Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin dead

From The Washington Post:

George Carlin, 71, the much-honored American stand-up comedian whose long career was distinguished by pointed social commentary that placed him on the cultural cutting edge, died last night in Santa Monica, Calif.

His death was reported by the Reuters news agency and on the Los Angeles Times Web site. He had long struggled with health problems and a heart condition dating to the 1970s.

Carlin was selected last week by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to receive this year's Mark Twain Prize, a lifetime achievement award presented to an outstanding comedian.

Over a career of half a century, Carlin placed himself in the forefront of comic commentators on the American scene. He was particularly known for an album that referred to what he described as the seven words that could not be used on television.

The playing of the album on a radio station led to a case that went to the Supreme Court, and the material was judged indecent but not obscene. The legal controversy brought about the enunciation of a rule permitting a ban on certain material when children are most likely to be in the audience.

The case was one of the highlights of a career that included TV and radio performances, including HBO specials and many comic albums.

The New York-born performer, who also was an Air Force veteran, once summed up his approach:

"I think it is the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately."

Carlin's entertainment career began in 1956 at a radio station in Shreveport, La. while he was in the service.

In the early 1960s, he began his one-man act, and his live appearances and the albums he recorded proved highly popular.

His wife Brenda, predeceased him. They had a daughter, Kelly. A second wife survives him.

I remember listening to Carlin's routines back in the '70s and finding them hilarious but it seemed that as more years passed he became much less funny and a great deal more bitter. I suppose that his great flaw was that he did the one thing that you absolutely cannot do if you want to be a good comic, he took himself too seriously.