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James Gregory, billed as ‘Funniest Man in America,’ dead at 78

James Gregory Jr.

James Gregory Jr., a Georgia-born standup comedian whose homespun humor, expressive face and storytelling ability earned him the nickname “The Funniest Man in America,” died May 9. He was 78.

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According to a news release from his publicity representatives, Gregory died from cardiac complications.

“He brought laughter and joy to countless lives, leaving an indelible mark on the world of comedy and those who loved him,” the comedian’s Facebook page posted in a statement on Thursday.

According to the news release, Gregory was born in his parents’ kitchen in the east Atlanta suburb of Lithonia on May 6, 1946.

Although he worked at a grocery since the age of 11, Gregory still managed to become the first person in his family to graduate from high school.

After a short stint in the Marines, Gregory entered sales and worked entirely on commissions.

“It was a turning point in my life,” he once said. “I would never again be anybody’s full-time employee.”

In 1981, the 36-year-old Gregory answered an advertisement to participate in a comedy night show in the basement of an Atlanta-area restaurant, Excelsior Mill. Within a year he was working at the Punchline comedy club in Atlanta, and he quickly worked his way to become a headliner comic.

Gregory’s down-home, common-sense humor struck a chord among audiences, particularly in the South, WSB-TV reported. He also performed for U.S. troops through the years.

Shortly before his death, Gregory completed an autobiography, “A Bushel of Beans and a Peck of Tomatoes: The Life and Times of ‘The Funniest Man in America,’” the news release stated. The book is scheduled to be published by Post Hill Press in November.

“The way I see it, you’re not just my audience. You’re my customers,” he wrote.

Gregory once turned down an appearance on “The Tonight Show” when he refused to “speed up” his delivery, AL.com reported. He was a frequent guest on The Nashville Network, where he was a favorite of radio and TV personality Ralph Emery on his nightly talk show “Nashville Now.”

According to Gregory’s website, he was scheduled to perform shows in Hoover, Alabama, on Friday and Saturday. His next show was May 19 in Decatur, Alabama.

Funeral services are to be determined, according to his Facebook page.