First Amendment Pardon: Comedian Lenny Bruce Pardoned 40 Years After Obscenity Conviction

December 24, 2003

Comedian Lenny Bruce, who died in 1966 of a drug overdose, was convicted on an obscenity charge after a performance in New York two years earlier. We speak with First Amendment expert David Skover, author of The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Rise and Fall of an American Icon.

Comedian Lenny Bruce has been granted a posthumous pardon by the state of New York 40 years after he was convicted in an obscenity case. Bruce was charged after a performance in 1964 during which he was said to have used more than 100 obscene words. Undercover police attending the show at Cafe Au Go Go in New York City, counted the swear words he used and later testified against him.

The groundbreaking 1960s comedian was convicted after a six-month trial but died of a drug overdose in 1966 before serving any time. He was 37 years old.

His conviction remained on the books until yesterday when Governor George Pataki issued the state’s first posthumous pardon. Pataki called his decision "a declaration of New York’s commitment to upholding the First Amendment."