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Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin Dead at Age 71

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.

Carlin constantly pushed the envelope with his jokes, particularly with the "Seven Words" routine. When he uttered all seven at a show in Milwaukee in 1972, he was arrested for disturbing the peace.

When the words 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.

"So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of," he told The Associated Press earlier this year.

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" and noted on his Web site that he was "loaded on cocaine all week long."

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. He received three court-martials and numerous disciplinary punishments, according to his official Web site.

While in the Air Force he started working as an off-base disc jockey at a radio station in Shreveport, La., and after receiving a general discharge in 1957, took an announcing job at WEZE in Boston.

"Fired after three months for driving mobile news van to New York to buy pot," his Web site says.

From there he went on to a job on the night shift as a deejay at a radio station in Forth Worth, Texas. Carlin also worked variety of temporary jobs including a carnival organist and a marketing director for a peanut brittle.

In 1960, he left with a Texas radio buddy, Jack Burns, for Hollywood to pursue a nightclub career as comedy team Burns & Carlin. Things didn't congeal, and soon both performers went their separate ways.

In the mid 1960s, Carlin began building a following with appearances on variety programs, delivering soon-to-be classic routines about Indian war parties ("You wit' the beads...get outta line"), crack-brained deejays ("Wonderful WINO....") and Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie weather man.

Carlin's performances became renowned for their unpredictability in the 1970s and early 1980s; sometimes he'd stalk off in the middle of the act if the laughs weren't there, other times he'd verbally abuse the audience, and still other times he wouldn't show up at all. By the mid 1980s, he had cleaned up his personal act (if not his public one).

But even with his decidedly adult-comedy bent, Carlin never lost his childlike sense of mischief, even voicing kid-friendly projects like episodes of the TV show "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" and the spacey Volkswagen bus Fillmore in the 2006 Pixar hit "Cars."

Carlin's first wife, Brenda, died in 1997. He is survived by wife Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; son-in-law Bob McCall; brother Patrick Carlin; and sister-in-law Marlene Carlin.


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