October 13, 1925 – August 3, 1966
“The whole motivation for any performer is, “Look at me, Ma!”
By: Kevin Hassell
Before there was George Carlin, Sam Kinison, or Richard Pryor, there was Lenny Bruce. Lenny was born Leonard Alfred Schneider in Long Island, New York, on October 13, 1925. He entered the Navy for military service in 1942, and was honorably discharged after dressing in women’s clothing. This would later be the inspiration for the character of Klinger, in the television series M*A*S*H.
After leaving the service, he began his career in amateur shows in New York City clubs, eventually getting a spot on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. He won the talent contest, and began appearing in clubs nationally.
In his career, which can be read about elsewhere, Lenny was arrested eight times on obscenity charges, the first time in 1961 at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, for using the word cocksucker. In November 1964, he was arrested at the Caf’ Au Go Go in New York City, where police claimed he used more than one hundred profanity words in one gig. He was charged with giving an obscene performance, and convicted after a six month trial.
His many arrests would lead to bankruptcy, as club owners refused to book him, fearing that they would be shut down by police. His final performance would be at the Fillmore in San Francisco, on June 26, 1966, on the same bill as Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
Lenny had married former exotic dancer Honey Harlow in 1951, and they divorced in 1957. They had one daughter, Kitty. Lenny lived in Los Angeles. They lived in the hills near Laurel Canyon, up this long driveway. Can’t see much of the house, except this tiny glimpse.
Lenny had developed an affinity for heroin, and would shoot up while he was sitting on his toilet. It was in this setting that he was found dead by his roommate John Judnich on August 3, 1966, of a drug overdose. He was 40 years old. If you don’t want to see dead Lenny, by all means do NOT click here or here.
Lenny is buried in Eden Memorial Park, in Los Angeles, same as Groucho Marx.
In December of 2003, his obscenity conviction was (obviously) posthumously pardoned by New York Governor George Pataki. This was supported by Bruce’s widow and daughter, magicians Penn and Teller, and by comedians Dick and Tommy Smothers, and Robin Williams.
Trivia: He was voted the third greatest stand up comedian of all time, behind George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Go here to read some terrific Lenny quotes.
He appears on the Sgt. Pepper album cover.
Lenny was a good friend of lunatic Phil Spector, who was quoted as saying that Lenny died from, “an overdose of cops.”
He was also friends with Rodney Dangerfield.
Honey died in Honolulu on September 12 of this year, 2005.
Wanna see his mailbox?
Check out this great article, here.