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Awesome Men Throughout History: Lewis Grizzard

grizzard1It’s pretty hard to understand, at least on a superficial level, why I’m such a big fan of Lewis Grizzard’s writing. He was a sexist, permanently-fratty defender of the Old South who seemed content to portray himself as a good-ole-boy dimwit through his newspaper columns, books, and stand up comedy performances. Grizzard was also a thrice-divorced alcoholic whose diet (and genetics, to be fair) led to four heart valve surgeries, the last of which killed him in 1994. We really don’t have much in common.

Or do we? Because I love the guy’s work and I’m making him this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History.

Grizzard was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, but moved to Moreland, GA when his father deserted the family. Moreland is frequently referenced in Grizzard’s writing, often to remind readers (and himself) that no matter how successful he was, his roots were in a rural shitkicker town where no one was all that impressed with him. It’s forced humility, yes, but that’s common among writers.

After graduating from the University of Georgia, another thing he never shut up about, Grizzard went into sports journalism and became the youngest-ever executive sports editor of The Atlanta Journal at just 23 years old. From there, he went to Chicago as the sports editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, but returned to the Atlanta Journal in 1977 and started writing the humor column that propelled him to the literary version of stardom.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Grizzard made appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Designing Women, Larry King Live, and his own televised comedy special. His 4-days-a-week column was being syndicated to 450 newspapers. Life as a writer doesn’t get any better unless you were already famous anyway.

But for all that, Grizzard was a typical newspaper man: he was stubborn, he liked to drink and he didn’t react well to change. He wrote on a typewriter for his entire career, and his refusal to modernize made more than one editor’s life difficult. His columns complained about feminism and “the speech police” a little too often, and he defended the South to a fault and beyond. His behavior during a book tour got him an Author from Hell Award at a publishing industry conference.

But for all his bluster and perceived crudeness, Grizzard was a damn good writer whose observations about the South were really funny and displayed insights into human behavior that a lot of modern writers wish they had. He was also right about some things, namely that golf is boring, people who wear socks with sandals are weird, and hand-cut French fries are a gift from the Heavens. As much as Grizzard complained about, and didn’t understand, the modern world and the numerous social complexities therein, he didn’t do so out of hate. There was no real malice in him.

Well, almost none. His response to that Author from Hell award tosses out sick burns like some kind of reverse fireman.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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