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Honey Bruce Friedman, 78; Former Entertainer, Ex-Wife of Famed Comic

Times Staff Writer

Honey Bruce Friedman, a onetime nightclub singer and stripper best known as the former wife of legendary comedian Lenny Bruce, has died. She was 78.

Friedman died Monday in a Honolulu hospital after a long illness, said publicist Jeff Abraham.

Friedman was working as a stripper under the name Honey Harlowe (a.k.a. Hot Honey Harlowe) when she met Bruce, then a fledgling comic, in a Baltimore hotel coffee shop.

He was, she later wrote, “the most handsome man I’d seen in my life.” They were married in 1951.

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At first, according to Gerald Nachman’s book “Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s,” Bruce tried to reform Harlowe and turn her into a respectable singer, dubbed “The Singing Southern Belle, Honey Michelle.”

The couple sang together in an act that included teaming up on movie parodies, including a take on “The Bride of Frankenstein,” in which the monster picked up Harlowe in a pizza parlor.

Bruce, who became known as a 1st Amendment martyr for his legal problems over onstage use of language considered profane or obscene, later referred to his wife in his act as the “beautiful mama with the long, red hair.”

But the marriage, which was marked by extensive heroin use by the couple and the birth of their daughter, Kitty, ended in 1957 after less than six years.

Friedman was portrayed by Valerie Perrine in the 1974 movie “Lenny,” starring Dustin Hoffman in the title role. Her book “Honey: The Life and Loves of Lenny’s Shady Lady,” was published in 1977, at which point she said she had been clean for more than seven years after a 16-year drug addiction.

Born Harriett Jolliff in Manila, Ark., she grew up in Detroit, where problems with her stepfather caused her to run away from home as a teenager.

At 17, after falling into disreputable company, she was serving a year in a state prison. She later joined a carnival, where she developed a taste for “show business” and exotic dancing. After a brief and disastrous first marriage, she became a nightclub singer and a successful stripper in Miami.

In 2003, Friedman was one of many people who signed a petition that paved the way for New York Gov. George Pataki to give Bruce a posthumous pardon for a 40-year-old obscenity conviction. He died in 1966 of a drug overdose.

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Friedman is survived by her husband, Jeffrey Friedman, and her daughter.

The family asked that any contributions be made to H-5 (Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope), c/o First United Methodist Church, 1020 S. Beretania St., Honolulu, HI 96814, Attention: Utuloa Lang.


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