George Carlin will receive Mark Twain Prize

Comedian will be first to be honored posthumously

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts said Monday that it would go ahead with plans to present its Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to the late George Carlin, making him the first comedian so honored posthumously.

Carlin, the counterculture figure famed for his provocative stand-up routines on such subjects as profanity, drugs and the demise of humankind, died Sunday at 71 after complaining of chest pains earlier in the day.

The Kennedy Center had announced only days before that Carlin was selected as the 11th recipient of its prestigious Mark Twain award, an honor bestowed annually at a black-tie gala televised on PBS.

"He was thrilled that he was chosen ... and today was the day we were supposed to talk on the phone about potential guests," said Mark Krantz, an executive producer of the show. "So he was very much into it and was already agreeing to do some press, and we were getting ready to get the nuts and bolts worked out when this terrible thing happened."

After consulting with Carlin's family and PBS, the Kennedy Center decided to go forward with the ceremony as scheduled on Nov. 10. The show, taped at the Kennedy Center in Washington, will air on PBS at a date to be announced.

Last year's honoree was actor-comedian Billy Crystal. The first in 1998, was Richard Pryor, the only other recipient who is now deceased. Others have included Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, playwright Neil Simon and "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels.

For Carlin's ceremony, producers will stick with the usual format described by Krantz as "a funny celebration of a career," with friends and peers telling stories and anecdotes and introducing clips of his work.

"He has a 50-year career to look back on," Krantz said. "He was the first host of 'Saturday Night Live.' He did 130 Johnny Carson shows, he did 13 or more HBO specials, he's won four Grammys."

The Mark Twain prize is named for the 19th century novelist, essayist and humorist whose given name was Samuel Clemens, author of such classics as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Contrary to Carlin's cantankerous stage persona, Krantz said the comedian was a "nice guy, and very Mark Twain-like in his observations."