Perhaps the most searching and informative publication on the funny and often controversial life of best-selling author, Lewis Grizzard, Jr., are not in his own words.
After his death on March 20, 1994, at the age of 47 a dozen of his closest friends and associates (in 1995) each wrote an informative chapter (or two) that revealed much about the private life of the not so private escapades of their friend, patient, business partner and his fourth wife, etc.
In 289 pages published by Longstreet Press, Atlanta, Georgia they present an anecdotal biography that covers many aspects not directly touched on in his 25 books and hundreds of columns from the 450 newspapers that he was writing for each week across the nation.
Beginning with his childhood buddy in Moreland, Georgia, Dudley Stamps, and continuing to the end with a final revelation by his wife, Dedra Kyle Grizzard, the book contains “great stories, warm memories, and a few good-humored warts” by those who knew him best at various times of his life.
I started (JHS) writing about Lewis Grizzard, Jr.
in 2022. Prior to that time, I had only heard of his legendary ability to entertain, criticize, provoke, and mostly to make readers laugh. My goal is to introduce him to a new generation of fans 28 years after his death. America certainly needs some laughter.
Thin skinned persons need not pick up one of his books or columns written out of his home base of the Atlanta Journal – Constitution.
If you are a member of the Speech Police that LG attacks in his books you will have a difficult time enjoying all of the funny material that is protected by the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.
After being exposed to one of the above gut busting collections of one liners, I prevailed upon my old high school buddy’s wife who just happened to be closing out her used book store to help me and locate copies of his works. She was able to provide me with all of his writings.
Upon reading about half of them I became hooked on the humor and now have moved forward in my goal of finishing all of them before my next birthday (or alternative event).
In addition to the 25 books that LG wrote there are ancillary books by his third ex-wife, Kathy Grizzard Schmook, “How to Tame a Wild Bore (1986).”
All contain many truths and exaggerations that they and Lewis jointly (but separately) led to the creation of the comparison of the work of the kid from Moreland to Mark Twain and William Faulkner as the South’s premier writers.
However, “Don’t Fence Me In” is different from LGs own depiction of what he thought was important to present to his legion of readers in a way that brought laughter, tears, anger, and criticism from sources that were often immune from attack except from Mr. Grizzard. Many of them today attempt to express and improve their political slants, through the divided newspaper populace, cable news stations, and all forms of social media.
The personal experiences that each of the twelve contributors shared with the public added new dimensions to the mystique of the subject of LG.
His philandering, drinking and dislikes on many subjects are openly bared to the reader.
His personal viewpoints on subjects such as race, religion, politics, gays, and Yankees, etc. as described in his 25 prior works are extended by the post-death publication and the 12 contributors’ opinion of him.
The rear inside jacket cover succinctly described LG and “offers a new perspective on one of America’s foremost humorists and journalists.”
One previously undisclosed area of his history is the philanthropy and support that he provided to the less fortunate as his financial success continued to rise. Efforts to tag him as a racist are unsuccessful when you learn of the aid and support that he gave to his longtime driver, James Shannon, an African American. James is quoted by Jim Minter, former editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by stating at the end of LG’s life, “James was probably Lewis’ best friend” and cared for him twenty-four hours a day.
Minter in his chapter expresses the great respect that they both had for each other:
“The day before his last operation, Lewis worried about what would happen to James if things didn’t come out right. When they didn’t James told me (Minter) that he had lost his two best friends. Catfish (LG’s famous black Labrador dog) who had died a few months before and now Lewis. Then James left town. He said he could never work for anyone else!”
Dedra Kyle Grizzard, wife number 4, was a native of Cleveland, Tennessee who married Lewis four days before his death on March 20, 1994, in a small ceremony held at Emory Hospital before a small group of their friends, relatives and medical staff.
Dedra had a daughter, Jordan, from her previous marriage that Lewis doted on and loved as a stepdaughter even before the relationship became legally official on March 16, 1994.
Dedra and the others who had been friends, buddies, employees, drinking and barhopping acquaintances, and golf and tennis companions, were subject to criticism by the Speech Police as being after his money. The fallacy of that argument is that most of them knew Lewis before he obtained his success across America with some starting their friendship in the small town of Moreland.
The three chapters written by widow Dedra Grizzard with the help from Judson Knight tell a much bigger story than just being another “gold digger” after Lewis’ money for almost four years. She tolerated his many weaknesses and appeared to truly love him to the end.
As a result, she would later partner with Lewis’ golfing buddy and business manager Steve Enoch to form Bad Boot Productions which is described as “a company which controls the intellectual properties of Lewis Grizzard.”
She tolerated the bad, enjoyed the good, and was very happy with his relationship with her daughter, Jordan.
The story is told that in February 1993 Lewis first asked young Jordan, not Dedra, to marry him before asking her mother.
The book is full of confirming and contradictory stories by the friends and acquaintances of Lewis Grizzard that give additional insights into the complex genius and life during his 47 years.
If you can purchase a copy from Longstreet Press in Atlanta or get one from the usual website sources, it is a great additional reading for both pro and anti-Grizzard readers.
The final chapter by Dedra Grizzard gives her version of what she believed shows that her husband had finally found some semblance of happiness at the end of his journey in spite of his numerous surgeries and complicated medical history.
(I will leave to any readers to explore and discover his final tribute to his believed “Georgia Dawgs” with the held of Dedra and Steve Enoch)?
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You can reach Jerry Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org)