Rosey Grier leaves court after testifying at Sirhan Sirhan's trial in early 1969.
“I had never been involved in any political campaign before,” he told London’s Guardian newspaper in 2007, “but when Bobby started to run for president, I decided to do all I could to help. This man meant so much to me. He was my hero.
“I admired his sensitivity when Martin Luther King was assassinated,” Grier continued. “I was moved by the way Bobby told the folks in Indianapolis that King had been killed, sharing with them that his brother had also been assassinated by a white man and that color had nothing to do with it.”
On the night of the assassination, Grier — a star college athlete before his stellar career with the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams — had been assigned to protect Kennedy’s wife, Ethel.
Time magazine described what happened next in its issue immediately following the killing:
“The hotel men, Karl Eucker and Eddy Minasian, grappled with the assassin, but could not reach his gun hand. Author George Plimpton and Kennedy aide Jack Gallivan joined the wrestling match. The gun, waving wildly, kept pumping bullets, and found five other human targets. Eight men in all, including Rafer Johnson, an Olympic champion, and Roosevelt Grier, a 300-pound Los Angeles Rams football lineman, attempted to overpower the slight but lithe assailant.
“Johnson finally knocked the pistol out of the stubborn hand. ‘Why did you do it?’ he screamed. ‘I can explain! Let me explain!’ cried the swarthy man, now the captive of the two black athletes and spread-eagled on the counter. Several R.F.K. supporters tried to kill the man with their hands. Johnson and Grier fended them off. Someone had the presence of mind to shout: ‘Let's not have another Oswald!’ ”
Grier, speaking to the Christian News Today earlier this year, remembers it slightly differently.
“Bobby had just made a speech and we were getting ready to go some place else but, somehow or another, Bobby jumped off the back of the stage and everyone was out of position by the time we caught up with him and the shots rang out.
“We were running to see if we could stop all the violence that was going on and then we saw Sirhan with the gun, so I went and pulled him up on … on a table.
“George Plimpton had been struggling with the gun hand and I just wrenched it out of Sirhan's hand and put it in my pocket. Later on Rafer Johnson asked me if I had it and I gave it to him.”
“It was a tragedy for the world,” he continued, “because here we all were trying to make our world a better place and then evil erupts like this.”
Grier went on to testify at Sirhan’s trial. He described hearing the shots that killed Kennedy and wounded five others.
“I don’t know what it sounded like,” he said, according to court transcripts. “Firecrackers, or it could have been some pops, but it didn’t sound like a big heavy thing, something like a gun going off, so I looked and was trying to see what it was.”
He also told the court of how upset he was and that he was crying after having seen the extent of Kennedy’s injuries.
Grier, however, did not let the tragedy slow him down. Within a year he had his own weekly TV show on KABC-TV, in which he discussed community affairs with guests. He also made many guest appearances on various shows during the 1960s and 1970s, including roles in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Daniel Boone,” “Make Room for Granddaddy,” and “The White Shadow.” He also appeared in some low-budget movies, including 1972’s “The Thing with Two Heads.”
Perhaps his most surprising move, though, was his embrace of traditionally non-male hobbies such as macrame and needlepoint, interests that led him to author “Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men” in 1973. He also wrote a 1986 autobiography, “Rosey: The Gentle Giant.”