Lenny Bruce is not afraid

In August 1966, at the age of 40, Lenny Bruce was found dead in his Hollywood home of a suspected morphine overdose. He did not have a Will. Lenny was born Leonard Schneider in October 1925; raised by his mother following his parents divorce he joined the U.S. Navy during WWII.

After serving for three years, Lenny received an honorable discharge. At 22 Lenny began his stand-up career; after wining the popular Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts Show, he gained something of a national reputation and was able to earn enough money from performing to support himself.

Lenny married Honey Harlow and they had a daughter, Kitty, but he and Honey divorced soon after. In the late 1950’s Lenny released live albums of his performances, including The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce and Togetherness.

Lenny’s method of expression and extreme views regarding organised religion, sexual mores, his liberal use of four-letter words, and his use of narcotics resulted in numerous criminal prosecutions against him. Lenny’s jokes on religion, motherhood, politics and the law, made him arguably

“the most radically relevant of all contemporary social satirists.”

In 1961 Lenny was arrested in San Francisco and charged with violating California obscenity law. His First Amendment lawyer won the case arguing that Lenny’s humor

“was in the great tradition of social satire, related intimately to the kind of social satire found in the works of such great authors as Aristophanes and Jonathan Swift”

However he was increasingly found guilty of breaching obscenity laws. In 1964 following his arrest for obscenity in New York nearly 100 prominent people in the arts rallied to his defense signing a statement that described him as a social satirist

“in the tradition of Swift, Rabelais and Twain.”

He was convicted and sentenced to “four months in the work house”.

In December, 2003, the Governor of New York pardoned Lenny.  It was the first posthumous pardon granted in the state’s history.  However at the time of his death, Lenny was prohibited from giving public performances in New York. He had been deported from England, canceled in Australia (after he told a rude story about the Crucifixion), and arrested, in Philadelphia, Miami and San Francisco.

Following his death there was litigation for breach of Lenny’s copyright in two books he wrote, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People,”; and a collection of his writings “The Essential Lenny Bruce”.

These were used as the basis of a biographical film about Lenny, named “Dirtymouth”.

More recently his daughter Kitty provided Brandeis University with most of her fathers material consisting of newspaper clippings, personal letters, photo albums, reel-to-reel tapes, and concert posters. The deal to acquire the collection has been described as “quirky” – there are no legal heirs in the Bruce family, therefore while she is alive Kitty retains the copyright; Brandeis will take full title of copyright protections upon her death.

Lenny was declared bankrupt shortly before his death and along with his drug addiction it may have affected his ability to put plans into place for his future. If he had thought about making a Will he may have believed that because he had no assets that making a Will was futile. As he died intestate his mother became administrator of his estate and was successful in the breach of copyright case she brought against the producers of “Dartmouth” however Lenny may have had other ideas as to what he wanted to happen to his estate. As he didn’t make a Will he had no say in how this occurred.

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