in print years after his death. True to his persona as a southern "good old boy," he never used a word processor or computer, preferring instead an old manual typewriter.

While his humor won him fame, Grizzard often endured con-flicting attitudes toward his work. Some condemned his brand of humor as sexist, homophobic, jaded, and cynical, while others praised him as a great storyteller and a modern-day Mark Twain. A publisher once compared the writer to Faulkner, but implied that Grizzard was more attuned to the average person. Grizzard met criticism of his work with an honesty that marked his writing and humor as distinctly his own. His popularity quickly spread from syndicated columns to books to audiotapes and personal appearances. Probably his best-known appearance was on the sitcom Designing Women, in which he played Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker's (Dixie Carter and Delta Burke) half-brother.

Despite his commercial success, Grizzard's personal life seemed far from successful. He had three failed marriages, which he often wrote about in his columns and books. He married his fourth wife, Dedra, just days before his death. Grizzard had one stepdaughter and no children of his own.

After years of illnesses and surgeries, Grizzard died from complications following heart surgery in Atlanta. After his death, the Lewis Grizzard Museum, operated by the Lewis Grizzard Memorial Trust, was established in his hometown of Moreland. Though admission is free, visitors may donate one dollar to support the Lewis Grizzard Scholarship. Visitors can view such items as the writer's baseball glove, his letter jacket, and his childhood rocking chair among other mementos. Grizzard's book I Took a Lickin and Kept on Tickin is a posthumous compilation of previously published essays employing humor to detail his battle with the heart disease that eventually led to his early death.

—Kimberley H. Kidd

Further Reading:

Grizzard, Lewis. I Took a Lickin and Kept on Tickin. New York, Ballantine, 1995.

——, and Chuck Perry. Don't Fence Me In: An Anecdotal Biography of Lewis Grizzard. Atlanta, Longstreet Press, 1995.