WASHINGTON — Dustin Hoffman may have played him on film, but now Robert De Niro is also having his say. De Niro is hosting an HBO documentary titled “Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth” that debuts at the Film Forum in New York for two weeks beginning Oct. 21.
“Lenny Bruce saw through the pretense and hypocrisy of his times,” said Sheila Nevins, HBO’s senior VP of original programming. “He was blacklisted and driven to despair by higher powers, and this film provides an intense microcosm of how his life was destroyed.”
L.A.-based filmmaker Robert B. Weide has spent 12 years making the documentary, which includes interviews with Bruce’s manager, ex-wife, daughter, mother Sally Marr and others. But it’s HBO that has provided the funding, to acquire the rights to Bruce’s many filmed and taped audio performances.
Passing up the opportunity to sign a famous comedian as narrator, HBO instead approached De Niro, who agreed to narrate the 100-minute film for scale.
As it did with Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated “Four Little Girls” last year, HBO will open the film theatrically in advance of its Aug. 1999 cable debut. That date will mark the 35th anniversary of Bruce’s death from a heroin overdose.
Blacklisted and busted countless times for indecency and obscenity, Bruce tackled explosive subjects like nuclear testing, racism, religion, homophobia, back-alley abortions, drugs and the death penalty. He once noted that he was busted “not for my obscenity but for my attitudes.” After his death, producer and friend Phil Spector noted that he had died from “an overdose of police.”