George Carlin

Recognised as one of America's great stand-ups, George Carlin was the 'King of the Counterculture Comedians' and had a huge influence on the likes of Bill Maher, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais. Born during the depression to a middle-class, Irish-American family in New York City, Carlin's mother left his father and raised George and his brother on her own in Harlem. The poor, multi-cultural neighbourhood was full of wild, ragged characters who inspired Carlin's anarchic independent streak and sparked dreams of a career in show business. After leaving school he joined the air force as a radar technician before they allowed him to work part-time as a DJ on Louisiana's biggest radio station. Booted out of the military for a series of alcohol-related offences, he started telling crude jokes in coffee houses with his friend Jack Burns, and the pair headed for Hollywood, where Carlin earned the admiration and help of Lenny Bruce. He made his television debut on the Tonight Show in 1962, but struggled for years until he toned down his act and became popular as a mainstream host. With the Vietnam War raging and generational divides beginning to crack, Carlin could bite his tongue no longer and ditched smart-suited respectability for long-haired hippie freedom and a non-conformist new style. He swapped playing Las Vegas hotels for college campuses and Greenwich folk clubs, and found a huge new audience when his 1972 album FM & AM sold over a million copies and won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Record. Growing flippant and more anti-establishment, his follow-up Class Clown included his legendary Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television routine on which he caused outrage by discussing censorship and using a list of swear words that were deemed too indecent to broadcast at the time. He built on the controversy with albums Toledo Window Box, On The Road and A Place For My Stuff and was a frequent guest on Saturday Night Live, before annually recording television specials for HBO throughout the '80s and '90s. He suffered three heart attacks and struggled with drugs and alcohol, but developed into a fierce, ranting prophet with cutting observations of the changing world and fast paced, sharp tongued patter. He died in Santa Monica, California in 2008, aged 71, of heart failure.

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