George Carlin, Reinventionist

Sad to note George Carlin’s death. The thing I found interesting in his New York Times obit was how, back in the late 1960s, when he was already at the top of his profession, with guest spots on Ed Sullivan, bookings at top Las Vegas casinos, etc., Carlin bravely chucked it all to follow what he considered a truer path:

“That early success and celebrity, however, was as dinky and hollow as a gratuitous pratfall to Mr. Carlin. ‘I was entertaining the fathers and the mothers of the people I sympathized with, and in some cases associated with, and whose point of view I shared,’ he recalled later, as quoted in the book Going Too Far by Tony Hendra, which was published in 1987. ‘I was a traitor, in so many words. I was living a lie.’

“In 1970, Mr. Carlin discarded his suit, tie, and clean-cut image as well as the relatively conventional material that had catapulted him to the top. Mr. Carlin reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine that, according to one critic, was steeped in ‘drugs and bawdy language.’ There was an immediate backlash. The Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas terminated his three-year contract, and, months later, he was advised to leave town when an angry mob threatened him at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Afterward, he temporarily abandoned the nightclub circuit and began appearing at coffee houses, folk clubs and colleges where he found a younger, hipper audience that was more attuned to both his new image and his material.”

What courage! I am inspired by stories of successful people who sacrifice their comfort and success behind to follow a more authentic path. (Another is Howard Lyman , the former cattle rancher turned vegan activist.) This anecdote makes me want to read Carlin’s autobiography and learn more about how he made the decision, the price he paid, etc.

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