Comedian Lenny Bruce gets posthumous pardon by NY Gov. Pataki; was convicted of obscenity

Tuesday, December 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Comedian Lenny Bruce was granted a posthumous pardon by Gov. George Pataki on Tuesday for a nearly 40-year-old obscenity conviction prompted by a foul-mouthed political commentary.

Pataki, a third-term Republican, called his decision to issue the first posthumous pardon in New York state history ``a declaration of New York's commitment to upholding the First Amendment.''

The campaign to win a pardon for the groundbreaking 1960s comedian was supported by his ex-wife and daughter, more than two dozen First Amendment lawyers and entertainers including Robin Williams, the Smothers Brothers and Penn and Teller.

Floyd Abrams, a leading First Amendment lawyer and member of the campaign, said Pataki's decision ``is really a major step forward in recognizing the mistreatment of Lenny Bruce personally and of the First Amendment that Bruce defended.''

During a November 1964 performance at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York City's Greenwich Village, Bruce used more than 100 ``obscene'' words. Undercover police detectives attended the show, and later testified against Bruce. The charge was giving an obscene performance.

He was convicted following a six-month trial. Bruce mishandled his own appeal, and, beset by legal and financial problems, died of a drug overdose in 1966 with the conviction still on the books. He was 37.

Bruce's daughter, Kitty, and his former wife, Honey Bruce Friedman, both sent along letters of support for the campaign last spring.

``I truly believe my father's soul can rest in peace with this,'' Kitty Bruce said at the time.

While Bruce was considered a pariah by some in the '60s, he's generally viewed now as a performer who totally changed the stand-up comedy business.

``Every night when I get onstage, I thank God or whoever's up there for Lenny Bruce,'' comedian Lisa Lampanelli, one of those who pressed for the pardon, said earlier this year. ``He has become my hero.''