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George Carlin, Dead At 71

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George Carlin, legendary comedian, author, actor, and counterculture icon, died Sunday of heart failure, age 71, at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. He is survived by his second wife, Sally Wade, and daughter Kelly Carlin McCall. His first wife, Brenda, predeceased him in 1997 after 36 years of marriage.

Considered one of the most significant and influential of his craft, Carlin laced comic scenarios with intelligence and social criticisms, presaging the comedic styles of Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart, among many others.

Born May 12, 1937, Carlin grew up in New York City with his mother, Mary, and older brother, Patrick. His father, whom he never knew, died in 1945. After dropping out of school in 1953, Carlin joined the Air Force, an ill-fated choice considering his contempt for authority. Following a series of infractions, he received a general discharge under honorable conditions in 1957.

A string of radio jobs and comedy nightclub gigs, mostly with sideman Jack Burns, acquainted Carlin with the entertainment industry. The duo made their television debut on an October 10, 1960 taping of The Tonight Show with Jack Parr, but split to pursue individual ambitions soon thereafter.

Carlin released his first stand-up album, Take-Offs and Put-Ons, in 1967, yet it was with 1972’s Class Clown – which introduced the infamous “7 Words You Can Never Say On TV” – that he not only galvanized his subversive image, but also prompted a landmark United States Supreme Court case. In F.C.C. vs. Pacifica Foundation, the Court ultimately ruled that Carlin’s act, while not deemed obscene, was considered “indecent,” thus relegating it to broadcast regulations. Such restrictions, as well as personal controversies (including arrests and substance abuse), further fueled his dissident reputation and following.

The first host of Saturday Night Live, Carlin employed his talents on television as well as in motion pictures, yielding 14 HBO specials as well as roles in such films as Car Wash, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Prince of Tides, Dogma, and Jersey Girl.

His professional accolades include 4 Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual Comedy Awards in 2001, the Free Speech Award from the First Amendment Center in 2002, and, in 2004, Comedy Central ranked him second (only to Richard Pryor) among the “100 Greatest Comedians of All Time.”

As well, the John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts announced last week that Carlin would receive this year’s Mark Twain Humor Prize, a lifetime achievement recognition. In a statement released at the time, Kennedy Center chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman said, "In his lengthy career as a comedian, writer and actor, George Carlin has not only made us laugh, but he makes us think. His influence on the next generation of comics has been far-reaching.” Carlin then issued his own statement, sardonically saying, “Thank you Mr. Twain. Have your people call my people.”

“My feeling is that as long as you’re going to die, you should go out with a bang,” Carlin wrote in his best-selling book, Napalm and Silly Putty. “I say go out big, folks; it’s your last chance to make a statement. Before you go, give ‘em a show; entertain those you leave behind.” Indeed, George Carlin made indelible statements and entertained at will for over a half-century.

About Donald Gibson

  • Glen Boyd

    In addition to being very funny, Carlin was also a very smart man. I especially loved his perspectives on the english language. He will definitely be missed.


  • Donald Gibson

    I was fortunate enough to have seen him twice in concert, the most recent being just last year, and he was the funniest, most astute comedian I’ve ever witnessed first-hand. As much as he influenced so many others, he was one of a kind.

  • Glen Boyd

    I also saw him once back in the 70s, and agree with your assessment that he was as astute as he was funny. The thing about the Kennedy honor coming just this past week makes his passing all the more ironic. You did a very nice job on this Donald.


  • Richard Marcus

    Man – this is a shock – Carlin is one of those figures that defined my life – from his appearances on the television in the late sixties and early seventies – “Stuff” and “The Hippie Dippie Weather Man” – to his appearances in Kevin Smith’s movies over the last few years. Casting Carlin as a Cardinal, not only allowed for some great alliteration, made you laugh just because of the juxtapositioning of the man and the position – you couldn’t help but remember some of those infamous seven words as he introduced the world to “The Buddy Christ”.

    As Glen and Donald have both said, it was his intelligence that really made him stand out. He picked up where Lenny Bruce left off with his social/political commentary, but he was far more subtle than Bruce and the knife of his humour was all the sharper for it.

    Thank you for this Donald.

    Cheers Richard

  • Diana Hartman

    Thank you for your contribution to the Culture section of Blogcritics. Your article has been selected as today’s feature on Culture’s Front Page.

  • Jordan Richardson

    RIP to one of the true greats.

  • Alessandro

    Saw him here in Montreal at Place des Arts. Sad.

    His “seven dirtiest words in the English language” was sheer comedic beauty.

  • El Bicho

    The universe is a poorer place now, although there is one good thing about his passing. Donald will learn if there is an afterlife because I have no doubt that George will come back and haunt him unmercifully for using a word like “predeceased.” :)

  • bliffle

    IMO opinion Carlin was funnier than Bruce because he made the 7 Words humorous instead of just outrageous.

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    I don’t think Donald will have to worry about running into Carlin, lest he stay out of that garage in Buffalo.

  • Douglas Mays

    Quite a loss. Yet so much gained by his perspective. I was in Jr. High when his ‘Class Clown’ album came out. Then suddenly those 7 words became a ‘pop quiz’ amongst all us students.

    I have not heard that album for 35 years! what are those words? Let me think…

    Shit, fuck, motherfucker, cocksucker, piss, cunt, tits.

    Correct me if I am wrong. But after such a long time I can recite those words as if learning about Christopher Columbus or something. I would love to see that question on Jeopardy or something.

    I saw Carlin back in the early ’70s at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. It was amazing how he could get 3000 people laughing hysterically, literally on the floor.

    A man whose perspective on society, culture, politics are forever engraved as a statement.

    hhhmmm… here is another thing that just popped into my head after 35 years:

    See my beard
    Ain’t it weird
    don’t be sceard
    it’s just a beard


  • Marcia Neil

    He could have had a career as an archaeology lecturer and lived longer, but oh well.

  • bliffle

    It went something like this:

    “tits? It doesn’t even sound like a bad word. Sounds so quiet and simple. Sounds like some guys nickname in grade school: Tits Wilson.”

  • Jet in Columbus

    Okay you Carlin fans, there is the text of his “Seven words you can never say on television”

    Actually there were two versions of this, one from “Class Clown” and the other from “Occupation Foole” I actually edited the two together on tape and listened to them repeatedly so many times in my car, that I can never get them out of my head, even this long after…

    so here it is, melted together taking the best from both versions…

    I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss words and the words that you can’t say, that you’re not supposed to say all the time, because some people are into words. They want to hear your words. Some guys like to record your words and sell them back to you if they can listen in on the telephone, write down what words you say. A guy who used to be in Washington, knew that his phone was tapped, used to answer, “Fuck Hoover, yes, go ahead.”

    There are 400,000 words in the English language and there are 7 of them you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you 7, Baaaaaad Words.

    That’s what they told us they were; remember?

    “That’s a bad word!” No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions… and words.

    So… there’s the ones you definitely couldn’t say, ever, ’cause I heard a lady say bitch one night on television, and it was cool; like she was talking about, you know, ah, well, the bitch is the first one to notice that in the litter, Johnny. Right. And, uh, bastard you can say and hell and damn, so I have to figure out which ones you couldn’t…ever and it came down to seven, but the list is open to amendment and in fact, has been changed, uh, by now, and a lot of people pointed things out to me… and I noticed some myself.

    The original seven words were, shit, piss, fuck, cocksucker mutherfucker and tits. Wow! …and Tits doesn’t even belong on the list. That is such a friendly sounding word. It sounds like a nickname, right? “Hey, Tits, come here, man. Hey Tits, meet Toots. Toots, Tits. Tits, Toots.” It sounds like a snack, doesn’t it? Yes, I know, it is a snack. I don’t mean your sexist snack. I mean New Nabisco Tits!, and new Cheese Tits, Corn Tits,
    Pizza Tits, Sesame Tits, Onion Tits, Tater Tits. “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One.” That’s true. I usually switch off. But I mean, that word does not belong on the list.

    Actually none of the words belong on the list,but you can understand why some of them are there. I’m not completely insensitive to people’s feelings. I can understand why some of those words got on the list, like CockSucker and MotherFucker. Those are heavyweight words. There is a lot going on there. Besides the literal translation and the emotional feeling.I mean, they’re just busy words. There’s a lot of syllables to contend
    with. And those Ks, those are agressive sounds. They just jump out at you like “coCKsuCKer, motherfuCKer” It’s like an assualt on you.

    Now where was I?… oh yeah.

    So anyway, those are the ones that will curve your spine, grow hair on your hands…and maybe even bring us, God help us, peace without honor… uhhhhhh what a burden! And now the first thing that we noticed was that word fuck was really repeated in there because the word mutherfucker is a compound word and it’s another form of the word fuck. You want to be a purist it doesn’t really- it can’t be on the list of basic words.

    Also, cocksucker is a compound word and neither half of that is really dirty. The word ‘sucker’-that’s merely suggestive and the word cock is a halfway dirty word, 50% dirty- dirty half the time, depending on what you mean by it. Uh, remember when you first heard it, like in 8th grade, you used to giggle. Remember the cock crowed three times.” “Heyyyyyyy, the cock crowed three times! It’s in the Bible! cock is in the Bible!” And the first time you heard about a cockfight? What? Huh? Naw. It’s chickens, you know?

    Then you have the four letter words from the old Anglo-Saxon fame. Uh, shit and fuck The word shit uh, is an interesting kind of word in that the middle class has never really accepted it and approved it. They use it like crazy but it’s not really okay. It’s still a rude, dirty, old kind of gushy word. They don’t like that, but they say it, like, they say it like, a lady now in a middle-class home, you’ll hear most of the time she says it as an expletive, you know, it’s out of her mouth before she knows. She says, “Oh shit, Oh shit, oh shit If she drops something. “Oh, shit! I dropped the broccoli. shhhhhhit!”

    So! Now the word shit is okay for the man. At work you can say it like crazy. Mostly figuratively, “Get that shit out of here, will ya? I don’t want to see that shit anymore. I can’t cut that shit buddy. I’ve had that shit up to here. I think you’re full of shit myself. He don’t know shit from Shinola. You know that?”

    (I always wondered how the Shinola shoe polish people felt about that.)
    “Hi, I’m the new man from Shinola!”
    “Hi, how are ya? Nice to see ya. How are ya?”

    “Boy, I don’t know whether to shit or wind my watch. Guess, I’ll shit on my watch”. “Oh, the shit is going to hit the fan.” “Built like a brick shithouse.” “Oh, he’s up shit’s creek. He’s had it.” Hot shit, holy shit, tough shit, eat shit. shit -eating grin. Uh, whoever thought of that was ill. “He had a shit -eating grin!” “He had a what?” shit on a stick. shit in a handbag. I always liked that. “He ain’t worth shit in a handbag.”

    ……..”Shitty. He acted real shitty. You know what I mean? I got the money back, but a real shitty attitude.” “Hey, he had a shit-fit!” Wow! shit-fit. Whew! Glad I wasn’t there. All the animals- Bullshit, horse shit, cow shit, rat shit, bat shit. First time I heard bat shit, I really came apart. A guy in Oklahoma, Boggs, said it, man. Aw, batshit! Vera reminded me of that last night. Snake shit, slicker than owl shit. Get your shit together. shit or get off the pot.

    I got a shitload full of them! I got a shit-pot full, all right. shit-head, shit-heel, shit in your heart, shit for brains, shit-face, hey. I always try to think how that could have originated; the first guy that said that. Somebody got drunk and fell in some shit you know. “Hey, I’m shit-face! shitface, today!”

    Anyway, enough of that shit

    The big one, the word fuck; that’s the one that hangs them up the most. ‘Cause in a lot of cases that’s the very act that hangs them up the most. So, it’s natural that the word would, uh, have the same effect. It’s a great word, fuck, nice word, easy word, cute word, kind of. Easy word to say. One syllable, short u. fuuuuuck. Boom. Starts with a nice soft sound “fuh”. Ends with a “kuh“. Right? A little something for everyone. Fu-ck. Good word.

    Kind of a proud word, too.
    “Who are you?”
    Tune in again next week to **** OF THE MOUNTAIN!

    It’s an interesting word too, ’cause it’s got a double kind of a life- personality- dual, you know, whatever the right phrase is. It leads a double life, the word fuck. First of all, it means, sometimes, most of the time- fuck! What does it mean? It means to make love. Right? We’re going to make love, yeh, we’re going to fuck,yeh, we’re going to fuck yeh, we’re going to make love. We’re really going to fuck,yeh, we’re going to make love. Right? And it also means the beginning of life, it’s the act that begins life, so there’s the word hanging around with words like love, and life

    …and yet on the other hand, it’s also a word that we really use to hurt each other with, man. It’s a heavy. It’s the one that you save toward the end of the argument. Right? You finally can’t make out. “Aw, fuck you, man! I said, fuck you! Stupid fuck-fuck you and everybody that looks like you!”

    It would be nice to change the movies that we already have and substitute the word fuck for the word kill, wherever we could, and some of those movie cliches would change a little bit. “Mad fucker still on the loose!” “Stop me before I fuck again.” “Fuck the ump, fuck the ump, fuck the ump, fuck the ump.” “Easy on the clutch, Bill, you’ll fuck that engine again.”

    The other shit one was, “I don’t give a shit.” Like it’s worth something, you know? “I don’t give a shit.” “Hey, well, I don’t take no shit, you know what I mean? You know why I don’t take no shit? ‘Cause I don’t give a shit. If I give a shit, I would have to pack shit. But I don’t pack no shit cause I don’t give a shit.” “You wouldn’t shit me, would you?” That’s a joke when you’re a kid with a worm looking out the bird’s ass. “You wouldn’t shit me, would you?” It’s an eight-year-old joke but a good one.

    The additions to the list. I found three more words that had to be put on the list of words you could never say on television, and they were fart, turd and twat. those three. Fart, we talked about, it’s harmless. It’s like tits, it’s a cutie word, no problem. Turd, you can’t say but who wants to, you know? The subject never comes up on the panel, so I’m not worried about that one.

    Now the word twat is an interesting word. TWAT “Heyyyy, right in the twat! Twat is an interesting word because it’s the only one I know of, the only slang word applying to the, a part of the sexual anatomy that doesn’t have another meaning to it. Like, ah, snatch, box and pussy all have other meanings, man. Even in a Walt Disney movie, you can say, “We’re going to snatch that pussy and put him in a box and bring him on the airplane!” and everybody loves it. But the twat stands alone, man, as it should.

    And then there’s the two-way words. Ah, ass is okay providing you’re riding into town on a religious feast day; You can’t say, “Up your asssssss!” You can say stuff it. There are certain things you can say; its weird, but you can just come so close. Before I cut, I, uh, want to, ah, thank you for listening to my words, man, fellow, uh space travelers. Thank you man for tonight and thank you also.

  • Jet in Columbus

    I forgot to add to the above comment-Rest in Peace, we’ll miss you and your 7 words…

  • Christopher Rose

    Jet, the list of the original 7 words only has six. Did you forget cunt?

  • Jet in Columbus

    You know I did, but in both versions, I don’t seem to remember him talking about it. I purchased all of his CDs as a package and I’ll have to listen to them now, but I really don’t remember him doing it. He talks about “Twat” and he may have listed it at the beginning, but I don’t remember him going into detail about it.

    That’s a real head scratcher and I’ll have to check.

    Get back with you…

  • Jet in Columbus

    You’re right the original 7 were shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker mutherfucker and tits.

    I think I may have edited it when I made the tape because he talks about twat but not cunt.

    When I have time today, I’ll listen again and see if he did a detailed thing on it, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t…..


  • Christopher Rose

    You cunt!

    Actually, I’ve never understood why this particular word is offensive at all. They look beautiful and I’ve devoted a large part of my life to being ascloseasthis to one.

    Funny old world.

  • Jet in Columbus

    Mr Rose, are you aware of how many people here refer to you as a “Cunt?”

    He doesn’t refer to the word except in the orginal 7. I have a feeling he doesn’t because he’d get into deeper shit than he already was in just for doing the piece, and figured we’d br distracted into not noticing, either that or it was edited for length…

    So stop your fuckin’ bitching you mutherfucker.

  • Christopher Rose

    No idea, but as I said, I don’t get it as an insult, more an expression of male insecurity.

    I just made up a brilliant insult using all seven words but then remembered this is a family oriented site.

    I reckon his bottle went!

  • Jet in Columbus

    Family? …Oh you mean the Cleveland Mafia…
    Ah yes.

  • Douglas Mays

    Well, you guys…. Let us remember other great routines.

    One of the most hard hitting accuracies of his is “the Invisible Man in the Sky”. Speaking of how ALL religions try to get you to believe in the invisible man always looking at everything you do, with a list of 10 things you cannot do because if you do, you will be sent down to a burning awful place screaming and crying till the end of time. But he LOVES you… brilliant!

    Football vs. baseball, “baseball you run home, football you run to the endzone”… the hippie dippy weatherman “there will be light followed by dark”

    What a wordsmith.


  • El Bicho

    the bit about stuff was hystercial. they are showing eleven of his special on HBO2 over the next two nights. I am recording them and will check them out over the next few days. it’s like Xmas

  • Douglas Mays

    btw, Jet (#14), thank you so much for the transcription of one of Mr. Carlin’s works. It is amazing, but his words will have an impact for a long time. He will make the history books…