Born in NYC: Unforgettable George Carlin

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George Carlin was known for his stand-up routines as well as TV appearances and roles in  films. He was born on May 12, 1937, in the Bronx, New York. Carlin and his older brother, Pat, were primarily raised by their mother in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights section. Mary Carlin, a devout Irish Catholic, worked as a secretary to support her children.
George Carlin attended parochial school and much of his negative religious sentiment stems from his experience as a Roman Catholic altar boy. Carlin completed two years of high school before dropping out in the ninth grade.
In 1954, at age 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a radar technician and was stationed at Shreveport, Louisiana. Over the next three years, Carlin earned his high school equivalency and moonlighted as a disc jockey at a local radio station. He also received three courts-martial and numerous disciplinary punishments, according to his official Web site. After a general discharge in 1957, he took radio jobs in Boston and Fort Worth, Texas.
George Carlin
George Carlin

Early Career

Five years later Carlin teamed up with Texas newscaster, Jack Burns. They attracted the attention of the legendary Lenny Bruce. Bruce helped Burns and Carlin secure appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. But Burns and Carlin eventually split up. Over the next few years Carlin continued to make numerous appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as 29 appearances on The Merv Griffin Show.

George Carlin
George Carlin
In the early 1960s, Carlin got his start as a stand-up comic by performing on the Las Vegas circuit and entertaining TV audiences. Carlin enjoyed moderate success until the mid-70s when he re-invented his image and adopted a less conventional, somewhat vulgar comedy routine. Carlin’s scripted monologues began to represent his disillusioned attitude toward the world in which explored the highly sensitive issues of Vietnam, politics, religion, American culture, drugs, the demise of humanity and the right to free speech.

Infamous Seven Words Routine

In July of 1972, Carlin was arrested for violating obscenity laws in Milwaukee after his infamous routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” As a self-professed atheist and avid cocaine user, his adversaries deemed him anti-religious and disrespectful of society. However, the comedian’s new material brought him success from the younger counterculture. Carlin illustrated his anti-establishment views by being the first host of the risque TV show Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975.

Comic Great

Carlin starred in his first of HBO comedy specials in 1977 with On Location: George Carlin at USC. In all, he did 14 such specials, including 2008’s It’s Bad For Ya! In 1997 he published Brain Droppings. The book included his comedic take on life, society and politics. Brain Droppings spent 18 weeks on the New York Times’ best-seller list.

George Carlin: Brain Droppings.
George Carlin: Brain Droppings.

Throughout his career, Carlin took on a number of comedic roles in films such as 1987’s Outrageous Fortune and as Rufus, an emissary from the future, in 1990’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. He took a more dramatic turn in The Prince of Tides (1991). He also was featured in Kevin Smith’s film Dogma (1999), in which he played Cardinal Glick, a fame-seeking religious figure. In 2006, he provided the voice of Fillmore, a hippie Volkswagen bus, in the animated Cars.

Legacy of George Carlin

Carlin was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987. In the 1990s, Carlin enjoyed success with series television. Starting in 1991, he provided the voice of the train conductor on PBS’ kid-friendly Shining Time Station for two years and narrated Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends through 1998. He also starred as a cab driver in The George Carlin Show from 1993 to 1995. In addition to his acting, writing and recording, Carlin continued to perform about 150 dates a year on the road. In 2004, he placed second behind Richard Pryor on Comedy Central’s list of “Top 100 Comics of All Time.”


Death of a Legend

Carlin had a history of cardiac problems spanning three decades. These included three heart attacks (in 1978, 1982, and 1991), an arrhythmia requiring an ablation procedure in 2003, and a significant episode of heart failure in late 2005. He twice underwent angioplasty to reopen narrowed arteries. In early 2005, he entered a drug rehabilitation facility for treatment of addictions to alcohol and Vicodin.

Carlin died on June 22, 2008 at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, of heart failure at age 71. His death occurred one week after his last performance at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In accordance with his wishes, his body was cremated, and the ashes were scattered in front of various nightclubs he played in New York City and over Spofford Lake, in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, where he attended summer camp as an adolescent

George Carlin
George Carlin

On June 17, 2008, just five days before his death, it was announced that he was being awarded the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

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Born in NYC: Unforgettable George Carlin
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