Sorry, Lenny

Bruce is pardoned - 39 years late

Lenny Bruce has been officially pardoned of a 39-year-old obscenity conviction over his stand-up routine.

New York governor George Pataki today gave in to petitioners, including Robin Williams, who wanted to clear the ground-breaking stand-up's name following the 1964 conviction.

After a six-month trial, Bruce was sentenced to four months on Rikers Island after being found guilty of "giving an obscene performance" in the Cafe Au Go Go, Greenwich Village.

At the time he told friends:"If I get busted in New York, the free-est city in the world, that will be the end of my career."

The controversy - and his own unreliable performances - meant few clubs would book him for fear of losing their licences. Two years after the trial, Bruce was dead of a drugs overdose at just 37.

Granting the pardon, governor Pataki - a Republican - said: "Freedom of speech is one of the greatest American liberties and I hope this pardon serves as a reminder of the precious freedoms we are fighting to preserve."

It is believed to be the first posthumous pardon granted by the state of New York - and possibly the first to be granted anywhere in the States under the First Amendment defence, which protects freedom of speech.

Ron Collins of the First Amendment Center said: "This shows that First Amendment freedoms are as important today as they were in 1964.

"There are still many venues where his comedy could not be safely presented if it weren't for the First Amendment," Collins said. "It's a good omen for artists."

By talking about such topics as oral sex, drugs and religion, rather than cracking traditional one-liners, Bruce paved the way for modern stand-up.

Published: 23 Dec 2003

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