A Great Man has Died!

Just a few hours ago, I got some very, very bad news. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach when I read it. My eyes saw it, but seemed slow to want to comprehend it. “How could it be?” I said to myself. “He had such high energy, such vibrancy, such a house-rocking stage presence!” No, I didn’t know him personally, but I sure knew of his work. I’m a huge fan!

Then, as I sat there and soaked the news in, I realized it had to be true. He was 71 and had a history of heart trouble. But he lived a rich, full life, and as with all things, there is an end to come. That’s really all there is to it. But…that’s not all there is to it! No sir! No maam! There’s so much to this man that no one article could possibly express it.

He was the paladin of profanity, the oratory athlete of atheism, the crowned prince of common sense, and a whispering wind of wisdom to all who gave ear. I’m talking about none other than comedian George Carlin who died at Saint John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica, California just yesterday. Only a week ago, he was on stage, doing what he did best. A week later, he’s complaining of chest pains and being admitted to the hospital, and finally, being deserted by that defective blood pump in his chest.

Hate him if you want to, tell him he’s going to hell if you so choose, but don’t say you weren’t moved to chuckle a time or two at his ostentatious observations. The man made a difference like few have or could have; he pushed until it gave; he stretched the limits and then some; he was court marshaled a number of times, fired, and was constantly being called out and faulted for being who he was. On one occasion, he was arrested for disturbing the peace after performing on stage. But he won four Grammys, was nominated for five Emmys, wrote three renowned books, produced twenty-three comedy albums, made fourteen HBO specials, put a few TV shows under his belt, and even appeared in prominent parts in a number of big movies. And let’s not forget that it was George Carlin who hosted the very first episode of Saturday Night Live!

Carlin taught us all a lot—comedians will do that! But what Carlin assured me of most of all is two things; first, that truly great men tend to be movers and shakers and will kick against the pricks of normalcy until it hurts; but second, Carlin taught me who the real BEST debaters are on the planet. As a former seminary student – young, wet-behind-the-ears, and always obsessed down to the bone with debate and intellectually outclassing my opponents – I wondered for so long what group could consistently outclass their adversaries and make them look like blithering, blockheaded fools on the podium.

Well, it certainly wasn’t the debate students or teachers in the colleges. And it certainly wasn’t the elitist theologians, and it’s not even the atheists. Nope, if you really want to get your ass handed to you in a debate, challenge a comedian! Go on! See what happens! Carlin defined an entire genre of teachers, educators who employ the use of those teaspoons of sugar called humor and irony to help the “medicine” of knowledge go down. It’s the honesty of comedians that really sets them apart from the rest of us, with our cold formalities and superficial codes of conduct that tend to hide the answers to so many of life’s hard truths.

It was the George Carlins of this world who taught a fearful, sex-abhorring, body-hating, Bible-loving public that certain body parts are not evil and should be able to be exposed just like all the other parts. It was the George Carlins of this world who let us know how dippy and stupid our society is to isolate a certain set of “seven words” to keep them from being said in public. From Carlin we learned that being offended by anything as small as profanity is totally senseless and dumb, and that only people with oatmeal for brains will be. It was comedians like Carlin who softened us up to accepting that religion is completely man-made and man-driven—from start to finish. The gods are fair game; it’s okay to doubt them, to joke about them, and to use their holy books as a means to even-out wobbly tables or for toilet paper!

It was from comedians like Carlin that we learned that the world will not end if we are made uncomfortable by what someone else says, that it’s okay to say out-loud those obtuse thoughts in our own heads that we are embarrassed to verbalize. It’s okay to express yourself just as surely as it is to reason freely about every facet of reality. If the gods were real, they’d bless George Carlin and those like him for their honesty, for being courageous, for making sport of sacred silliness, for being lighthearted about our dark natures, for casting aspersions at monotonous norms, and for frustrating the goddamn hell out of those on the far right. Such triumphant souls pave the way for the rest of us to open up and to laugh at life, to be ourselves and to be better communicators. If I can accomplish 1/8th of what George has done, I’ll call myself a witty man.

Rest in Peace, George.



Unknown said...

I couldn't believe it when I heard the news, but then it was on every website I could find. I still keep thinking it's gonna be a massive practical joke he's pulling on us (you know he would).

Unknown said...

This is really sad news. George Carlin had a wonderful ability to make people laugh and his no-holds-barred attack on the stupidity of modern life was priceless.

I will always remember his line about worshipping the sun, but praying to Joe Pesci. After all, Joe Pesci can really get shit done.

Thranil said...

I definitely felt a pang of shock when I read the news about his death. The world will be a drabber place without him.

Rotten Arsenal said...

On August 27, 1990, Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash. I found that out while sitting in my parents living room eating KFC that somebody had brought over due to the fact that my Dad had died that same morning. So, SRV and my Dad are forever linked.

I heard about Carlin today while driving home from the hospital where my mother just passed away after a long fight with cancer.

Mom was a minister in the Disciples of Christ... now I get to pretend like I enjoy hearing all of the praise Jesus talk.k

openlyatheist said...

I can't think of a more heart-warming surprise than when I logged onto DC this morning to see this tribute. Thank you Joe.

Emilio Mejia Jr. said...

Very well said Joe. The most fitting label I can give Carlin, is that he was one of the great philosophers of our time. Others before him, Aristotle, Locke, and even (the character) Jesus (to a certain extent), all were praised for standing up against the norm and defending reason. Now we can add Carlin to that pantheon as someone who, with his wit and humor, taught us how to think for ourselves and question the world around us. Thank you George.

Rachel said...


I just wanted to say I'm sorry to hear of your mom's passing. I think I remember a recent comment of yours here that she was struggling with cancer and losing the fight. I'm sorry you are going through this difficult time.

Steven Bently said...

Excellent tribute to a couragous funny man, it also saddened me to hear that he was a smoker, heart problems and smoking do not mix.

I also miss Sam Kinnison, whom I thought was just as brilliantly funny.

Joe E. Holman said...

Steven Bently said...

"Excellent tribute to a couragous funny man, it also saddened me to hear that he was a smoker, heart problems and smoking do not mix.

I also miss Sam Kinnison, whom I thought was just as brilliantly funny."

My reply...

Thanks, Steven (and to the rest of you).

Yeah, Kinnison was another great, bizarrely talented mind, classically "off" enough to bring out crazy laughter. He too was a smashing genius.


Unknown said...

Carlin rightly earned his place as a legend in his life! And for me, my admiration of him was in no small part due to his portrayal of religion in his comedy. He will surely be missed, and always remembered. And with the greatest repsect for his contributions in his life, and keeping in line with the theme of this site, I'm going to post a quote from George that pertains to religion.

"I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it."

If anyone is up for it, post a Carlin quote as so everyone may remember the good laughs we got from George.

Perry said...

"It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."

How right he was and is.

Bye, George. Keep 'em laughing, wherever you are.

(I miss you already, even from here.)

Vinny said...

Carlin once compared preparing for the hereafter to being given an ice cream cone and letting it melt in the hopes that you will be given another one.

Anonymous said...

"Oh beautiful for smoggy skies,
Insecticided grains,
For strip mined mountains majesties,
Above the asphalt plains,
America! America,
Man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs,
From sea to oily sea."

George Carlin's counter cultural humor made a deep and lasting impact on my life. He made me question many of my presuppostitions and showed me what it was to be objectively honest.

I think it interresting that George, a self professed sun worshipper, died only a day or two after the summer solstice. I'm sure he would appreciate the irony of this.

Georg Carlin was a poet, an author, a philosopher and a world class commedian who was never afraid to look long and hard at the truth, no matter ugly or uncomfortable it might be, and find a way to make it funny.

Like Oli said, George quipped that he prayed to Joe Pesci. I think, from now on, I'm going to pray to George. I doubt it will get me what I want, but I know it will make me laugh and feel better about everything.

Joe E. Holman said...

I'm with you, Tigg!

Now to build him a shrine!