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Controversial satirist Lenny Bruce died 50 years ago today of a drug overdose. Born Leonard Alfred Schneider, the Navy veteran turned comedian toured the world and commented on everything from religion to racial epithets, with the intent of calling out hypocrisy. He appeared in night clubs and television shows, produced an album and wrote the book, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.”
Responses to his material varied — some called him radically relevant, others called him obscene, and the governments of Australia and the United Kingdom banned him. He was convicted on obscenity charges in 1964 in New York, although he received a posthumous pardon nearly 40 years after his death.
Sarah Shoemaker, an associate university librarian for archives and special collections at Brandeis University who oversees the institution’s Lenny Bruce collection, explains why Bruce’s material and legacy still matter. We thank Phil Reevell and BBC Radio 4 for their help and some of the audio archive.
Check out a few photos of Lenny Bruce from throughout the years below.