Lenny Bruce

Leonard Alfred Schneider (1925 –1966), better known by his stage name Lenny Bruce, was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, and screenwriter. He was renowned for his open, free-style and critical form of comedy which integrated satire, politics, religion, sex, and vulgarity. 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 is seen as a landmark for freedom of speech in the United States.

Medic has obtained the official military records of Lenny Bruce from the National Archives.  Many of the documents display burn marks from the 1973 fire in Saint Louis. It is noteworthy that documents pertaining to the charges of homosexuality described above were left out. These were obtained elsewhere, and with fuller context than provided by Wikipedia. Medic has also obtained the FBI files of Lenny Bruce.

Bruce joined the United States Navy at the age of 16 in 1942, and saw active duty during World War II aboard the USS Brooklyn (CL-40) fighting in Northern Africa, Palermo, Italy in 1943 and Anzio, Italy in 1944. In May 1945, after a comedic performance for his ship-mates in which he was dressed in drag, his commanding officers became upset. He defiantly convinced his ship’s medical officer that he was experiencing homosexual urges. This led to his Dishonorable Discharge in July 1945. However, he had not admitted to or been found guilty of any breach of naval regulations and successfully applied to have his discharge changed to “Under Honorable Conditions … by reason of unsuitability for the naval service”.

.Released from service, Bruce began his career in comedy. In time, his stand up satire routines were dogged by obscenity arrests, and for drug use.  Even the UK barred him from entry as an “undesirable alien.”

In his later club performances Bruce was known for relating details of his police encounters into his comedy routine. These performances often included rants about his court battles over obscenity charges, tirades against fascism and complaints that he was being denied his right to freedom of speech.

Bruce gave a famous performance at the Berkeley Community Theater in December 1965. It was recorded and became his last live album, titled “The Berkeley Concert.” The performance has been described as lucid, clear and calm, and one of his best.

His last obscenity arrest, in 1964, despite statements of support from many artists, including Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Jules Feiffer, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, William Styron, and James Baldwin, resulted in a guilty verdict. Lenny Bruce died before the appeal was decided in his favor. He continued to perform, but by 1966 he had been blacklisted by nearly every nightclub in the United States, as owners feared prosecution for obscenity.

His last performance was on June 25, 1966, at the Fillmore, on a bill with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. The performance was not remembered fondly by Bill Graham, whose memoir describes Bruce as “whacked out on amphetamine.”

On August 3, 1966, a bearded Lenny Bruce was found dead in the bathroom of his home in Hollywood Hills. The official photo, taken at the scene, showed Bruce lying naked on the floor, a syringe and bottle cap nearby. According to legend, a policeman at the scene said, “There is nothing sadder than an aging hipster,” possibly one of Bruce’s own lines.  The official cause of death was “acute morphine poisoning caused by an accidental overdose.”