Manhattan porn pioneer Al Goldstein has died at age 77. His friend, author Larry “Ratso” Sloman, told TRPWL that the publisher of Screw magazine died peacefully at approximately 3 am EST “in his own room in his nursing home in Brooklyn.”
According to Goldstein’s lawyer, Charles C. DeStefano, the cause of death was believed to be renal failure.
The ailing Goldstein became unresponsive during a recent hospital stay. According to Sloman, Goldstein had not wanted any measures taken to prolong his life, and was “sent home from the hospital to die.”
Born Alvin Goldstein in Brooklyn, NY on January 10, 1936, Goldstein rose to prominence in the world of adult entertainment after co-founding the trailblazing magazine, Screw, in November 1968.
The son of a photojournalist, and a self-described “bed-wetting stutterer from Brooklyn” with a history of diabetes, obesity and manic depression, the irrepressible Goldstein lived an extraordinary life. As The New York Times‘ Steven Heller, who served as Screw‘s first art director, wrote in 2006:
Before founding Screw, Goldstein was a radio car driver for Walter Winchell, a photographer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (he was once jailed in Havana), a press photographer for Pakistan International Airlines (he accompanied Jackie Kennedy on her goodwill tour of Pakistan in 1962), and an industrial spy for a large corporation. He was also employed by the tabloid publisher of the “blood and guts” men’s magazines Hush Hush News and The National Mirror. (He used his friends’ names in stories with gory headlines like “Lover Shoves Icepick Up Lover’s Nose.”) As a respite from this sordid journalism, he approached The New York Free Press, an underground paper where I was art director, and sold us his guilt-ridden confessions of being an industrial spy, which I illustrated. He often railed about having to write such unremittingly gratuitous violence while sex, which his editors called “unmentionable acts,” remained taboo. He deemed his employers “bottom-feeders” and decided to start a publication along the lines of Consumer Reports that would “detail sex, but never violence.” He was also eager to experience his fair share of those unmentionable acts. And so, in 1968, Screw was born.
Screw predated Larry Flynt’s Hustler by six years, and became the spearhead of the sexual revolution. Its brief manifesto: “We promise never to ink out a pubic hair or chalk out an organ. We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex.”
Goldstein was arrested 21 times for his unprecedented indecency. As Josh Alan Friedman noted:
A typical bust involved the first advertisements ever published for dildos. The State of New York argued in Superior Court that dildos could be used for criminally immoral purposes. Goldstein went to jail so that your Aunt Murgatroid can now buy a vibrator at the corner drug store.
At its peak, the magazine reportedly reached a a circulation of a half-million.
Following the extraordinary success of the film Deep Throat, Goldstein and his partner, Jim Buckley, decided to try their hand at producing a porn film. The result was It Happened In Hollywood (1973), featuring a young Wes Craven as assistant director and editor.
Goldstein debuted his television series, Midnight Blue in 1974. A local-access cable interview show with a recurring rant segment called “Fuck You,” The New York Times noted it granted Goldstein a second bully pulpit which l’enfant terrible “used and abused … to curse his countless enemies, among them the Nixon administration, an Italian restaurant that omitted garlic from its spaghetti sauce, himself and, most troubling to his defenders, his own family.”
The Awl eulogized today, “an incredibly intelligent and hilarious man crippled by self-hatred, an inside-out Woody Allen, a lecherous troll from out of the Qumran caves, mid-life Al Goldstein washed up like a whale onto New York’s public access channels. There he talked endlessly, lecherously and also quite hilariously, documenting New York City in a way that no one else did.”
Midnight Blue became an institution in the Big Apple, and a favorite guilty pleasure for decades of New Yorkers.
In 1977 — eleven years before the pivotal case of Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell — Alabama Governor George Wallace sued Screw for $5 million for publishing that the governor had learned to do sexual acts from reading the magazine. The parties eventually settled for $12,500, and Screw agreed to print an apology.
Goldstein’s relationship with his only son, Jordan, was strained. According to The Times, after Jordan asked his father not to attend his Harvard graduation, “Goldstein published doctored photos showing Jordan having sex with various men and with his own mother, Mr. Goldstein’s third ex-wife, Gena.”
Goldstein mulled a run as Broward County, Florida sheriff in 1992, but abandoned the race because of an impending divorce and the need to spend more time in New York running Screw. After Screw folded in 2003 ( “The Internet made pornography available for free, and I couldn’t compete,” said Goldstein), his fifth marriage failed and left him broke.
Goldstein’s company, Milky Way Productions – owner of both Screw and his long-running cable TV show – went into bankruptcy in 2004. Goldstein, who reportedly had once been worth $11 million, was forced to sell his townhouse on New York’s East 61st St. and his $2.5 million mansion in Pompano Beach, Florida (complete with a backyard, 11-foot tall ‘middle finger statue’), to pay debts.
In November 2004, Goldstein was fired from his $10-an-hour job as a greeter at the 2nd Avenue Deli after the owner discovered him sleeping on the premises. The 68-year-old ended up at a homeless shelter in Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital, before taking a job blogging at Booble.com — for $1,000 a month, plus unlimited porn.
In January 2005, at age 69, he found himself nominated for best supporting actor at the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards for his role in “Al Goldstein & Ron Jeremy Are Screwed.”
“Only in America,” Goldstein quipped.
Screw was restarted by his former employees later in 2005.
Paul Fishbein, founder of AVN, remarked today, “Al was a friend and a mentor for many years in the early stages of AVN. If it weren’t for Al Goldstein and Larry Flynt, there probably would never be an AVN and perhaps not even an adult industry. Those guys took the arrests for us. They fought the hard obscenity battles. They paved the way for a healthy industry.”
Goldstein claimed to have bedded 7,000 sexual partners, and published an autobiography, I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life, in 2006. He suffered a stroke in 2010, and had been residing at a nursing home in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
“I honestly think, down the road, one day, like Lenny Bruce, there’ll be an Al Goldstein article capturing his life and all the battles he’s waged,” Goldstein said in 2010. “It won’t matter because I’ll be dead, but I really think it will make something positive.”
Details about Goldstein’s funeral arrangements will be posted in an update as they become available.
Goldstein and Jerry Lewis on a mindblowing segment of the morning show A.M. New York, February 23, 1976
Adult film legend Annie Sprinkle remembers Al —
These are just a few of the reasons why I am grateful for having known Al Goldstein for many years: I was a big fan of SCREW magazine and consumed it religiously to keep abreast of adult industry news and gossip. Al got me my first job in Manhattan, at 18 years old, in the city’s best “massage parlor”–Spartacus Spa. Then gave me a great blow job review in SCREW which helped me get good clients.
When I was learning photography he let me do his portrait wrapped in nothing but an American Flag.
He was fun to “work with” in an XXX movie, I think it was called Honey Pie. He invited me to many dazzling brunches, dinners and parties at his house, and at fine restaurants where I met all kinds of amazing people; sociologists, political radicals, sex workers, scientists, diet doctors, comedians, academics, etc. Al always generously picked up the tabs.
Al produced the first ever magazine style TV show about sex, Midnight Blue (1974!), where I could try out my eclectic sex oriented conceptual ideas, and learn video production. He let me use his video studio and equipment for free to make my first self produced video. Al published a cartoon I drew as a cover for SCREW even though it wasn’t very good. He bought articles I wrote and photos I took, and gave many friends work. At the SCREW office on 14th street, I met great people with whom I am still friends with today.
Al fought fiercely, and deliciously humorously, for freedom of expression and first amendment rights, as I witnessed first hand the Meese Commission hearings when he was testifying along with my best friend Veronica Vera. He always reviewed and promoted my shows, movies, and projects. It was always breathtaking to be there when Al Goldstein spoke on panels, gave speeches and made toasts. Ever provocative and steeling the show, he always made me laugh! Al Goldstein was a hell of a performance artist, and one of my favorites.
Al was an angel, and a devil, all rolled into one big Jewish porn king bon vivant dandy extraordinaire. RIP Al, and wherever you are, knock ’em alive!
Read author, and PhD sexologist Betty Dodson’s goodbye to Al Goldstein here
Larry Flynt and Robin Byrd Discuss Al Goldstein: