Somewhere in heaven, George Carlin is probably watching Lou Dobbs right about now. At the end of the Playboy Interview I did with him a few years ago, he was full of thoughts about the meaning of life, his legacy and what was next -- if anything -- after this life was done, and that's when he started musing about cable news.
Carlin was a big thinker. While conducting the interview, I spent three days with him in Las Vegas, a city he loved and hated and where he was still doing stand-up a week before his death yesterday at age 71. At each session, some of which lasted five hours, Carlin held forth on every imaginable topic -- from the color of farts to the solutions to global warming (unrelated topics, incidentally). His mind was so expansive, he kept stacks of Post-it notes around his Vegas condo so he could write down random musings that might find their way into a routine or book or letter to his daughter. Then he would record those thoughts onto various iPods and later transfer the files to his computer. Even as he approached 70, his mind was so loaded with data it needed its own zip drive.
Although he was one of the most successful comedians of his generation and a bestselling author, Carlin didn't have an easy life. He struggled for years with drugs and then heart problems and his fortunes came and went. At one point he owed four million in back taxes. Another time, on a trip to Hawaii, his daughter, Brenda, then 11, made him sign a contract so he wouldn't snort cocaine for the rest of the vacation. But by the end, Carlin had found something that looked like peace -- sobriety, financial stability and love with Sally Wade, a woman he called "the sweetheart of my life." Even growing old was interesting for him. It gave him more material.
"The older you are, the more noises you make," he told me. "Standing up, sitting down, it's like you need a fuckin' lubricant. I agree with Bette Davis who said, "Getting old is not for sissies." But it's just aging, so I say, fuck it. There were handicaps to being 10, there were handicaps to being 40, but the richness of memory, the richness of acquired and accumulated experience and wisdom, I won't trade that. At 67, I'm every age I ever was. I always think of that. I'm not just 67. I'm also 55 and 21 and three. Oh, especially three."
At the end of days of interviews, I asked Carlin what he imagined heaven would look like, and he gave an answer that was appropriate considering his TV had been turned on the entire weekend to Headline News. To the end, Carlin loved being in touch with the big world around him.
"The best afterlife for me would be to be able to sit comfortably and watch the world on a kind of heavenly CNN," he said. "To be able to have my remote and say, 'Okay, there's an uprising in Spain. Let's watch that. Or to watch China finally take over the fucking world. Because there's a billion of those motherfuckers and they're going to eat our lunch. I would love to get the thousand-year view on the decline of the European birthrate or the "Muslimization" of Europe that's talking place; the explosion of Latin American culture in the western part of the United States.' Just sit back and watch. India and Pakistan, both, have nuclear weapons and they fuckin' hate each other. I'm telling you, somebody is going to fuck somebody's sister and an atom bomb is going to fly. And I say fine. You know? I just like the show. This world is a big theater in the round, as far as I'm concerned, and I'd just love watching it spin itself into oblivion. Tune in and watch the human adventure. It's a cursed, doomed species but it's just interesting as hell. That's what I want heaven to be. And if it's not like that, then fuck it. I'll just kill myself."
Since we were on the subject, I thought I'd ask what he'd like his tombstone to say. Carlin didn't miss a beat.
"I'm thinking something along the lines of, "Jeez, he was just here a minute ago."