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Al Goldstein: Founder of ‘Screw’ who dedicated his career to raging against religion and the establishment


Al Goldstein was the publisher of Screw magazine who smashed down US legal barriers against pornography and raged against politicians, organised religion and good taste.

Whether publishing nude photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy or placing an 11ft-high sculpture of an extended middle finger outside his Florida home, he was a one-man army of boiling humour, manic attire and numerous divorces. “To be angry is to be alive. I’m an angry Jew. I love it. Anger is better than love. I think it is more pure,” he said. “There’s so much to be angry about, because people are ripped off, the election went to the wrong person, the good guys usually lose and society sucks.” He spent millions on First Amendment lawsuits, running for sheriff in Florida and divorce settlements.

Before founding Screw he served in the Army, sold insurance, drove a car for the gossip columnist Walter Winchell and was jailed in Cuba for taking unauthorised pictures of Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul. In his spare time, he said, he watched pornography.

When he and Jim Buckley put in $175 each to found Screw in 1968, the US legal system was caught up in obscenity battles. He felt that the cultural and religious establishment had convinced his generation that sex was wrong and turned them into “a lot of embarrassed people who bought nudie magazines on the sly”. His scathing, scatological editorials targeted church and state for justifying war while imprisoning erotic magazine publishers. Screw sold 140,000 copies a week at its height. “I may be making a lot of money, but I really believe I’m doing some good by demythologising a lot about sexuality,” he said.

During Screw’s first three years he was arrested 19 times on obscenity charges. He scored a victory in 1974 when a federal judge threw out an obscenity case, but victory left Goldstein bored. “I really need the attention of being arrested, because that means I’m still bugging the establishment,” he said. “Acceptance of me and Screw would be the kiss of death.”

As Screw faded, Goldstein became depressed and angrier. In 2002 he was sentenced to 60 days in jail for harassing a former secretary with phone calls and editorials. The conviction was overturned. A year later he pleaded guilty to harassing one of his four ex-wives. In 2003 Screw folded and he filed for bankruptcy protection while marrying his fifth wife, a woman 40 years his junior. Things fell so far, though, that he was forced at times to sleep in a car and live in a Florida homeless shelter. He died in a hospice after a long illness.

Alvin Goldstein, publisher: born 10 January 1936; married five times (children); died 19 December 2013.