Obituary: Al Goldstein / Unapologetic pornographer, publisher of Screw

Jan. 10, 1936 - Dec. 19, 2013

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Al Goldstein, the scabrous publisher whose Screw magazine pushed hard-core pornography into the cultural mainstream, died Thursday at a nursing home in New York City. He was 77.

The cause was believed to be renal failure, said his lawyer, Charles DeStefano.

Mr. Goldstein did not invent the dirty magazine, but he was the first to present it to a wide audience without the slightest pretense of classiness or subtlety. Sex as depicted in Screw was seldom pretty, romantic or even particularly sexy. It was, primarily, a business, with consumers and suppliers like any other.

The manifesto in Screw's debut issue in 1968 was succinct.

"We promise never to ink out a pubic hair or chalk out an organ," it read. "We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex."

Mr. Goldstein, who lived to shock and offend and was arrested more than a dozen times on obscenity charges, stuck around long enough for social mores and technology to overtake him. By the time his company went bankrupt in 2003, he was no longer a force in the $10 billion-a-year industry he had pioneered. But for better or worse, his influence was undeniable.

"He clearly coarsened American sensibilities," Alan Dershowitz, the civil liberties advocate and Mr. Goldstein's sometime lawyer, said in 2004.

"Hefner did it with taste," Mr. Dershowitz added, referring to Hugh Hefner, the founder and publisher of Playboy, which predated Screw by 15 years. "Goldstein's contribution is to be utterly tasteless."

Apart from Screw, Mr. Goldstein's most notorious creation was Al Goldstein himself, a cartoonishly vituperative amalgam of borscht belt comic, free-range social critic and sex-obsessed loser who seemed to embody a moment in New York City's cultural history: the sleaze and decay of Times Square in the 1960s and '70s.

A bundle of insatiable neuroses and appetites (he once weighed around 350 pounds), Mr. Goldstein used and abused the bully pulpit of his magazine and, later, his late-night public-access cable show, "Midnight Blue," 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.

"I'm infantile, compulsive, always acting out my fantasies," he told Playboy in 1974. "There's nothing I'll inhibit myself from doing."

Alvin Goldstein was born Jan. 10, 1936, in New York City, one of two sons of Sam and Gertrude Goldstein. His father was a news photographer.

Mr. Goldstein spent much of his childhood stuttering, wetting the bed, getting beaten up by bullies and amassing the portfolio of grudges that would fuel his passions. A lifelong habitue of psychoanalysts' couches, he blamed a meek father and an adulterous, insensitive mother for his complexes in his 2006 autobiography "I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life," written with Josh Alan Friedman.

Before he found his calling, Mr. Goldstein served in the Army, captained the debate team at Pace College and briefly followed his father's footsteps into photojournalism, shooting Jacqueline Kennedy on a 1962 state trip to Pakistan and spending several days in a Cuban prison for taking unauthorized photos of Fidel Castro's brother, Raul. He married miserably, sold insurance successfully by day and sought solace in pornographic movie houses and brothels by night.

After his marriage failed, Mr. Goldstein drifted. According to Gay Talese's book "Thy Neighbor's Wife," Mr. Goldstein ran a dime-pitch concession at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair; sold rugs, encyclopedias and his own blood; drove a cab; and landed a job as an industrial spy, infiltrating a labor union.


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