Comedian and actor George Carlin will forever be linked to the world of electronic media by his “seven words you can never say on television” routine. It seems tame by today’s standards, but in 1972 he was actually arrested in Milwaukee and charged with disturbing the peace after he said all seven words on stage. The sketch was the focus of a landmark indecency case filed after a radio station aired the bit in 1973. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled 5-4 that the Carlin was “indecent but not obscene.” That outcome still informs the way the FCC attempts to regulate the airwaves today. Among comedians, only Lenny Bruce had as broad an impact on popular culture and public debate. Carlin was also the first host of Saturday Night Live, a bestselling author and, in his ’70s heyday, one of the few comics whose albums sold like those of rock stars. Carlin died this weekend of heart failure at age 71. And if he wants to say any of the seven dirty words in his act now, no one can stop him.
—Posted by David Gianatasio