--George Carlin, in a 2006 interview with Michael Hamersly
GEORGE DENIS PATRICK CARLIN was born in New York City on May 12, 1937. His mother, Mary, raised him and his brother alone, after separating from her alcoholic husband while George was only two months old. Though his family was strictly Irish Catholic, and his parents were both involved heavily in the business world, Carlin would make his career relentlessly attacking both institutions. She "was heartbroken when I began with the dirty language and all the awful stuff I say about business," he once remarked about his mother.
Carlin knew what he wanted to do from an early age. He recalled writing an autobiography in the fifth grade ("I think that's the time to do it, when you're eleven") that concluded with his expressed wishes to become either "an actor, comedian, impersonator, announcer, disc jockey, or trumpet player." All were careers, he acknowledged, that involved "standing up in front of people and attracting attention to yourself."
After dropping out of high school Carlin joined the Air Force at seventeen--an experience he would use in his decidedly anti-military material later on. After several court-martials and disciplinary punishments, Carlin was eventually discharged in 1957. After a brief stint as a radio disc jockey, he eventually found success in the 1960s as a straight-laced, conventional comedian who played several notable characters on a number of TV variety shows. He also made frequent appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
In 1972, Carlin recorded his album Class Clown, and it would change his life and his legacy forever. The album included the "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" routine. Accused of violating obscenity laws, Carlin would later be arrested while performing the routine in Milwaukee. He was ultimately acquitted, citing First Amendment rights, but the incident eventually led to a Supreme Court decision that granted the Federal Communications Commission the ability to regulate "obscene" language on television and over the radio. The incident increased Carlin's fame significantly and solidified him as the king of counterculture comedy--a distinct departure from his early, conventional image.
Free to express himself more honestly, Carlin's material became much darker, more sardonic, profane, and wider in scope; frequent targets included organized religion, political institutions, American culture, consumerism, right-wing conservatives, and the nonsensical idiosyncrasies of the English language. As a controversial social critic and an outspoken atheist, Carlin directed much of his ire at religion in particular, once calling it "the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims."
"To be honest, there aren't many things I do believe in," Carlin said in a 1999 address to the National Press Club. "But high among them would be friendship, family ties, and romantic love. I think those things can take you a long way."
In addition to his stand-up comedy, Carlin was also an occasional screen actor, a voice actor, and a best-selling author. His awards are too numerous to mention, but highest among them are a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Comedy Awards, and the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for Humor. After a lifetime of frequent heart problems and aggressive substance abuse, George Carlin died on June 22,2008, of heart failure. He is survived by his daughter, Kelly, and his second wife, Sally Wade.
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