Petey Greene was a pioneer of shock radio and television who became the voice of his black community in Washington, DC from the 1960′s — the 1980′s. He achieved international fame for his hilarious, outspoken, outrageous rants and interviews and for his tireless activism for civil rights, poverty rights and the rights of prisoners.
Greene was raised by his grandmother and dropped out of high school before enlisting in the army and fighting in the Korean war. Greene found little opportunity when he came home from the war and he gradually drifted into crime and alcoholism. Greene was convicted of the armed robbery of a grocery store in 1960 and sentenced to ten years in penitentiary.
In a sense, going to jail was Greene’s big break: During his incarceration Greene became a prison DJ and vowed to change his life and never be in prison again. Greene became famous throughout the cell blocks for his hilarious broadcasts and he eventually won a parole when he convinced a fellow prisoner to climb to the top of a water tower so Greene could talk him down and “save his life.”
Greene struggled on the outside, but this time he persevered, becoming both a pillar of his community and the broadcast celebrity portrayed in the 2007 film Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle.
Cheadle narrates this PBS Independent Lens special about the man and his mighty mouth: Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene pictures our hero reveling being as potentially offending as he is positively affecting — keep your eyes peeled for Greene eating a watermelon, Howard Stern in blackface, and a parade of celebrities who built their own careers on Greene’s influence and generosity.