Julian Barry, Oscar-Nominated Writer of Lenny Bruce Biopic, Dies at 92

Broadway actor and stage manager got his big writing break with the 1974 film “Lenny” starring Dustin Hoffman

"Lenny" (United Artists)

Julian Barry, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of the 1974 Lenny Bruce biopic “Lenny” starring Dustin Hoffman, has died at the age of 92, his daughter announced to The New York Times.

Born in the Bronx and a graduate of Syracuse, Barry got his start in showbiz on Broadway as an actor and stage manager, most notably in Orson Welles’ 1955 production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

In 1969, Columbia Pictures approached Barry about writing a biopic about the life of stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce, who had died of a morphine overdose three years prior. Bruce accepted, but the project fell through as Columbia fast-tracked other projects.

Not wanting to give up on the script, Barry repurposed it as a stage play and brought it to Broadway in 1971 with “Hair” director Tom O’Horgan and with Cliff Gorman as Lenny Bruce. The play “Lenny” was a success, with Gorman winning a Tony Award for for his performance.

With “Lenny” now on the map, Barry took it back to Hollywood as a Broadway adaptation, adjusting the script to make the leap from stage to screen while maintaining the play’s use of transcripts of Bruce’s standup routines. Dustin Hoffman was cast to play the comedian with Valerie Perrine as Bruce’s wife and showgirl “Hot” Honey Harlow.

In 1974, “Lenny” became as a big a hit in theaters as it was on Broadway, earning six Oscar nominations including a Best Picture nod and a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Barry. But “Lenny” ended up leaving Oscar night empty-handed, with both Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay going to a film regarded as one of the greatest ever made: Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part II.”

Beyond “Lenny,” Barry’s credits include “Rhinoceros,” a film adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s comedic play starring “The Producers” duo Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. Barry also wrote the 1984 drama “The River” starring Sissy Spacek and Mel Gibson.

Barry is survived by his partner, Samantha Harper Macy; his daughters Julia, Sally and Jennifer; and his son Michael.