George Carlin PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 24 October 2008 16:15
George Carlin in Trenton, New Jersey on April 4, 2008
George Denis Patrick Carlin

Born: May 12, 1937, Manhattan, New York City,

Died: June 22, 2008, Santa Monica, California,

Age: 71

Cause of death: Heart failure.

Notable because: Ben Afflecks father in 'Jersey girl' and an intellect that served to inspire and uplift many millions. Loved alcohol and Vicodin.

 

George Carlin was an American stand-up comedian. He was also an actor and author, and won four Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin was noted for his black humor as well as insights on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects. Carlin and his "Seven Dirty Words" comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which a narrow 5–4 decision by the justices affirmed the government's power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Carlin's stand-up routines focused on the flaws in modern-day America. He often took on contemporary political issues in the United States and satirized the excesses of American culture.

Carlin was placed second on the Comedy Central cable television network list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, ahead of Lenny Bruce and behind Richard Pryor. He was a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show during the three-decade Johnny Carson era, and was also the first person to host Saturday Night Live.

George Carlin was born in New York City, the son of Mary Beary (1905–1984), a secretary, and Patrick Carlin (1878–1945), a national advertising manager for the New York Sun. Carlin was of Irish descent and was raised in the Roman Catholic faith.

Carlin grew up on West 121st Street, in a neighborhood of Manhattan which he later said, in a stand-up routine, he and his friends called "White Harlem", because that sounded a lot tougher than its real name of Morningside Heights. He was raised by his mother, who left his father when Carlin was two months old. After 3 semesters, at the age of 14, Carlin involuntarily left Cardinal Hayes High School and briefly attended Bishop Dubois High School in Harlem. He later joined the United States Air Force, training as a radar technician. He was stationed at Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana.

During this time he began working as a disc jockey on KJOE, a radio station based in the nearby city of Shreveport. He did not complete his Air Force enlistment. Labeled an "unproductive airman" by his superiors, Carlin was discharged on July 29, 1957. In 1959, Carlin and Jack Burns began as a comedy team when both were working for radio station KXOL in Fort Worth, Texas. After successful performances at Fort Worth's beat coffeehouse, The Cellar, Burns and Carlin headed for California in February 1960 and stayed together for two years as a team before moving on to individual pursuits.

Within weeks of arriving in California in 1960, Burns and Carlin put together an audition tape and created The Wright Brothers, a morning show on KDAY, Hollywood. The comedy team worked there for three months, honing their material in beatnik coffeehouses at night. Years later when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Carlin requested that it be placed in front of the KDAY studios. Burns and Carlin recorded their only album, Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight, in May 1960 at Cosmo Alley in Hollywood.

In the 1960s, Carlin began appearing on television variety shows, notably The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. His most famous routines were:

  • The Indian Sergeant ("You wit' the beads... get outta line")
  • Stupid disc jockeys ("Wonderful WINO...") — "The Beatles' latest record, when played backwards at slow speed, says 'Dummy! You're playing it backwards at slow speed!'"
  • Al Sleet, the "hippie-dippie weatherman" — "Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued dark throughout most of the evening, with some widely-scattered light towards morning."
  • Jon Carson — the "world never known, and never to be known"

Variations on the first three of these routines appear on Carlin's 1967 debut album, Take Offs and Put Ons, recorded live in 1966 at The Roostertail in Detroit, Michigan.

During this period, Carlin became more popular as a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show, initially with Jack Paar as host, then with Johnny Carson. Carlin became one of Carson's most frequent substitutes during the host's three-decade reign. Carlin was also cast on Away We Go, a 1967 comedy show. His material during his early career, which included impressions, and his appearance, which consisted of suits and short-cropped hair, has been seen as "conventional", particularly when contrasted with his later anti-establishment material.

Carlin was present at Lenny Bruce's arrest for obscenity. As the police began attempting to detain members of the audience for questioning, and asked Carlin for his identification. Telling the police he did not believe in government issued IDs, he was arrested and taken to jail with Bruce in the same vehicle.

Eventually, Carlin changed both his routines and his appearance. He lost some TV bookings by dressing strangely for a comedian of the time, wearing faded jeans and sporting long hair, a beard and earrings at a time when clean-cut, well-dressed comedians were the norm. Using his own persona as a springboard for his new comedy, he was presented by Ed Sullivan in a performance of "The Hair Piece," and quickly regained his popularity as the public caught on to his sense of style.

Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that'll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.

George Carlin, Class Clown, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television"

In this period he also perfected what is perhaps his best-known routine, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television", recorded on Class Clown. Carlin was arrested on July 21, 1972 at Milwaukee's Summerfest and charged with violating obscenity laws after performing this routine. The case, which prompted Carlin to refer to the words for a time as, "The Milwaukee Seven", was dismissed in December of that year; the judge declared that the language was indecent, but Carlin had the freedom to say it as long as he caused no disturbance. In 1973, a man complained to the FCC that his son had heard a later, similar routine, "Filthy Words", from Occupation: Foole, broadcast one afternoon over WBAI, a Pacifica Foundation FM radio station in New York City. Pacifica received a citation from the FCC, which sought to fine Pacifica for allegedly violating FCC regulations which prohibited broadcasting "obscene" material. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC action, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was "indecent but not obscene", and the FCC had authority to prohibit such broadcasts during hours when children were likely to be among the audience. (F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978). The court documents contain a complete transcript of the routine.)

The controversy only increased Carlin's fame (or notoriety). Carlin eventually expanded the dirty-words theme with a seemingly interminable end to a performance (ending with his voice fading out in one HBO version, and accompanying the credits in the Carlin at Carnegie special for the 1982-83 season), and a set of 49 web pages organized by subject and embracing his "Incomplete List Of Impolite Words".

Carlin was the first-ever host of NBC's Saturday Night Live, on October 11, 1975. (He also hosted SNL on November 10, 1984, where he actually appeared in sketches. The first time he hosted, he only appeared to perform stand-up and introduce the guest acts.) The following season, 1976-77, Carlin also appeared regularly on CBS Television's Tony Orlando & Dawn variety series.

Carlin unexpectedly stopped performing regularly in 1976, when his career appeared to be at its height. For the next five years, he rarely appeared to perform stand-up, although it was at this time he began doing specials for HBO as part of its On Location series. His first two HBO specials aired in 1977 and 1978. It was later revealed that Carlin had suffered the first of his three non-fatal heart attacks during this layoff period.

In 1981, Carlin returned to the stage, releasing A Place For My Stuff, and he returned to HBO and New York City with the Carlin at Carnegie TV special, videotaped at Carnegie Hall and airing during the 1982-83 season. Carlin continued doing HBO specials every year or every other year over the following decade-and-a-half. All of Carlin's albums from this time forward are the HBO specials.

In concert at Harrisburg, PA
In concert at Harrisburg, PA

Carlin's acting career was primed with a major supporting role in the 1987 comedy hit Outrageous Fortune, starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long; it was his first notable screen role after a handful of previous guest roles on television series. Playing drifter Frank Madras, the role poked fun at the lingering effect of the 1960s psychedelic counterculture. In 1989, he gained popularity with a new generation of teens when he was cast as Rufus, the time-traveling mentor of the titular characters in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and reprised his role in the film sequel Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey as well as the first season of the cartoon series. In 1991, he provided the narrative voice for the American version of the children's show Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, a role he continued until 1998. He played "Mr. Conductor" on the PBS children's show Shining Time Station, which featured Thomas the Tank Engine from 1991 to 1993, as well as the Shining Time Station TV specials in 1995 and Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales in 1996. Also in 1991, Carlin had a major supporting role in the movie The Prince of Tides, which starred Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand.

Carlin began a weekly Fox Broadcasting sitcom, The George Carlin Show, in 1993, playing New York City taxicab driver "George O'Grady". He quickly included a variation of the "Seven Words" in the plot. The show ran 27 episodes through December 1995.

In 1997, his first hardcover book, Brain Droppings, was published, and sold over 750,000 copies as of 2001. Carlin was honored at the 1997 Aspen Comedy Festival with a retrospective George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy hosted by Jon Stewart.

In 1999, Carlin played a supporting role as a satirically marketing-oriented Roman Catholic cardinal in filmmaker Kevin Smith's movie Dogma. He worked with Smith again with a cameo appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and later played an atypically serious role in Jersey Girl, as the blue collar father of Ben Affleck's character.

In 2001, Carlin was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual American Comedy Awards.

In December 2003, California U.S. Representative Doug Ose introduced a bill (H.R. 3687) to outlaw the broadcast of Carlin's seven "dirty words", including "compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms)". (The bill omits "tits", but includes "asshole", which was not part of Carlin's original routine.) This bill was never voted on; the last action on this bill was its referral to the House Judiciary Committee on the Constitution on January 15, 2004.

The following year, Carlin was fired from his headlining position at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas after an altercation with his audience. After a poorly received set filled with dark references to suicide bombings and beheadings, Carlin stated that he could not wait to get out of "this fucking hotel" and Las Vegas in general, claiming he wanted to go back East "where the real people are". He continued to insult his audience, stating

People who go to Las Vegas, you've got to question their fucking intellect to start with. Traveling hundreds and thousands of miles to essentially give your money to a large corporation is kind of fucking moronic. That's what I'm always getting here is these kind of fucking people with very limited intellects.

An audience member shouted back that Carlin should "stop degrading us", at which point Carlin responded "Thank you very much, whatever that was. I hope it was positive; if not, well blow me." He was immediately fired by MGM Grand and soon after announced he would enter rehab for drug and alcohol addiction.

For years, Carlin had performed regularly as a headliner in Las Vegas. He began a tour through the first half of 2006, and had a new HBO Special on November 5, 2005 entitled Life is Worth Losing, which was shown live from the Beacon Theatre in New York City. Topics covered included suicide, natural disasters (and the impulse to see them escalate in severity), cannibalism, genocide, human sacrifice, threats to civil liberties in America, and how an argument can be made that humans are inferior to animals.

On February 1, 2006, Carlin mentioned to the crowd, during his Life is Worth Losing set at the Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore, California, that he had been discharged from the hospital only six weeks previously for "heart failure" and "pneumonia", citing the appearance as his "first show back".

Carlin provided the voice of Fillmore, a character in the Disney/Pixar animated feature Cars, which opened in theaters on June 9, 2006. The character Fillmore, who is presented as an anti-establishment hippie, is a VW Microbus with a psychedelic paint job, whose front license plate reads "51237" — Carlin's birthday.

Carlin's last HBO stand-up special, It's Bad for Ya, aired live on March 1, 2008 from the Wells Fargo Center For The Arts in Santa Rosa, CA. Many of the themes that appeared in this HBO special included "American Bullshit", "Rights", "Death", "Old Age", and "Child Rearing". Carlin had been working the new material for this HBO special for several months prior in concerts all over the country.

On June 18, 2008, four days before his death, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC announced that Carlin would be the 2008 honoree of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to be awarded in November of that year. After consulting with both Carlin's family and PBS (who will air the ceremony), Carlin will still receive the award, becoming its first posthumous recipient.

In 1961, Carlin married Brenda Hosbrook (born August 5, 1936, died May 11, 1997), whom he had met while touring the previous year, in her parents' living room in Dayton, Ohio. The couple had a daughter, Kelly, in 1963. In 1971, George and Brenda renewed their wedding vows in Las Vegas, Nevada. Brenda died of liver cancer a day before Carlin's 60th birthday, in 1997.

Carlin later married Sally Wade on June 24, 1998, and the marriage lasted until his death - two days before their tenth anniversary.

In December 2004, Carlin announced that he would be voluntarily entering a drug rehabilitation facility to receive treatment for his dependency on alcohol and vicodin.

Carlin did not vote and often criticized elections as an illusion of choice. He said he last voted for George McGovern, who ran for President in 1972 against Richard Nixon.

Although raised in the Roman Catholic faith (which he describes anecdotally on the album Class Clown), Carlin often denounced the idea of God in interviews and performances, notably with his "Religion" and "There Is No God" routines as heard in You Are All Diseased.

Carlin also joked in his first book Brain Droppings that he worshiped the Sun, one reason being that he could actually see it. This was later mentioned in You Are All Diseased, along with the statement that he prayed to Joe Pesci (a good friend of his in real life) because "he's a good actor", and "looks like a guy who can get things done!"

In his HBO special Complaints and Grievances, Carlin introduced the "Two Commandments", a revised "pocket-sized" list of the Ten Commandments ending with the additional commandment of "Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

Carlin's themes have been known for causing considerable controversy in the American media. His most usual topic was (in his words) humanity's "bullshit", which might include murder, genocide, war, rape, corruption, religion and other aspects of human civilization. He was known for mixing observational humour with larger, social commentary. His delivery frequently treated these subjects in a misanthropic and nihilistic fashion, such as in his statement during the Life is Worth Losing show:

I look at it this way... For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers... so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it's natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse.
George Carlin in Trenton, New Jersey April 4, 2008
George Carlin in Trenton, New Jersey April 4, 2008

Language was a frequent focus of Carlin's work. Euphemisms that in his view, seek to distort and lie, and the use of language he felt was pompous, presumptuous or silly, were often the target of Carlin's routines. When asked on Inside the Actors Studio what turned him on, he responded "Reading about language". When asked what made him most proud about his career, he said the amount his books have sold, close to a million copies.

Carlin also gave special attention to prominent topics in American and Western Culture, such as obsession with fame and celebrity, consumerism, Christianity, political alienation, corporate control, hypocrisy, child raising, fast food diet, news stations, self-help publications, patriotism, sexual taboos, certain uses of technology and surveillance, and the pro-life position, among many others.

Carlin openly communicated in his shows and in his interviews that his purpose for existence was entertainment, that he was "here for the show". He professed a hearty schadenfreude in watching the rich spectrum of humanity slowly self-destruct, in his estimation, of its own design; saying, "When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front-row seat." He acknowledged that this is a very selfish thing, especially since he included large human catastrophes as entertainment. In his You Are All Diseased concert, he elaborated somewhat on this, telling the audience, "I have always been willing to put myself at great personal risk for the sake of entertainment. And I've always been willing to put you at great personal risk, for the same reason!"

In a late-1990s interview with radio talk show host Art Bell, he remarked about his view of human life: "I think we're already 'circling the drain' as a species, and I'd love to see the circles get a little faster and a little shorter."

In the same interview, he recounted his experience of a California earthquake in the early-1970s as: "...an amusement park ride. Really, I mean it's such a wonderful thing to realize that you have absolutely no control... and to see the dresser move across the bedroom floor unassisted... is just exciting." Later he summarized: "I really think there's great human drama in destruction and nature unleashed and I don't get enough of it."

A routine in Carlin's 1999 HBO special You Are All Diseased focusing on airport security leads up to the statement: "Take a fucking chance! Put a little fun in your life! ... most Americans are soft and frightened and unimaginative and they don't realize there's such a thing as dangerous fun, and they certainly don't recognize a good show when they see one."

Carlin had always included politics as part of his material (along with the wordplay and sex jokes), but by the mid-1980s had become a strident social critic, in both his HBO specials and the book compilations of his material. His HBO viewers got an especially sharp taste of this in his take on the Ronald Reagan administration during the 1988 special What Am I Doing In New Jersey? broadcast live from the Park Theatre in Union City, New Jersey.

Since the birth of spam email on the internet, many chain-forwards, usually rant-like and with blunt statements of belief on political and social issues and attributed to being written (or stated) by George Carlin himself, have made continuous rounds in the junk email circuit. While some are just witty-yet-edgy prose that seem like they "could" be genuine, most are either statements by other social commentators or fashioned by a "spam artist", and then purposely mis-attributed to Carlin. The idea behind attributing radical ideals as Carlin's own words serves mostly to make them more attractive to the unknowing reader by falsely exploiting Carlin's popularity for his style of blunt, in-your-face wisdom.

However, the website Snopes, an online resource that debunks historic and present urban legends and myths, has extensively covered these forgeries. Many of the falsely-attributed email attachments have contained material that runs directly opposite of Carlin's viewpoints — with some being especially volatile toward racial groups, gays, women, etc. Carlin himself, when he was made aware of each of these bogus emails, would debunk them on his own website, writing to his readers that "Nothing you see on the Internet is mine unless it comes from one of my albums, books, HBO specials, or appeared on my website", and "it bothers me that some people might believe that I would be capable of writing some of this stuff."

On June 22, 2008, Carlin was admitted to St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California after experiencing chest pain. He died later that day at 5:55 p.m. PDT of heart failure at the age of 71. Carlin worked right up until the end. His death occurred just one week after his last performance at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and he had further shows on his itinerary.  In accordance with his wishes, Carlin was cremated, with his ashes scattered, and no public or religious services of any kind were held. Two of the networks he performed on changed their schedule in tribute to Carlin. HBO devoted several hours to broadcast eleven of Carlin's 14 HBO specials from June 25 to June 28, 2008, including a twelve-hour marathon block on their HBO Comedy channel. Meanwhile, NBC scheduled a rerun of the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live which Carlin hosted.

Both Sirius Satellite Radio's "Raw Dog Comedy" and XM Satellite Radio's "XM Comedy" channels ran a memorial marathon of George Carlin recordings the day following his death. Another tribute to his memory was the "Doonesbury" comic strip on Sunday July 27, 2008.

Lewis Black's Root of All Evil is dedicating the entire second season to Carlin.

An episode of Larry King Live paid tribute to Carlin, featuring comics Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, Roseanne Barr, and Lewis Black. Carlin's daughter and brother were also interviewed by King. The next day, The New York Times published a tribute to Carlin written by Jerry Seinfeld

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 August 2010 10:35
 

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