Born May 12, 1936, George Carlin's mother fled his father, taking George and his brother Patrick (age 5) with her. George Carlin attended Corpus Christi Elementary School, a progressive Catholic grade school which he claims is responsible for his current atheism.
George dropped out of school after the 9th grade and joined the Air Force in 1954. His record in the air force was less than exemplary, and numerous Article 15 charges were brought against him during his tour of duty from 1954-1956. In 1957 he received a General Discharge under Honorable Conditions, at this time he had already landed his first job in radio at an off-base radio station, KJOE, in Shreveport, Louisiana. He bounced around in radio from 1956 to 1960.
He then hooked up with radio cohort Jack Burns and left for Hollywood as the comedy duo of Burns & Carlin. In Hollywood they did some minor radio work and released one comedy album, but by June 1960, Burns & Carlin left radio for the nightclub scene. October 10th, 1960 would be the television debut of Burns & Carlin on The Tonight Show (at that time hosted by Jack Paar). In May 1962, the Burns and Carlin duo split. Jack Burns joined the Second City and George went on to pursue a stand-up career.
In June 1963, Carlin made his first solo appearance on national TV, once again on the Tonight Show (during that rocky period between Paar and Johnny Carson; Mort Sahl was hosting at the time and the appearance really didn't lead to anything big). Frustrated with Hollywood in 1964, George moved back to New York, shooting (unsuccessfully) for guest spots on such shows as Merv Griffin. George would return to Open Mics around New York for the next fifteen months until being spotted by a scout for the Merv Griffin Show in May 1965. George's first appearance on the Merv Griffin show was on June 20, 1965. This would lead to an appearance on the Mike Douglas show, where George would come back 21 more times before landing his first network nighttime variety show (on ABC), in February 1966. George takes his family (wife Brenda and daughter Kelly) and moves to Los Angeles in March of 1966. From March of 1966-1969, George would do gigs, record his first two comedy albums, and receive one Grammy nomination.
In 1969, George is kicked out of the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas for saying "ass" on stage. This period also marks the beginning of George's use of drugs, which would last until 1975. During this period, George's comedy style began its transformation into the no-bullshit social commentary that it has become today. George would appear on many television variety shows, including the first broadcast of Saturday Night Live. He would also record several comedy records earning him multiple Gold records and Grammy nominations.
On March 5, 1977, he recorded his first HBO Special. This would lead to more specials, more albums and more acclaim. In January 1987, George Carlin receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In February 1990, George purchases the Little David Record Company. By doing so, he gained all of the masters of his own albums recorded since 1971. In September 1991, George Carlin is nominated for an Emmy award for playing Mister Conductor on the PBS series "Shining Time Station" (he would be nominated again in 1992).
In 1997, on Mother's Day, Brenda Hosbrook Carlin dies, after 36 years of marriage. George Carlin continues do comedy, publishing the book Braindroppings in 1996, and doing several more HBO Specials. George Carlin's career is one of the longest in stand-up history. His material has never become dated. He has managed to keep his style up to date, and reaches all generations with his in-your-face style. He has inspired many aspiring stand-ups and has been a powerful force in the fight against censorship.
Editor's note: George Carlin died in Santa Monica, California, on June 22, 2008.
Adapted from the George Carlin timeline on georgecarlin.com and some information recalled from interviews and other sources I can't remember right now.