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George Carlin
George Carlin 1975 (Little David Records) Publicity.jpg
Carlin in 1975
Birth name George Denis Patrick Carlin
Born (1937-05-12)May 12, 1937
New York City, U.S.
Died June 22, 2008(2008-06-22) (aged 71)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
  • Stand-up
  • film
  • television
  • radio
  • literature
Brenda Hosbrook
(m. 1961; died 1997)

Sally Wade
(m. 1998)
Children Kelly Carlin
Signature George Carlin Signature.svg

George Denis Patrick Carlin (May 12, 1937 – June 22, 2008) was an American comedian, actor, author, and social critic. Regarded as one of the most important and influential stand-up comedians of all time, he was dubbed "the dean of counterculture comedians". He was known for his black comedy and reflections on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and taboo subjects.

The first of Carlin's 14 stand-up comedy specials for HBO was filmed in 1977, broadcast as George Carlin at USC. From the late 1980s onwards, his routines focused on sociocultural criticism of American society. He often commented on American political issues and satirized American culture. He was a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show during the three-decade Johnny Carson era and hosted the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975. His final comedy special, It's Bad for Ya, was filmed less than four months before his death from cardiac failure. In 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. In 2004, he placed second on Comedy Central's list of top 10 American comedians. In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him second (behind Richard Pryor) on its list of the 50 best stand-up comedians of all time.

Carlin's film roles included a taxi driver in Car Wash, Frank Madras in Outrageous Fortune, Rufus in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, Eddie Detreville in The Prince of Tides, Cardinal Ignatius Glick in Dogma, Hitchhiker in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Architect in Scary Movie 3, and Bart Trinké in Jersey Girl. He also had voice roles as Zugor in Tarzan II, Fillmore in Cars, and as Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station, as well as narrating the American dubs for the Thomas & Friends segments.

Early life

George Carlin Buddy Greco Away We Go 1967
Carlin (right) with singer Buddy Greco in 1967

George Denis Patrick Carlin was born at New York Hospital in Manhattan on May 12, 1937, the second of two sons born to Mary (née Bearey, 1896–1984) and Patrick John Carlin (1888–1945). Carlin had an older brother, Patrick Jr. (1931–2022), who later had a major influence on his comedy. His mother was born in New York City to Irish immigrants and his father was himself an Irish immigrant from Cloghan, a village in County Donegal in Ulster, leading Carlin to later describe himself as "fully Irish".

His parents separated when he was two months old, so his mother raised him and his brother on her own. His father died when Carlin was eight years old.

Carlin said that he picked up an appreciation for the effective use of the English language from his mother, though they had a difficult relationship and he often ran away from home. He grew up on West 121st Street in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.

He attended Corpus Christi School, a Roman Catholic parish school of the Corpus Christi Church in Morningside Heights. His mother owned a television, which was a new technology few people owned at the time, and Carlin became an avid fan of the pioneering late-night talk show Broadway Open House during its short run. He went to the Bronx for high school but, after three semesters, was expelled from Cardinal Hayes High School at age 15. He briefly attended Bishop Dubois High School in Harlem and Salesian High School in Goshen. He spent many summers at Camp Notre Dame in Spofford, New Hampshire, where he regularly won the camp's drama award. Later, at his request, some of his ashes were spread at Spofford Lake upon his death.

Carlin joined the U.S. Air Force and trained as a radar technician. He was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana, and began working as a disc jockey at radio station KJOE in nearby Shreveport. Labeled an "unproductive airman" by his superiors, he received a general discharge on July 29, 1957.


1960s to 1970s

In 1959, Carlin met Jack Burns, a fellow DJ at radio station KXOL in Fort Worth, Texas. They formed a comedy team and after successful performances at Fort Worth's beat coffeehouse called The Cellar, Burns and Carlin headed for California in February 1960.

Within weeks of arriving in California, Burns and Carlin put together an audition tape and created The Wright Brothers, a morning show on KDAY in Hollywood. Years later when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Carlin requested that it be placed in front of the KDAY studios near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. After two years together as a team, they parted to pursue individual careers, but "remain[ed] the best of friends".

George Carlin 1969
Carlin performing on This Is Tom Jones in 1969

In the 1960s, Carlin began appearing on television variety shows, where he played various characters. During this period, Carlin became a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show, initially with Jack Paar as host, and then with Johnny Carson. Carlin became one of Carson's most frequent substitutes during the host's three-decade reign. Carlin was also cast in Away We Go, a 1967 comedy show that aired on CBS.

George Carlin In concert at the Zembo Mosque, Harrisburg, Pa
Carlin in the 1970s

Carlin hosted the premiere broadcast of NBC's Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975. The following season, 1976–1977, he appeared regularly on CBS Television's Tony Orlando & Dawn variety series.

Carlin unexpectedly stopped performing regularly in 1976, when his career appeared to be at its height. For the next five years, he rarely performed stand-up, although it was at this time that he began doing specials for HBO as part of its On Location series; he did 14 specials, including 2008's It's Bad For Ya! He later revealed that he had suffered the first of three heart attacks during this layoff period. His first two HBO specials aired in 1977 and 1978.


In 1981, Carlin returned to the stage, releasing A Place for My Stuff and returning to HBO and New York City with the Carlin at Carnegie TV special, videotaped at Carnegie Hall and airing during the 1982–83 season. Carlin continued doing HBO specials every year or two over the following decade and a half. All of Carlin's albums from this time forward are from the HBO specials.

He hosted SNL for the second time on November 10, 1984, this time appearing in several sketches.

Carlin began to achieve prominence as a film actor with a major supporting role in the 1987 comedy hit Outrageous Fortune, starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long; it was his first notable screen role after a handful of previous guest roles on television series. Playing drifter Frank Madras, he poked fun at the lingering effect of the 1960s counterculture. In 1989, he gained popularity with a new generation of teens when he was cast as Rufus, the time-traveling mentor of the title characters in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and reprised his role in the film sequel Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey as well as the first season of the cartoon series.

1990s - 2000s

Loz carlinbd2
Carlin at a book signing for Brain Droppings in 2004

In 1991, Carlin had a major supporting role in the movie The Prince of Tides, which starred Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand.

He also played the role of "Mr Conductor" on the PBS show Shining Time Station and narrated the show's sequences of the American and New Zealand version of the children's television series Thomas & Friends from 1991 to 1996, replacing Ringo Starr. Carlin narrated the first four seasons of what would later become known as Thomas & Friends for use on Shining Time Station.

In 1993, Carlin began a weekly Fox sitcom, The George Carlin Show, playing New York City taxicab driver George O'Grady. The show, created and written by The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon, ran 27 episodes through December 1995.

Carlin was honored at the 1997 Aspen Comedy Festival with a retrospective, George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy, hosted by Jon Stewart. His first hardcover book, Brain Droppings (1997), sold nearly 900,000 copies and spent 40 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

In 2001, Carlin was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual American Comedy Awards.

Jesus is coming.. Look Busy (George Carlin)
Carlin in April 2008

In the 2006 Disney/Pixar animated feature Cars, Carlin voiced Fillmore. In 2007, Carlin voiced the wizard in Happily N'Ever After, his last film. Carlin's last HBO stand-up special, It's Bad for Ya, aired live on March 1, 2008, from the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, California.

Personal life

In August 1960, while touring with comedy partner Jack Burns in Dayton, Ohio, Carlin met Brenda Hosbrook. They were married at her parents' home in Dayton on June 3, 1961. The couple's only child, Kelly Marie Carlin, was born on June 15, 1963. Hosbrook died of liver cancer on May 11, 1997, the day before Carlin's 60th birthday. Six months later, he met comedy writer Sally Wade, and later described it as "love at first sight" but admitted that he was hesitant to act on his feelings so soon after his wife's death. He eventually married Wade in a private and unregistered ceremony on June 24, 1998. The marriage lasted until Carlin's death in 2008, two days before their 10-year anniversary.

Health problems and death

Carlin had a history of heart problems spanning three decades. This included heart attacks in 1978, 1982, and 1991; an arrhythmia requiring an ablation procedure in 2003; a significant episode of heart failure in 2005; and two angioplasties on undisclosed dates. On June 22, 2008, at the age of 71, he died of heart failure at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. His death occurred one week after his last performance at The Orleans Hotel and Casino. In accordance with his wishes, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in front of various New York City nightclubs and over Spofford Lake in New Hampshire, where he had attended summer camp as an adolescent.


George Carlin Way
Make God Laugh
A dedication from the Laugh Factory two days after Carlin died

Four days before Carlin's death, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts had named him its 2008 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor honoree. He became its first posthumous recipient on November 10, 2008, in Washington, D.C. For a number of years, Carlin had been compiling and writing his autobiography, to be released in conjunction with a one-man Broadway show tentatively titled New York Boy. After Carlin's death, Tony Hendra, his collaborator on both projects, edited the autobiography for release as Last Words. The book, chronicling most of Carlin's life and future plans, including the one-man show, was published in 2009.

On October 22, 2014, a portion of West 121st Street, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan where Carlin spent his childhood, was renamed "George Carlin Way".

See also

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