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Bruce, Lenny,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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Bruce, Lenny (b. Leonard Alfred Schneider)(1925–66) comedian; born in Mineola, N.Y. He joined the navy at age 16 and served during World War II until 1946. He held various jobs while studying acting in New York. An appearance on the Arthur Godfrey television show brought him national attention. A stand-up nightclub entertainer, his scatalogical language and outrageous, sardonic humor was alternatively called obscene and "radically relevant." Denounced for blasphemy in Australia and banned from performing in England, he was arrested for obscenity after a Greenwich Village show in 1964. Increasingly paranoid, he died of a drug overdose. His autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, was published in 1965; the play Lenny was devoted to him; and he is regarded as having "liberated" a whole new generation of comedians.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.