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Carlin, George 1937-2008 (George Denis Carlin, George Denis Patrick Carlin, George Dennis Carlin)

Carlin, George 1937-2008 (George Denis Carlin, George Denis Patrick Carlin, George Dennis Carlin)


See index for CA sketch: Born May 12, 1937, in New York, NY; died of heart failure, June 22, 2008, in Santa Monica, CA. Comedian, actor, radio announcer, recording artist, and author. Carlin parlayed a lifelong love of words and language into a blockbuster career in comedy that spanned more than fifty years. During that time he performed on thousands of stages, hundreds of television shows, and more than two dozen comedy albums, several of which won Grammy Awards. He acted in films and published his comedy routines in books. It all began with words. Carlin's most famous words were probably "the seven words you can never say on television." They led to several arrests for obscenity and ultimately a U.S. Supreme Court decision on decency in broadcasting in 1978, which remained in effect at least thirty years later, even after times had changed. Carlin rode the tides of change by reinventing himself every ten years or so. He began his career as a radio disk jockey and announcer in Louisiana in 1955. In 1960 he went on the road with comedian Jack Burns as "Burns and Carlin," but by the mid-sixties he had launched his solo career.

At the beginning, Carlin's comedy was fairly conventional. He played with words and mused on the foibles of daily living, and once in a while he ventured into social commentary. Gradually Carlin redirected his humor to the intellectual counter-culture that emerged from the social turmoil of the 1960s. The satire became more biting, the language more vulgar, and the intensity of his diatribes reached new heights. At the same time, Carlin became a frequent guest on television talk shows, until his "seven words" routine captured the attention of the network censors. Though Carlin made one memorable appearance as the guest host of the premiere episode of the groundbreaking comedy series Saturday Night Live in 1975, his network appearances dwindled rapidly. Carlin's audience grew, however, as he continued to tour comedy clubs and nightclubs and began to record comedy albums, such as Class Clown (1972) and Complaints and Grievances (2001). Then cable television beckoned. The Home Box Office network broadcast several of Carlin's special appearances, without censorship. Two of them, George Carlin: Doin' It Again (1990) and Jammin' in New York (1992), won CableAce Awards for excellence in standup comedy on cable television; his last broadcast was George Carlin: It's Bad for Ya (2008).

Carlin continued to modify his routines to fit the times. Routines on drugs and alcohol in the 1970s gave way to commentary on parenting and, eventually, on aging, but his humor never lost its sting. Politics and religion, middle-class and "New Age" values, sports, technology—any trends that lend themselves to pomposity, absurdity, or self-righteousness—all were grist for his mill. Carlin continued to perform until the week before his death, and only months before he was scheduled to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. He had received a lifetime achievement award from the American Comedy Awards in 2001. Carlin's legacy will live on in his many albums and in at least four books: Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help (1984), Brain Droppings (1997), Napalm and Silly Putty (2001), and When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? (2004).



Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2008, pp. A1, A13.

New York Times, June 24, 2008, p. C12; June 25, 2008, p. A2.

Times (London, England), June 24, 2008, p. 55.

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