Monday, June 23, 2008


George Carlin, 71, `Seven Dirty Words' Comedian, Dies

By Patrick Donahue and Brian Lysaght

June 23 (Bloomberg) -- George Carlin, a Grammy award-winning comedian whose routine about ``The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television'' was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, died of heart failure in California yesterday. He was 71.

Carlin went to St. John's Hospital, Santa Monica, yesterday after complaining of chest pain and died at 5:55 p.m. local time, publicist Jeff Abraham told the Associated Press. Abraham didn't immediately respond to a call requesting confirmation.

Carlin was one of the country's best-known comedians in the 1970s, an anti-establishment icon who appeared on popular television programs such as ``The Tonight Show.'' He wore long hair and a beard when most comedians were clean cut, and combined a bug-eyed stare with irreverent observations on politics, religion and modern life.

He was arrested for violating obscenity laws in 1972 in Milwaukee and his ``seven words'' routine, in which Carlin describes at length the words that are banned on television and radio, found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1978, the justices ruled 5-4 that the Federal Communications Commission has a right to regulate spoken-word performances on public airwaves to prevent children from hearing profanities.


``I've always been sort of anti-authoritarian and I really don't like arbitrary rules and regulations that are essentially designed to get people in the habit of conforming,'' Carlin said in a National Public Radio interview on Nov. 1, 2004.

Carlin was born May 12, 1937, and grew up in New York City. After serving in the Air Force in the 1950s, he began to work as a radio DJ before he developed his comedy act, initially a duo with partner Jack Burns. He first appeared on the Jack Paar- hosted ``The Tonight Show'' in October, 1960. He would appear on the show more than 130 times in his life.

He continued to hone his stand-up act in open-mike venues and folk clubs in New York as a clean-cut solo act. In 1968, he had a role in the film ``With Six You Get Eggroll'' with Brian Keith and Doris Day.

Carlin's image changed at the beginning of the 1970s when he grew a beard, joined the counterculture movement and started to use hard drugs, according to his Web site. In October 1975 he hosted the debut episode of ``Saturday Night Live'' while he was ``loaded on cocaine all week long,'' Carlin said.

Stand-Up Master

The comedian's main medium was the stand-up routine. He made 23 comedy albums and appeared in 14 HBO specials. Carlin also received four Grammy Awards and was nominated for five Emmys. He performed last week at the Las Vegas Orleans Casino and Hotel.

He combined a cynic's attitude with a street-wise New Yorker's love of verbal wordplay.

In his routine ``Baseball and Football,'' he compared the contrasting natures of two popular U.S. sports -- without a single swear word.

``Baseball is a 19th century pastoral game. Football is a 20th century technological struggle,'' he observed. ``Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park -- the baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.''

Born a Roman Catholic, Carlin regularly mocked organized religion, claiming he believed instead in the sun because ``unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun.''

Kennedy Center Honor

The comedian had health problems, suffering his first heart attack in 1978. He's survived by his daughter Kelly Carlin McCall and second wife, Sally Wade; his first wife, Brenda, died in 1997, AP reported.

The Kennedy Center announced five days ago that Carlin was to be awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

``In his lengthy career as a comedian, writer, and actor, George Carlin has not only made us laugh, but he makes us think,'' Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen Schwarzmann said in the announcement of the award. ``His influence on the next generation of comics has been far-reaching.''

``Thank you Mr. Twain,'' Carlin responded, according to the release. ``Have your people call my people.''

The comedian said the origins of his comedy could be traced to being a teenaged class clown.

``I'm an imperfect student,'' Carlin said in an interview in March. ``I quit school in ninth grade...I still get to show off, like the little kid in fifth grade -- I still get to take these things I write and go out on stage with them and show off.''

No comments: