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Lewis Grizzard: Through the years

AJC columnist Lewis Grizzard
AJC columnist Lewis Grizzard

From grits to UGA football to the Atlanta Opera, legendary humorist and columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote about it all. On Nov. 7, 2019, Grizzard, one of Atlanta’s most beloved columnists, will be inducted into the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame.

As a special gift to readers, we're sharing some of Grizzard's most memorable columns, published many years ago on the pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We hope you enjoy Grizzard's work — whether you've savored them before or are just reading them for the first time.

Check out the Nov. 10 print edition of the AJC for a special section collecting these columns; you can also view the section online in the AJC ePaper on Nov. 10.

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Lewis Grizzard: Through the years

1946: Born Lewis McDonald Grizzard Jr., at Fort Benning, Ga., the son of Lewis M. Grizzard Sr., a soldier and World War II veteran, and Christine Word Grizzard, a teacher, Oct. 20.

1947-64: His father, a decorated Korean War hero, brooded and drank. The parents divorced, the mother later remarrying. Grizzard grew up in Moreland, Ga., graduated from nearby Newnan High.

1964-65: University of Georgia freshman; at 19, while still a student, named sports editor of the brand-new Athens Daily News; also found time to be "social director" of Sigma Pi. Summertime feature writer for Newnan Times-Herald.

1965: Married Nancy Jones. (After their 1969 divorce, he married Faye Rentz, a secretary at The Atlanta Newspapers. She became better known as "Kathy Sue Loudermilk" in his column, but they divorced. Grizzard later married Kathy Taulman, and after that divorce, as Kathy Schmook she wrote a book - "How to Tame a Wild Bore and Other Facts of Life With Lewis: The Semi-True Confessions of the Third Mrs. Grizzard.")

1968: Left UGA one credit short of graduation. (Years later, UGA gave him the credit and awarded him a journalism degree.) Joined Atlanta Journal as a sports desk editor. His physical exam revealed a heart murmur.

1969-75: Held various editing assignments at Journal and Constitution.

1975: Quit to join the sports department of the Chicago Sun-Times; later promoted to executive sports editor.

1977: Cold and forlorn in Chicago, he heard Atlanta Constitution managing editor Jim Minter say on the phone he was looking for a sports-page columnist, and Grizzard replied, "Hire me!" Minter did.

1978: His column moved from sports to news.

1979: "Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You," his first book, sold 75,000 copies the first week.

1982: Had open-heart surgery, receiving heart tissue from a pig, later describing it in the book, "They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat." His porcine heart valve dominated his comedy for awhile. "Every time I pass a barbecue joint, I get all choked up," he wrote. "And every afternoon, I get a powerful urge to make love in the mud."

1980s: Fictional characters invented from his past emerged in columns and books: Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (a great American) and Cordie Mae Poovey. He began making stand-up comedy appearances at conventions and civic clubs.

1983: Won the National Headliner Award for consistently outstanding local column; the state Senate declared a "Lewis Grizzard Day."

1984: "Elvis Is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself" made New York Times best-seller list.

1985: Second open-heart surgery. "Shoot Low Boys, They're Ridin' Shetland Ponies," on New York Times best-seller list.

1980s: His syndication grew to 435 newspapers, about two-thirds of them in cities from North Carolina to Texas - the Grizzard belt. Formed Grizzard Enterprises to manage his appearances, book contracts, merchandise, fan mail.

1985: Released his first comedy album, "On the Road With Lewis Grizzard." In his concert stage appearances, closed often with this line: "Life is like a dog-sled team - if you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes."

1989: His mother, Christine Word Atkinson Grizzard, died.

1990: Added a singing trio, including himself, to his traveling comedy roadshow.

1991: Signed recording contract with Sony-Tree music publishers of Nashville.

1993: Underwent surgery replacing his porcine valve with a mechanical, stainless steel valve. After clotting and other complications, had three coronary bypass grafts. Two more surgeries followed, to control bleeding. For six days, his heart was stopped, and mechanical pumps did its work. Received 30,000 letters, cards and packages from well-wishers.

1993: Suffered an abdominal aneurysm, had treatment for a damaged spleen.

1994: Treated for an aneurysm of the kidney, February; stricken while in Florida, flown home and hospitalized at Emory University with a large mass in his heart, March; married Dedra Kyle, March 16; died after surgery at Emory University Hospital at the age of 47, March 20.

» Check out some memorable Lewis Grizzard columns