Leonard Alfred Schneider (October 13, 1925 -- August 3, 1966), better known by his stage name Lenny Bruce, was an American stand-up comedian, social critic and satirist.
He was renowned for his open, free-style and critical form of comedy which integrated politics, religion, sex, and vulgarity. His private life was marked by substance abuse and promiscuity as well as efforts to prevent his wife from working as a stripper. His 1964 conviction in an obscenity trial was followed by a posthumous pardon, the first in New York State history, by then-Governor George Pataki in 2003. He paved the way for future outspoken counterculture-era comedians, and his trial for obscenity, in which -- after being forced into bankruptcy -- he was eventually found not guilty, is seen as a landmark trial for freedom of speech in the US.
Increasing drug use also affected his health. By 1966 he had been blacklisted by nearly every nightclub in the United States, as owners feared prosecution for obscenity. Bruce did give a famous performance at the Berkeley Community Theatre in December 1965. It was recorded and became his last live album, titled "The Berkeley Concert"; his performance here has been described as lucid, clear and calm, and one of his best. His last performance took place on June 25, 1966, at The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, on a bill with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. The performance was not remembered fondly by Bill Graham, who described Bruce as "whacked out on amphetamines"; Graham thought that Bruce finished his set emotionally disturbed. Zappa asked Bruce to sign his draft card, but the suspicious Bruce refused.
At the request of Hugh Hefner and with the aid of Paul Krassner, Bruce wrote an autobiography. Serialized in Playboy in 1964 and 1965, this material was later published as the book How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Hefner had long assisted Bruce's career, featuring him in the television debut of Playboy's Penthouse in October 1959.
During this time, Bruce also contributed a number of articles to Paul Krassner's satirical magazine The Realist.
Bruce was the subject of the 1974 biographical film Lenny directed by Bob Fosse and starring Dustin Hoffman (in an Academy Award-nominated Best Actor role), and based on the Broadway stage play of the same name written by Julian Barry and starring Cliff Gorman in his 1972 Tony Award winning role.
The documentary Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, directed by Robert B. Weide and narrated by Robert De Niro, was released in 1998.
In 2004, Comedy Central listed Bruce at number three on its list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All-Time, placing above Woody Allen and below George Carlin.
Bruce is pictured in the top row of the cover of the Beatles 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The clip of a news broadcast featured in "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night" by Simon & Garfunkel carries the ostensible newscast audio of Lenny Bruce's death. In another track on the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, "A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert MacNamara'd Into Submission)", Paul Simon sings, "... I learned the truth from Lenny Bruce, that all my wealth won't buy me health."
Tim Hardin's fourth album, released in 1968 Tim Hardin 3 Live in Concert, includes his song Lenny's Tune written about his friend Lenny Bruce.
Nico's 1967 album Chelsea Girl includes a track entitled "Eulogy to Lenny Bruce", written by Tim Hardin. In it she describes her sorrow and anger at Bruce's death.
Bob Dylan's 1981 song "Lenny Bruce" from his Shot of Love album describes a brief taxi ride shared by the two men. In the last line of the song, Dylan recalls: "Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had."
R.E.M.'s 1987 song "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" includes references to a quartet of famous people all sharing the initials L.B. with Lenny Bruce being one of them (the others being Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev and Lester Bangs). The opening line of the song mentioning Bruce goes, "...That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane, Lenny Bruce is not afraid."
Lenny Bruce shows up as a character in Don DeLillo's 1997 novel, Underworld. In the novel, Bruce does a stand-up routine about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Genesis' 1974 song "Fly On A Windshield" depicts a dystopic New York where "Lenny Bruce declares a truce and plays his other hand, Marshall McLuhan, casual viewin', head buried in the sand" and "Groucho, with his movies trailing, stands alone with his punchline failing".
Emily Haines sings in Metric's (band) song "On The Sly" that, "for Halloween I want to be Lenny Bruce"