Lewis Grizzard was thoroughly Southern, and, to many, he gave voice to the region through changing times.
Born at Fort Benning on Oct. 20, 1946, Grizzard would, after graduating from the University of Georgia, become sports editor for the Atlanta Journal. After an unhappy stint at the Chicago Sun-Times in the mid-1970s, he would return to Atlanta and spend more than 15 years writing a column for the Atlanta Constitution, documenting, and frequently lamenting, the changes that were reshaping our region. He made readers laugh. He made them pine for a fondly recalled past. Sometimes, with tender remembrances, he made them cry.
And he made them mad. He was a pioneer in the realm of political incorrectness. Humor was his medium, but not everyone was laughing.
Pat Conroy was definitely not a fan. ’'Your South is the one I loathe, Lewis,’' he wrote in an open letter, a reference, in part, to frequent accusations of racism against Grizzard. It’s a charge the embattled columnist vehemently denied.
He was an equal-opportunity offender. He angered conservatives, too, when he expressed support for abortion rights and gun control. Of the latter, he wrote: “The National Rifle Association [members] are bullet brains. I’d like to see the animals armed.”
For all of the detractors, there were fans by the score. He published more than 20 books (18 of them New York Times bestsellers), made popular concert appearances and acted in an episode of “Designing Women,” starring as Clayton Sugarbaker, the half-brother of Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker. He was so popular in Atlanta that Creative Loafing had to create a category in its annual poll for “Best Columnist Besides Lewis Grizzard.”
Upon his death in 1994 at age 47, the AJC editorial board wrote: “To readers across the nation, Lewis Grizzard was Atlanta, The Journal, and the South. In the tradition of Southern humorists, he found in the distinctiveness of the South, its people and their ordinary lives and pleasures the material to entertain a nation. His genuine delight, and the humor he found, in the passions and rituals of the Southern town — family, food and football — anchored us all to the memories we cherish and the places we wanted to be. Even as he reminded us that the South is changing incomprehensibly fast, his wit offered safe harbor from our fears that the region we love is losing its uniqueness.”
A congenital heart defect finally resisted one final effort to repair it on March 20, 1994. Had he survived his troublesome heart, Grizzard would have been 75 years old on Oct. 20, 2021.