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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 21:34 GMT
New York pardons late Lenny Bruce
American comedian Lenny Bruce
Bruce was a forerunner of alternative stand-up comedy
American 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.

He was convicted after a six-month trial. But he died of a drugs overdose in 1966 before serving any time.

State governor George Pataki said the pardon represented New York's commitment to freedom of speech.

Undercover police

"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," Mr Pataki said.

Stars, including Robin William and the Smothers Brothers, had petitioned the New York governor earlier this year for the posthumous pardon.

If I get busted in New York, the freest city in the world, that will be the end of my career
Lenny Bruce

Bruce was convicted of "giving an obscene performance" after a show at Cafe Au Go Go in New York City's Greenwich Village which was attended by undercover police who counted the swear words he used.

His acts often contained graphic language.

He would tell the story of a man with a bad leg who tries to avoid a trip down the hall to a bathroom by urinating in a sink.

A friend suggests he uses the balcony instead, which he does, attracting a crowd of onlookers and firefighters who think he is about to commit suicide.

He also gave his views on subjects controversial at that time, such as sex, religion and racism.

Appeal failed

Some nightclubs refused to book him out of fear their licenses would be taken away as a result of the language he used.

He was reported to have once said: "If I get busted in New York, the freest city in the world, that will be the end of my career."

He tried unsuccessfully to appeal against his conviction before he died.

Bruce paved the way for alternative stand-up comedy.

But while American liberals looked upon him as the ultimate defender of free speech, conservatives saw him as a foul-mouthed subversive who deserved to be locked up.

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