Famous Veteran: George Carlin

George Carlin.

"So I do have this ambivalence. Obviously I'm against militaries, because of what militaries do. In many ways though, the Air Force was unmilitary-like. They dropped bombs on people, but...they had a golf course." 

George Carlin was born in Manhattan to a national advertising manager for the New York Sun and a secretary. His mother, Mary Beary, left her husband when Carlin was still an infant. She had a tumultuous relationship with her son, and he frequently ran from home. Carlin attended Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic school in his neighborhood of Morningside Heights, where many of his negative attitudes toward religion were born.

After dropping out of high school, in 1954 Carlin joined the Air Force to use the G.I. Bill to cover the costs of broadcasting school. There aren’t many details about Carlin’s service in the Air Force, but his relationship with the military was rocky. He was trained as a radar technician, and was stationed in Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana.

Looking back on his service, Carlin was proud to have been generally discharged instead of dishonorably discharged. He was deemed an unproductive Airman and court martialed three times. As a more constructive outlet for his biting comedy, he worked as a disc jockey for the KJOE radio station while on active duty. Despite his troubles in the service, his work at KJOE helped him jump to other opportunities in the entertainment industry.

After working in broadcast for a short while, he and partner Jack Burns moved to California where they found success in television. Carlin went on to appear regularly on  "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Tonight Show." Many of his routines became famous, but his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" bit pushed him into the spotlight. Carlin was arrested for performing the act at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, and the routine was used as part of a list of evidence in the case of "Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation."

Despite infrequent drops out of the public spotlight, Carlin remained a cultural icon and prolific comedian for the duration of his career. On top of frequent stand-up performances, Carlin starred in a number of HBO specials, television shows, and movies. One of the more memorable bits from his later career concerned PTSD, as he decried how the military had taken a simple, succinct term (shell shock) and over time had sanitized it into its current form (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Comedy Central lists Carlin as the second greatest stand-up comedian of all time, behind Richard Pryor and ahead of Lenny Bruce. Carlin passed away in 2008 due to heart failure one week after performing at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las vegas.

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