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                         LENNY BRUCE, R.I.P.


            From `National Review'    September 6, 1966


Haven't stopped thinking about Lenny Bruce since he died.  We thought of him

especially the other day when we happened to come across a book about

Dostoevsky.  "Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Myshkin," we read, apropos of the

novel called The Idiot, "a noble man whose behavior at first is only strange

and unconventional, later shows a deterioration of mind.


   In his weakened, susceptible condition, he degenerates until he is unable

to cope with life, decisions, hatred, worldliness.  Able to see human foibles

without malice, to reverence the human condition without judgement, to love

without the thought of attainment, he is a Christus figure set in a corrupt

society where the facile, dishonest, worldly and unconscionable prevail in

absolute terms or money and position."  Precisely what his admirers - and

they were many, and fervent - saw in Bruce.


   His more profound admirers, that is.  There were those, no doubt, who took

him at face value and admired him as a mere pornographer.  And certainly his

influence tended to corrupt and debase - to pollute the very human qualities

which Bruce so deeply and strongly felt were sacred.  Obscenity cannot have

any other effect; and yet it is plain that Lenny, like Whitman and D.H.

Lawrence, was basically moved by a strange but sincere vision of the

sacredness of life, and like them he used obscenity to express it.


   He also had, more than most commentators on the contemporary world, the

tragic sense of life, and for many people his relentless honesty about the

world as they see it is the closest thing to heroism they have encountered.


   I first saw him on a night club stage in a very bad theater town in the

Middle West.  He was talking; not being funny - he was almost never funny,

even when he tried, and he seldom tried - just talking.  He was not even

saying outrageous things, as he usually did to give the impression that

he was funny.  He was essentially preaching an ad lib sermon for kindness

to children, and he did not really pretend to be doing anything else.  It

was a macabre, disturbing, yet very impressive thing to see: not Dostoevsky,

but purest Kafka.  His own despair of his own life, of his own future, his

indifference to everything but his plea for more humanity as he saw it, was

so plain.  "One morning Gregor Samsa awoke and found himself transformed

into a giant nightclub comedian."  The absurd metamorphosis of doomed young

man into cockroach had taken place somewhere, sometime, and before your eyes

this doomed young man was unfolding a slow, powerful, hideous revelation of

agony and madness, was talking compulsively with deadly seriousness about

his wonder and dismay at things in general, on a stage, before a hushed

silence in a room filled with red velvet chairs.  Afterward I met him, he

was very bright and eager, pitifully half-educated and unaware, he wrote in

pencil on a small envelope,  "Clark Gable found alive in Argentina.  Love,

Lenny Bruce."  That was the spring of 1962, and he was thirty-six years old.

On August 3 this year, in a bathroom in Hollywood, he took a lot of heroin

and died there, on the floor.

                                                                       F.C.