Controversial comedian, actor, and author George Denis Patrick Carlin was born on May 12, 1937, in New York City. His mother, Mary, was a secretary and devout Catholic, and his father, Patrick, was a national advertising manager for the New York Sun. George was raised by his mother, who left his father when he was two months old. He attended parochial school and was an altar boy, to which he credited his avowed atheism by the time he reached adulthood. At fifteen he’d had quite enough of formal education and dropped out of school in the ninth grade. He also developed a pattern of running away from home on a regular basis, thanks to a very contentious relationship with his mother, and his enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1954, at the age of seventeen, seemed like a good idea at the time. He was stationed in Bossier City, Louisiana, trained as a radar technician, earned his high-school equivalency, and moonlighted as a disc jockey on KJOE radio in nearby Shreveport. On the downside, he also received three court-martials and several disciplinary punishments, was declared an “unproductive airman,” and was discharged in 1957.
While working at KXOL Radio in Forth Worth, Texas, George met co-worker Jack Burns, and the two of them formed a comedy team, refining their act at a coffeehouse called the Cellar before moving to Los Angeles in February 1960. Calling themselves “The Wright Brothers,” they hosted a morning show on KDAY Radio in Hollywood, performed at West Coast coffeehouses at night, and attracted the attention of the brilliant and highly controversial comedian Lenny Bruce, whose influence opened the door for a Burns and Carlin appearance on Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show. Not incidentally, it was also in 1960 that George met Brenda Hosbrook while touring, and they were married in 1961. Their daughter, Kelly, was born in 1963.
Burns and Carlin went their separate ways, and George became a popular guest on variety shows, most famously The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. In fact, between appearances as a guest and as a guest host, George was booked on The Tonight Show 130 times during both the Jack Paar years and the Johnny Carson decades. He sharpened his stand-up skills in Las Vegas as well, perfecting such classic routines as “Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie Weatherman” and “Stupid Disk Jockeys” and recording them in 1967 on his first album, Take Offs and Put Ons.
As his career progressed, his style and the subject matter of his routines became more and more unconventional. His short hair gave way to long hair. His clean-shaven face began sporting a beard. His conservative suits evolved into jeans and T-shirts. And on July 21, 1972, George was arrested at Milwaukee’s Summerfest and charged with violating obscenity laws for his landmark comedy routine, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The case was ultimately dismissed. A similar Carlin routine broadcast on a New York City FM station in 1973 resulted in the station being fined for broadcasting “indecent but not obscene” material during the hours when children were most likely to be listening.
The controversy, combined with George’s edgy, unconventional brilliance, made him even more popular, and he was a natural host for the first episode of the equally edgy and unconventional Saturday Night Live in October 1975. By then he’d already unapologetically declared himself a regular cocaine user, so it wasn’t surprising when, after an unexpected five-year semihiatus from stand-up comedy during which he filmed the first few of what would be fourteen HBO specials between 1977 and 2008, he acknowledged that he’d suffered the first of three heart attacks.
George’s acting career took hold in the 1980s, launching an impressive list of credits that included such feature films as Outrageous Fortune, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Prince of Tides, Dogma, Jersey Girl, and Cars (a Disney/Pixar production in which Carlin is the voice of Fillmore, a psychedelic VW microbus). He also provided the voice for the children’s television favorite Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends from 1991 until 1998 and appeared as “Mr. Conductor” on the PBS Shining Time Station from 1991 until 1993. And in 1993 he launched twenty-seven episodes of a Fox sitcom, The George Carlin Show.
Tragically, in 1997, Brenda Carlin, George’s wife of thirty-eight years, died of liver cancer. In June 1998 George married Sally Wade, a marriage that lasted the rest of his life. (In fact, his death occurred two days before what would have been their tenth anniversary.)
George enjoyed long-standing status as a headliner in Las Vegas. But in 2005 he was fired by the MGM Grand after an ugly, profane exchange with his audience, and within a few weeks he checked himself into a rehab facility for addictions to alcohol and Vicodin. He announced to his audience at the Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore, California, on February 1, 2006, that they were witnessing his “first show back” after being hospitalized for heart failure and pneumonia.
In mid-June 2008, George returned to his home in Los Angeles after a reunion with performing stand-up at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A week later, on June 22, he was admitted to St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, complaining of chest pains. He died at 5:55 p.m. of heart failure that same day. At his request, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered, with no memorial or religious services to mark his passing.
George was once asked what he was proudest of in his career. He answered that it was the number of books he’d sold, totaling nearly a million copies. Beginning in 1984, he wrote six books, the last two of which—Watch My Language and his autobiographical Last Words—were released posthumously.
I wish you could have seen the look of shock on George’s face when he emerged from the tunnel and rediscovered that there really is life after death after all. And when he found his first wife, Brenda, waiting to greet him, he was stunned into a long silence while he held her, after which I’m told he gaped at the hundreds of spirits and animals who gathered for the reunion and said, “I’ll be damned.” George is an excellent example of the fact that atheists are embraced on the Other Side as surely as the most devoutly religious, and with his humor, self-honesty, and misguided but honorable intentions, he tried to live a godly lifetime, no matter what words he used to define it.
Once he spent time at the Scanning Machine and in Orientation, all his memories came flooding back, not only of the life on the Other Side to which he’d just returned, but also of the life that preceded this most recent one—he was a black man in the mid-1800s, wrongly convicted of and executed for a murder he did not commit, the murder of a white woman, which, it was later learned, was actually committed by the presiding judge. It was understandable that George arrived angry and rebellious against “the system,” and it was brilliant of him to have charted a sense of humor that would allow him to express his outrage through the power of laughter. He regrets that he found it difficult to distance himself from the penetrating anger that drove his comedy, so that he could genuinely relax and enjoy his success from time to time. He also recognizes that he was conflicted about his success, loving the comfort it afforded him, but also not wanting to get so comfortable that he’d lose his edge, and it was in pursuit of that edge that he allowed himself to indulge in his addiction to cocaine. He wants his daughter to know how much he adores her, wishes he’d been the father she deserved, and is intensely proud of her. He’s also grateful to his second wife, who he says was more understanding and compassionate about the “baggage” he brought to their marriage than he could ever repay.
His life at Home is blissfully happy, in its own unique way. You need to remember that all of us maintain the same basic personality traits throughout the eternity of our spirits—the outgoing remain outgoing no matter how many times they incarnate and return to the Other Side, the introspective remain innately introspective, the humorless remain humorless, those with a sense of humor eternally have a sense of humor, and so on. George is no exception. He loves spending time in the Hall of Records, researching past and present charts of historically powerful men and women and entertaining at large gatherings with his singularly insightful perspective on those who experienced power on earth. He’s also very devoted to study and meditation on the charts of his own lifetimes, intent on tracking the onset of his avowed atheism in an effort to learn how he grew to be so loudly, outspokenly wrong about the existence of God. He has no plans to incarnate again.