One of America's most popular and often controversial comedians, George Carlin, died in Santa Monica, California.  He was 71.

From the early 1960's, through the beatnik, folk and hippie eras, to today's cutting edge humor, George Carlin has entertained generations of Americans.  He starred in several movies, wrote a popular book, "Brain Droppings," appeared in several television series and was a guest 135 times on legendary talk show host Johnny Carson's Tonight show.   But George Carlin will be best remembered as a wise and witty stand-up comedian. 

George Carlin was born in New York City, the son of newspaper industry parents.  His father was an advertising sales representative for several newspapers;  his mother was a manager of the Philadelphia Bulletin's New York office, as well as Good Housekeeping magazine.  During a 1999 visit to the National Press Club in Washington, Mr. Carlin recalled how his "Aunt Aggie," who produced the Sunday comics sections, helped him be the first boy to know what was in the newspaper - and a popular kid in school.

"Here's the great thing about Aggie's job.  Not only did she bring home the funnies every week.  She brought them home four weeks early," Carlin said. "Are you hearing this?  Every week, I had the Sunday funnies a month before the other kids.  I guess you can realize the power this gave me in the school yard -- to be able to predict weeks ahead of time precisely the way 'Mandrake the Magician' would escape from the lost cave. Or to describe in advance the details of whatever well-deserved catastrophe was next in store for 'Little Orphan Annie.'  It doesn't sound like much today.  But in the days before television, and when you're eight years old, it was power beyond belief!"  

With that introduction to comedy, via cartoon strips, George Carlin said he was blessed with good schoolteachers in his early childhood.

"In the 1940s, I attended a school still in existence:  Corpus Christi in New York City.  It was not a typical Catholic grammar school education. For one thing, we had boys and girls together.  We did not wear uniforms.  The desks were all movable.  And, there were no report cards - no grades or report cards of any kind.  It was a garden; it was a place that let me flower,"  Carlin said.

But George Carlin's fortunes changed in high school.  Its harsh disciplinary rules led him to drop out before graduating.  He said that experience helped foster his contempt for euphemisms and being told what he could or could not say.  In 1973, a monologue by Mr. Carlin that was broadcast on the Pacifica radio network was declared indecent by the government's Federal Communications Commission.  The case was ultimately upheld by the United States Supreme Court.  And, George Carlin became forever known as the comedian who uttered the "seven dirty words that can't be said over the air."  Reflecting on the incident, more than 25 years later, Mr. Carlin wondered what the fuss was all about.
"There will always be language taboos in any culture.  There are aspects of our bodies that certain religions have put beyond the pale.  I don't think it's cheapened our discourse. I think it limits people," he said.  "I've always said I enjoy using all the language.  Human beings invented all of this language.  When I was a little boy, I was told to look up to policemen and look up to sports stars, and look up to the military.  And we all know how they speak.  Apparently it hasn't corrupted them morally.  So. I think these words are overrated for their power."

George Carlin's notoriety from the "seven dirty words" incident helped make him one of the highest-paid comedians in the 1970's.  In the 1990's, Mr. Carlin starred in his own situation comedy,  which lasted one season, and provided the voice of a train conductor in the children's series "Shining Time."  But he told the Washington audience he was, most of all, a comedian - an art form of which he was proud.

"I found it was an honest craft and that art was involved," Carlin said. " I do like to point out that there is an artistic process involved in observing the world, interpreting it, and then writing something about it and performing it.  It's the low end of the scale in art.  Perhaps it's not fine art.  But it is art.  I found that out and it gave me a purpose and strength."  

Popular American comedian George Carlin, died Sunday at the age of 71.