The Great Escape
Carlin’s first big adventure occurred when he was a mere two months old. His mother had had enough of her alcoholic, abusive husband and fled the family apartment via the fire escape with infant George in her arms and his five-year-old brother close behind. Since his mother had to work to support the family, George spent much of his childhood home alone. He listened to radio programs and invented his own characters and stories in his imagination.
He was a 9th grade dropout
George dropped out of school in ninth grade and eventually joined the Air Force in 1954. He was court martialed three times, including one charge of falling asleep on guard duty. He was discharged in 1957, 11 months before his tour was officially up.
Lenny Bruce changed his career
While working as a disc jockey after leaving the Air Force, Carlin met and teamed up with Jack Burns, a Texas newscaster who had an interest in comedy. The duo performed stand-up as Carlin and Burns and had a fairly successful run, including several appearances on The Tonight Show. The duo split up in 1962 when George attended a Lenny Bruce performance and decided that he, too, wanted to veer away from traditional suit-and-tie joke-and-punchline comedy and pursue a more countercultural path. (Jack Burns would later replace Don Knotts on The Andy Griffith Show as Deputy Warren Ferguson.)
He was the first host of SNL
Carlin was the host of the first episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live back in 1975. His albums were million-sellers and Grammy winners during that era and his live performances were always sold out. Yet he seemingly “disappeared” in 1976, at the height of his fame. It wasn’t revealed until many years later that Carlin had suffered a heart attack (his first of three). In addition to his drug and alcohol abuse, heart disease was hereditary in his family. His father, he revealed in an interview, had died at age 57 due to heart trouble. As George succinctly put it, “His first symptom was a trip to St. Raymond’s Cemetery.”