Skip to main content

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

By Haimy Assefa and Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 4:37 PM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
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.

Click through to see people who passed away in 2013. Click through to see people who passed away in 2013.
People we lost in 2013
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: People we lost in 2013 Photos: People we lost in 2013

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."

People we've lost in 2013

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:30 PM EST, Sun January 5, 2014
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
updated 7:55 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died. He was 67.
updated 2:59 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Dr. John W.V. Cordice, the surgeon who operated on Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, died in Iowa. Cordice was 95.
updated 8:28 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Joseph Ruskin died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital. He was 89.
updated 4:19 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Jeffrey Ian Pollack, who directed the popular 1990s films "Booty Call" and "Above the Rim" and produced "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has died. He was 54.
updated 6:00 PM EST, Mon December 23, 2013
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died.
updated 6:53 AM EST, Sun December 22, 2013
Ned Vizzini, who shot to fame at a young age for his teenage novels focusing on youth depression and anxieties, committed suicide at age 32.
updated 4:37 PM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
Al Goldstein, the foul-mouthed publisher of Screw magazine and pornography pioneer died in New York. He was 77.
updated 3:53 PM EST, Tue December 31, 2013
Actor Daniel Escobar, who played a teacher in "Lizzie McGuire," died from complications of diabetes in Los Angeles. He was 49.
updated 7:41 PM EST, Wed December 18, 2013
"Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs -- one of the most notorious British criminals of the 20th century -- has died, his publisher told CNN. He was 84.
updated 8:17 PM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said.
updated 9:23 PM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine died, her longtime friend Noel Beutel said. She was 96.
updated 7:40 AM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Actor Peter O'Toole died peacefully in a hospital at 81 years old.
updated 7:38 AM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Tom Laughlin, the actor who wrote and starred in the "Billy Jack" films of the 1970s, died at age 82.
updated 7:56 PM EST, Wed December 11, 2013
Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, has died, his family said. He was 83.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
Actress Eleanor Parker, nominated for three Oscars and known for her "Sound of Music" role, died Monday at 91, her family said.
updated 11:40 PM EST, Thu December 5, 2013
Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.
updated 9:18 PM EST, Wed December 4, 2013
Bill Beckwith, who co-hosted HGTV home-improvement show "Curb Appeal," has died. He was 38.
updated 9:58 AM EST, Mon December 2, 2013
Actor Paul Walker, who shot to fame as star of the high-octane street racing franchise "Fast & Furious," died in a car crash in Southern California. He was 40.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Sat November 30, 2013
Paul F. Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died at age 79.
updated 6:42 PM EST, Fri November 29, 2013
Jane Kean, who played diverse roles during a long career but was best known as Trixie on the TV revival of "The Honeymooners," has died. She was 90.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Mon November 25, 2013
Singer Wayne Mills, whose "outlaw country" songs center on honky-tonk life, died in a Nashville bar shooting.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT