Brooklyn’s Al Goldstein had one of those captivating personalities that it’s easy to not recognize is actually the presentation of mental illness until it all collapses and the interior self is revealed. An incredibly intelligent and hilarious man crippled by self-hatred, an inside-out Woody Allen, a lecherous troll from out of the Qumran caves, mid-life Al Goldstein washed up like a whale onto New York’s public access channels. There he talked endlessly, lecherously and also quite hilariously, documenting New York City in a way that no one else did.
For a man who worked in the industry of hardcore pornography, Al Goldstein apparently only ever spent six days in Rikers, although he was by his account arrested more than 24 times. His early life was at least more interesting than his time at Screw:
Before founding Screw, Goldstein was a radio car driver for Walter Winchell, a photographer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (he was once jailed in Havana), a press photographer for Pakistan International Airlines (he accompanied Jackie Kennedy on her goodwill tour of Pakistan in 1962), and an industrial spy for a large corporation.
In the entwined pornography and publishing businesses, Goldstein acquired an actual fortune, including a townhouse on East 61st Street, and then lost it all. For a period, he was on probation and homeless. He never acclimated to the attention economy. Supported in his final years by Penn Jillette, who kept him in an apartment in Staten Island, he spent his last ten years in ill health and sometimes unhappy circumstances. In 2010, he nearly reconciled with his son but took ill before the meeting could take place. He was also an American hero, and the story of his life is appropriately American-sized:
A hipster outlaw in the tradition of Henry Miller and Lenny Bruce, he was brought up on obscenity charge after obscenity charge, including 19 times in one two-year-period. David Foster Wallace dubbed him “a First Amendment Ninja.”