Legendary Comedian George Carlin Dies at 71

06/23/2008 at 06:15 AM EDT

Legendary Comedian George Carlin Dies at 71
George Carlin
George Carlin, the edgy comedian and counterculture icon, died Sunday at the age of 71.

The stand-up comic and author – best known for his groundbreaking routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" – reportedly died of heart failure at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica. (Carlin, who was open about his long struggle with drugs and alcohol, had a history of heart problems, including a previous heart attack.)

In 1978, the bearded comedian famous for his clever wordplay and often-explicit commentary on sex, drugs and the absurdities of modern life found himself in the middle of a court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

But even after the high court ruled that his "Seven Words" routine was indecent, Carlin refused to abandon the material. (He was arrested several times after performing the bit live, although the cases were always dismissed.)

The author of 1997's bestselling Brain Droppings, Carlin remained active on the stand-up circuit. Just last weekend, he performed The Orleans in Las Vegas, the New York Times reports.

In November, the Grammy-winner was scheduled to receive the John F. Kennedy Center's coveted Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

He is survived by his companion, Sally Wade, and daughter, Kelly Carlin McCall. Carlin's wife, Brenda Hosbrook, died in 1997.

A fierce critic of modern civilization, Carlin told Playboy in 2005 that his vision of the afterlife included a "heavenly CNN."

"The world is a big theater-in-the round as far as I'm concerned, and I'd love to watch it spin itself into oblivion," he told the magazine. "Tune in and watch the human adventure ... That's what I want heaven to be."

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