Lewis Grizzard (1946-1994)
Georgia-born humorist and best-selling author Lewis Grizzard conveyed the ambivalence of many white southerners who embraced the economic and material benefits of Sunbelt prosperity while remaining skeptical and sometimes resentful of some of the social and political changes that accompanied these gains.
Born in Fort Benning on October 20, 1946, Lewis McDonald Grizzard Jr. grew up in Moreland, where he moved with his schoolteacher mother,University of Georgia (UGA), he served as sports editor of the Athens Daily News and went on to become the executive sports editor of the Atlanta Journal at age twenty-three. He endured an unhappy stint with the Chicago Sun Times, which he chronicled in If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I'm Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground (1990). In 1977 he returned to his home state and soon began to write a regional color column for the Atlanta Constitution that was eventually syndicated in about 450 newspapers. Compilations of those columns formed the basis for many of his twenty-five books on a variety of subjects, from women and religion to golf and UGA football. Many of these were best sellers, including Elvis Is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself (1984), Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night (1989), and the posthumously published Southern by the Grace of God (1996).
In the self-deprecatory tradition of southern humorists, Grizzard often called himself a redneck, Atlanta's exclusive Ansley Park, his footwear of choice was Gucci loafers (worn without socks), he was partial to Geoffrey Beene cologne, and he used the gun rack behind the seat of his truck to hold his golf clubs. Although he protested that he liked pork barbecue much better, he owned up to eating caviar at Maxim's in Paris and even to visiting the Louvre Museum.
Grizzard was at his best regaling audiences with stories of "rat-killings" in Moreland or discussing the subtleties of the southern pronunciation of "nekkid," but his country-boy perspective shaped his reaction to all of his personal experiences even as he became a national and international celebrity. In a humorous story entitled "There Ain't No Toilet Paper in Russia," he described Peter the Great's palace as "fifteen times bigger than Opryland."
If Grizzard's humor revealed the ambivalence amid affluence of the Sunbelt South, it reflected its conservative and increasingly angry politics as well. He was fond of reminding fault-finding Yankee immigrants that "Delta is ready when you are," and, tired of assaults on the Confederate flag, he suggested sarcastically that white southerners should destroy every relic and reminder of the Civil War (1861-65), swear off molasses and grits, drop all references to the South, and begin instead to refer to their region as the "Lower East." Grizzard also wore his homophobia and hatred for feminists on his sleeve, and one of the last of his books summed up his reaction to contemporary trends in its title, Haven't Understood Anything since 1962 and Other Nekkid Truths (1992).
In the end, which came in 1994, when he was only forty-seven, the lonely, insecure, oft-divorced, hard-drinking Grizzard proved to be the archetypal comic who could make everyone laugh but himself. He chronicled this decline and his various heart surgeries in I Took a Lickin' and Kept on Tickin', and Now I Believe in Miracles (1993), published just before his final, fatal heart failure.
Ironically, Moreland now boasts museums honoring both him and native son Erskine Caldwell, whose darkly critical vision of the South helped to bring on the changes that Grizzard and his generation of white southerners both embraced and bemoaned.