A few decades back, free speech advocates held a rally in New York City's Washington Square Park. The issue at hand was an attempt by local conservatives to get several late night adult programs which were seen on channel 35, Manhattan cable's paid public access TV station, removed from the airwaves.
One of the speakers was a frail, 80-ish Al Lewis, fondly remembered as Grandpa on the 1960s sitcom The Munsters. "Don't let them silence you," Lewis shouted, his fist in the air, "Fuck 'em! Fuck 'em!" For years afterward, Al Goldstein ran clips of Lewis' speech on Midnight Blue, his long running, hilariously raunchy channel 35 chat show.
When Al Goldstein died on December 19 at age 77, he was sickly, emaciated, and destitute. A decade earlier his X-rated empire had collapsed, destroyed by an internet which made porn, and the sex ads that had been his bread and butter, easily and freely available with the click of a mouse.
During the 1970s, '80s, and into the '90s, a then portly Goldstein commanded a media empire which included porn flicks, the chat show Midnight Blue, and the particularly infamous Screw Magazine. In his heyday, Goldstein owned a New York City townhouse and a mansion in Florida.
He was one of New York's most colorful characters, and wore the pornographer label as a proud badge on honor. His goal was simple: to make sex look as dirty as possible. In his porn film reviews he would critique the "money shots," scenes in which the male performers climaxed on camera.
"Do you prefer to be eaten out by a man or a woman?" he would cheerfully ask the many porn starlets he interviewed.
Midnight Blue aired weekly at midnight on channel 35, and few would admit that they watched it, yet hundreds of thousands did. The show was so over the top in its vulgarity, many found it comical. During the peak of its popularity, a gleefully obese Goldstein would appear on camera, ranting endlessly about whoever had pissed him off that day. These "fuck you" rants, as they were known, could run for as long as 15 minutes, with Goldstein doing little more than spewing expletives. Each segment ended with Goldstein pointing his middle finger at the camera as he screamed "FUCK YOU!"
Goldstein took these segments quite seriously, even as viewers stated they were tuning in for laughs.
In the aftermath of his passing, Goldstein is now being hailed as a groundbreaking free speech advocate. He was arrested for obscenity many times, and waged many court battles, winning some, losing others. He always stood his ground, declaring his right to express himself as he saw fit.
He was as beloved as he was reviled. "For a significant period of time, he was the most intelligent and literate critic of the adult scene," said 1980s porn star Richard Pacheco, a Berkley resident. "In many ways, he elevated the discussion of the industry and separated the sexual media from many of the prevailing underground and underworld sigmas of his day."
Porn legend Georgina Spelvin said of his passing, "Al always reminded me of a Knight in rusty armor looking for a damsel in distress. My fondest memory of him would be his appearance at the Adult Film Awards dressed as a gladiator. He was a champion."
Towards the end of his media reign, Goldstein's "fuck you" rants began to resemble personal vendettas. He was in and out of a variety of courtrooms, where he faced charges of harassment and making threatening phone calls.
During his final decade, Goldstein worked as a greeter at a deli, at a bagel store, and lived in a homeless shelter. He died in a nursing home of renal failure. To the very end, he remained the defiant pornographer.
Regardless of various opinions of him, it's clear that Al Goldstein leaves behind a colorful and most unusual legacy.