Bruce, Lenny

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bruce, Lenny

Lenny Bruce, 1925–66, American comedian, b. Long Island, N.Y., as Leonard Alfred Schneider. Possessed of a cynical, surreal, and intensely comic view of the world, Bruce brutally satirized such sensitive areas of American life as sex, religion, and race relations. His comedy left no group unscathed, and his routines were replete with four-letter words. Consequently, Bruce was at various times arrested and forbidden to perform; in 1964 he was convicted of obscenity charges stemming from a New York City performance. He was also arrested for narcotics violations. In Aug., 1966, he died of an overdose of narcotics at the age of 41. After his death Bruce became a cult figure, considered by many to be a martyr to the cause of free speech. His autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People (1965), sold well, and his nightclub routines were collected and published as The Essential Lenny Bruce (1966). Lenny, a musical based on his life and including much of his comic material, was a hit on Broadway in 1971. After his cult popularity had diminished, he was still regarded as a seminal figure in American culture, whose influence could be seen in the work of important novelists, playwrights, and filmmakers of the 1970s. In 2003, Bruce was posthumously pardoned of his obscenity conviction by the governor of New York.

See biography by A. Goldman (with L. Schiller), Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!! (1974).

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