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Underground Porn King and Screw Magazine Publisher Al Goldstein Is Dead

In 1999, in the pages of the Village Voice, pornographer Al Goldstein had a tender moment, reminiscing about founding Screw magazine back in 1968.

"I was a walking hard-on," he said. "I believe my hard-on is the greatest gift to the world."

It was that kind of delicate sentiment that made both Goldstein and Screw famous: a view of sex that was coarse, in-your-face, and unapologetically scuzzy, although exuberant in its own way. Celebratory, almost.

After a lifetime in the sex business, both in the shadows and in the spotlight, Goldstein died on Thursday, at the age of 77, in a nursing home in Cobble Hill. His lawyer, Charles DeStefano, told the New York Times that the cause was believed to be renal failure.

Goldstein's Screw was a porno touchstone throughout the late '60s and '70s; he's widely credited with making 1972's Deep Throat a success, after writing a rave review of the film, which went on to be the most famous adult movie ever made. According to a New York Observer profile from a few years back, Goldstein raved especially about star Linda Lovelace's oral abilities, calling her co-star's penis "a roustabout rod of about ten inches," and declaring that as he watched her attending to it, "It seems a miracle. ... I was never so moved by any theatrical performance since stuttering through my own bar mitzvah."

But besides being nasty in a complimentary way, Goldstein could be -- and often was -- genuinely disgusting and wildly misogynistic. In the same Voice piece where he reminsced about his early days at Screw, he said of Lovelace, "I made Deep Throat successful. Suddenly, because of me, it became chic. The New Yorker wrote about it. Linda said she was raped, she was forced. She blew me -- I have photos of my dick in her mouth. She was a hooker in Florida and she said she was forced to do it. I mean, I like Linda. She was a stupid cocksucker, but a good one."

Besides Screw, Goldstein published a few other, less successful publications: Ramrod, a gay spinoff, Gadget , a tech magazine, and newsletters with what the Miami New Times termed "functionally descriptive titles," including Cigar and Death. By the early '90s, all of them but Screw had folded.

The Times obituary notes that Goldstein managed to make "countless" enemies, whom he excoriated both in the pages of Screw and on a late-night public access show, Midnight Blue. Those foes, the paper says, included "the Nixon administration, an Italian restaurant that omitted garlic from its spaghetti sauce, himself and, most troubling to his defenders, his own family." (His relationship with his only son, Jordan, was strained, according to the paper; 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.")

Those enemies also included Leonard Stern, owner of the Village Voice between 1985 and 2000. In a February 1991 issue of Screw, Goldstein laid out his feelings on Stern with unforgettable clarity:

All of Stern's cutthroat business dealings are a feeble attempt on his part to compensate for his ugliness, his shortness, his vile and malodorous existence. Here was a man, I thought -- giving him the benefit of the doubt -- who would try anything to erase the shame of his tiny dick.

He had a real way with words. Goldstein also accused Stern, who made his fortune in the pet supply business, of killing dogs and cats with his company's Blockade flea repellent, writing, "Stern already has to kick away the dead animals at his doorstep just to go home at night."

 

In the spring of 1991, Goldstein was living nearly full-time in Pompano Beach, Florida, where he had a condo, and where he was interviewed for a characteristically diplomatic profile in the Miami New Times (one of our sister papers; the profile was edited by current Voice editor Tom Finkel). Goldstein cradled a Yorkie named Petey while expounding on why he'd chosen such a large television set ("If I can't have a big dick, at least I can have a big screen") and his plans to run for sheriff, which he swore were serious, though he acknowledged he had a bit of a learning curve ("I'm not a law-enforcement person. ... Obviously my own credentials are wanting.") He was not elected.

In 2003, after a long string of legal battles and near-brushes with prison for obscenity (he paid a $30,000 fine to settle one obscenity charge), Goldstein's company went bankrupt. He lost his condo in Florida and pretty much everything else. In a 2004 Times profile, he said he'd spent much of his last years in Florida homeless, sleeping in a car or a shelter. When the paper caught up with him, he was sleeping on the couch at his in-laws' place in Queens, with Christine, his fifth wife. (By the time he died, he and Christine were also estranged, though they don't appear to have ever divorced.)

After Goldstein's passing was announced, magician Penn Jillette weighed in, one of Goldstein's biggest fans and a close friend later in life:

But instead of such poetic and gentle sentiments, perhaps it's best to remember Goldstein in his own words, as man who was always striving to be the best in the business, and yet acknowledging, in the most colorful terms, his own failings. In the same Voice feature where he expounded on the power of his hard-on, Goldstein has this to say, about life, the porn business, and himself: "There's Penthouse and Hustler with pissing photos, fuck photos. Now I'm the most conservative guy in the business. Usually the creators of a revolution are devoured by the revolution. That's what happened with me. We're struggling. 'Cause my advertisers are being picked up by you guys, and I'm not as dirty as I should be."


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