George Carlin dies at 71

Comedian had history of heart problems

George Carlin, stand-up comedian, actor and author, died Sunday night of heart failure. He was 71.

Known for his irreverent attitude, particularly his satiric and caustic observations on religion and language, Carlin was a popular counterculture figure.

He first came to national attention during the 1960s on "Laugh In," where he created such persona as the hippie-dippie weatherman. Carlin never lost his hippie sensibilities as he retained his beard and ponytail.

Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pain and died later that evening, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He had performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas.

Carlin was inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in 1994.

In 2004, Carlin was voted the No. 2 "Greatest Stand-up Comedian of All Time" by Comedy Central, behind Richard Pryor. He was the first host of "Saturday Night Live," on Oct. 11, 1975. He also hosted "SNL" in 1984. Subsequently, he was the first host on "Fridays," an "SNL"-type comedy show.

Over the course of his career, Carlin also perfected what is perhaps his best-known routine, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." It was a spoof of censorship, a pet topic of his throughout the years.

A lawsuit filed after his 1972 arrest for performing "Seven Words You Can Never Use on Television" led to a 1978 Supreme Court decision supporting the right of the FCC to regulate the broadcast of inappropriate language on television.

The Philistines never caught on: In 2003, a California Congressman introduced a bill to outlaw the broadcast of Carlin's seven "dirty words," as well as various forms of the words.

Carlin made many film and television appearances including a season of the weekly sitcom "The George Carlin Show" (1994-95). He starred in 11 HBO comedy specials, beginning in 1977.

During the early period of his career, Carlin invariably lost some TV bookings by dressing as a hippie, with beard and earrings. Yet, he connected with the '60s counterculture zeitgeist. In 1967, he was cast on the comedy show "Away We Go."

Carlin recorded more than a dozen comedy albums, including the 1972 and '93 Grammy winners "Fn & Am" and "Jammin' in New York." He also was a frequent headliner in Las Vegas.

He appeared in such '60s and '70s films as "With Six You Get Eggroll," "Car Wash" and "Americathon."

He was a prolific writer, spawning collections of routines and observations, most recently the book "Brain Droppings" (1997). He also wrote other books: "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops" and "Napalm and Silly Putty."

In the 1970s, Carlin became unpredictable: walking off stage, insulting the audience, or simply not showing up. Carlin unexpectedly stopped performing in 1976 when his career appeared to be at its height. For the next five years, he became reclusive and performed no stand-up. It was later revealed that he had suffered a heart attack.

In the 1980s Carlin connected with a new generation of teens when he was cast as a mentor, Rufus, in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." He reprised his role in the sequel "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey."

Carlin began "The George Carlin Show," cast as "George" a cab driver, for Fox in 1993. Not surprisingly, he soon inserted a variation of the "Seven Words" in a storyline.

More recent films include "Jersey Girl," where he played a working-class slug who winds up taking in his smarmy publicist son and granddaughter after his daughter-in-law dies in childbirth. He also appeared in "Scary Movie 3," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and "Dogma."

Recent TV writing credits include: "George Carlin: Complaints and Grievances" (2001) and "George Carlin: Life Is Worth Losing" (2005).

George Dennis Carlin was born May 12, 1937, in the Bronx. A high school dropout, Carlin joined the Air Force. After service, he worked as a radio DJ before moving to Los Angeles in 1962. Once he changed his image from a preppy comedian to a hippie satirist, his career took off.

For Carlin, the role was a chance to show there were more sides to him than those seen in the 90 nights a year he does stand-up.

In 1997, his wife, Brenda Carlin, died. The couple had a daughter, Kelly. Carlin did not work for a year following the death of his wife.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.