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Al Goldstein, pornography pioneer and Screw magazine publisher, dies at 77

By Haimy Assefa and Ray Sanchez, CNN
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Al Goldstein displays some of his reading material upon leaving a 1977 obscenity trial.
Al Goldstein displays some of his reading material upon leaving a 1977 obscenity trial.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Porn king Al Goldstein dies at age 77 of apparent renal failure
  • He published Screw magazine and pushed pornography into mainstream America
  • Goldstein once lived a lavish lifestyle before finances, health took downturn

(CNN) -- Al Goldstein, the foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping publisher of Screw magazine and pornography pioneer who helped move raunch into mainstream American life, died Thursday in New York. He was 77.

He is believed to have died of renal failure at a nursing home in Brooklyn, said his lawyer, Charles DeStefano.

Throughout his life, Goldstein fought to push the porn trade into mainstream acceptance by challenging the legal barriers against pornography under the First Amendment.

In 1968, he published Screw magazine, a smutty, offbeat publication full of political satire, DeStefano said.

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The magazine caused an national uproar in 1973 when it printed nude photos of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The issue sold more than 500,000 copies.

Goldstein loathed authority and once published a doctored photo of a district attorney who was prosecuting a case against him along with the judge in the case. The pair was depicted in a sexually explicit manner even as the trial was ongoing, DeStefano said.

In 1984, Goldstein appeared before a congressional hearing on pornography.

The late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) asked Goldstein whether it was the business of the state to stop pornographic pictures if those images caused the molestation of a child.

"I applaud your concern," Goldstein responded. "But 51,000 people died in car accidents last year. Alcohol contributed to that. Are you going stop the manufacture of automobiles or the cessation of the sale of liquor? What you're going to do is monitor [the sale] of liquor to minors. If somebody misuses something -- whether a knife or a car or pornography -- there are laws on the books to satisfy those concerns... But to deny those of us who handle it as an integrated part of our life is such a contradiction of the First Amendment and what we stand for that it's horrendous and repugnant to me."

For 30 years, Goldstein hosted his nude late-night talk show "Midnight Blue."

He had been described variously as arrogant, angry, gaudy and irreverent. He flipped the bird every chance he got. In fact, the back yard of his former Florida mansion was once adorned with an 11-foot statue of an extended middle finger.

The Brooklyn-born publisher lived life in extremes. He once enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, owned multiple properties and hobnobbed with celebrities, DeStefano said. In his later years, he lost practically everything and ended up homeless in New York.

Goldstein was sentenced to 60 days in jail in 2002 for threatening a former employee and leaving obscene messages on her answering machine.

In 2003, his business went bankrupt and he was later forced to sell an estate.

At one point, Goldstein was working at a greeter at a deli while sleeping in a backroom, said DeStefano, also a longtime friend.

The beginning of the end for Goldstein was a hip fracture two years ago, his lawyer said. He was obese and suffered from diabetes and mental health issues, according to DeStefano.

"He should be remembered as a man who had the guts to get in the face of his enemies," DeStefano said. "He was fearless."

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