The End Came All Too Soon
The End Came All Too Soon
By Ned Wicker
I was saddened by the death of George Carlin. The tributes will come, as people of my generation remember his commentary on American life and culture.
He was scheduled to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American humor later this year, and he will always be remembered for his “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” routine. So much of his comedy was edgy and stretched the limits of societal tolerance. He talked about the human condition and how people see the world and react to it.
He was only 71, but had lived with heart disease, and it was heart failure that caused his death on June 22. I read a news story that said Carlin admitted to being high on cocaine for the entire week leading up to the 1975 debut of “Saturday Night Live.” It’s a story so common with celebrities—drug abuse. I was reading another story written in 1999, talking about Carlin’s three heart attacks. Did Carlin’s use of cocaine contribute directly to his heart failure? I do not know that.
Cocaine in any amount interferes with the normal function of the heart, and thousands have died as a result of the heart being affected by the drug. It can cause heart attacks and long-term damage to the heart. Cocaine can cause the heart to beat so rapidly that it can’t get the requisite oxygen and other nutrients to the rest of the body. Cocaine can cause blood vessels to narrow or close, causing an interruption to the blood flow to the heart and part of the heart can die. It can cause irregular heart beat, leading to cardiac arrest. Cocaine can weaken the heart and interrupt blood flow in vessels (Congestive Heart Failure). If a person used cocaine over a prolonged period of time, the list of possible heart maladies is seemingly endless. In any amount, cocaine can be deadly.
Carlin was an insightful commentator on life. But I always thought over the years that he was very unhappy and that much of his comedy came as a result of his ability to recognize and feel the pain of human suffering. His routines on language and religion, in particular were illustrative of his ability to see the absurdity of life. But there was so much sadness. I vividly remember going to see him in Milwaukee in the 1980’s, because he was so negative, so profoundly sad. It wasn’t edgy, it was depressing, it was angry and it wasn’t funny. It was like he had a huge hole in his life, and his routine that night was just Carlin lashing out at the world around him. When he used cocaine, maybe it was in an attempt to fill that hole or to find relief from the absurdity he lectured on.
I do not believe George Carlin needed cocaine to be funny, or to gain an edge when performing. His first performance of “Saturday Night Live” was just plain funny on its own. The humor comes from the human condition, from the ability to experience. He was a comedic icon. It is sad that he is gone at 71 years and even sadder if cocaine use in the past had anything to do with it.
Ned Wicker is the Addictions Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center
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