Dead People You Should Know: George Carlin

George Carlin was one of the most influential comedians of the twentieth century, yet many young people have no idea who he is. He is remembered for his huge personality and controversial humor. Although some would argue that his impact on the comedy world was negative, he should still be recognized for his contributions to comedic history.


George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937 in Manhattan, New York. His parents were George Carlin Sr. and Mary Beary. Carlin struggled in school and was often getting into trouble. He attended high school at Cardinal Hayes High School but dropped out after only three semesters at the young age of 15. Carlin was raised Catholic but would eventually reject his faith. After dropping out, he joined the Air Force in 1954 at the age of 17. He was trained as a radar technician. His behavioral problems would persist into his time in the military, and he was court-martialed three times. After he was discharged from the military in 1957, he got a job at the KXOL radio station in Texas. This is where Carlin’s career really got its start. 


In 1959, Carlin met Jack Burns and less than a year later, the two moved to California to pursue careers in comedy. In 1960, the pair recorded  their first and only comedy album titled “Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight.” Around this same time, Carlin married his first wife, Brenda Hosbrook. After two successful years, the pair broke up and Carlin pursued a solo career. Carlin frequently appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show. Some of his most popular comedy routines included “Indian Sergent” and “Stupid Disc Jockeys”. In 1972, he released a comedy album titled Class Clown. This album contained one of his most famous and controversial routines “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” This act was so salatious for the time, that he was arrested on obscenity charges 1972. His fame swelled off of this arrest and in 1975, he hosted the first episode of Saturday Night Live. He was also a frequent performer on Tony Orlando and Dawn during the 1976-1977 season. Although his fame was at an all time high, Carlin had to stop performing for the rest of the 1970s due to health problems related to his heart.


After his short break due to his health, Carlin returned to comedy sketches and released successful albums throughout the 1980s. Some of these albums include “Carlin and Carnegie Hall” (1982), “Carlin on Campus” (1984), and “Playin’ with Your Head (1986). In 1987, he was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. After these successful releases Carlin started appearing and voicing characters in movies in the late 1980s and throughout all of the 1990s. Carlin had been in small parts in movies since the mid 1960s but the movie he is most remembered for is his appearance as Rufus in 1989’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Some of Carlin’s other notable movie appearances include his reprisal of Rufus in 1991’s  Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and as Eddie Detreville in 1991’s The Prince of Tides. He also was the narrator for the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series from 1984-1995. His voice would continue to be used even after his death in various Thomas and Friends series. In 1997, Carlin’s first wife Brenda Hosbrook died, and a year later he remarried to Sally Wade.  The two would remain married until his death in 2008.


 Carlin continued voice acting throughout the 2000s. In 2001, Carlin was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Comedy Awards. Carlin would continue to work until his death and recorded his last album “It’s Bad for Ya'' in 2008 about two months before his death. On June 22, 2008 George Carlin died at the age of 71 from heart failure. Carlin was posthumously awarded four Grammy awards and received the award for best comedy album in 2009. 


The legacy of George Carlin is a mix of good and controversial. However I think it is still important to remember how he changed comedy and how he made people think differently about their lives.

“Who Was George Carlin? Everything You Need to Know.”, 2017, ‌


“George Carlin.” IMDb, 12 May 1937, Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.


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