George Carlin, the Grammy-Award-winning stand-up comedian and actor who was hailed for his irreverent social commentary, poignant observations...
George Carlin, the dean of counterculture comedians whose biting insights on life and language were immortalized in his “Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV” routine, died of heart failure Sunday. He was 71.
Carlin went into a Santa Monica, Calif., hospital Sunday complaining of chest pain and died later that evening.
Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. It was announced Tuesday that Carlin was being awarded the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Carlin constantly pushed the envelop with his jokes, particularly with the “Seven Words” a routine called “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV.”
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When Carlin uttered all seven at a show in Milwaukee in 1972, he was arrested for disturbing the peace. And when they were played on a New York radio station, they resulted in a Supreme Court ruling in 1978 upholding the government’s authority to sanction stations for broadcasting offensive language.
He produced 23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a couple of TV shows and appeared in several movies. Carlin hosted the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live.”
Carlin was born May 12, 1937 and grew up in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, raised by a single mother. After dropping out of high school in the ninth grade, he joined the Air Force in 1954.
Carlin began his stand-up-comedy act in the late 1950s and made his first television solo guest appearance on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1965.
But from the outset there were indications of an anti-establishment edge to his comedy. Initially, it surfaced in the witty patter of a host of offbeat characters like the wacky sportscaster Biff Barf and the hippy-dippy weatherman Al Sleet.
Carlin released his first comedy album, “Take-Offs and Put-Ons,” to rave reviews in 1967.
By the end of the decade, he was one of America’s best-known comedians. He made more than 80 major TV appearances during that time, including “The Ed Sullivan Show” and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show.
In 1970, Carlin discarded his suit, tie and clean-cut image as well as the relatively conventional material that had catapulted him to the top. Carlin reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine that, according to one critic, was steeped in “drugs and bawdy language.”
By 1972, when he released his second album, “FM & AM,” his star was again on the rise. The album won a Grammy Award as best-comedy recording.
By 1977, when his first HBO comedy special, “George Carlin at USC,” was aired, he was recognized as one of the era’s most influential comedians.
In the years after his 1977 cable debut, Carlin was nominated for a half-dozen Grammy awards and received CableAces awards. He also won his second Grammy for the album “Jammin’ ” in 1994.
During the course of his career, Carlin overcame numerous personal trials. His struggle to overcome his self-described “heavy drug use” was well publicized.
But in the ’80s he also weathered serious tax problems and two open-heart surgeries. His greatest setback was the loss of his wife, Brenda Hosbrook, who died in 1997. They had been married for 36 years.
Carlin is survived by wife, Sally Wade, and daughter Kelly Carlin McCall.