George Carlin, whose astringent stand-up comedy made him an heir of Lenny Bruce, who gave voice to an indignant counterculture and assaulted the barricades of censorship on behalf of a generation of comics that followed him, died on Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 71 and lived in Venice, Calif.
The cause was heart failure, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. Mr. Carlin, who performed earlier this month at the Orleans hotel in Las Vegas, had a history of heart problems.
“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth,” read a message on Mr. Carlin’s Web site, GeorgeCarlin.com, and he spent much of his life in a fervent effort to counteract the forces that would have it so. In his always irreverent, often furious social commentary, in his observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and in groundbreaking routines like the profane “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” he took aim at what he thought of as the palliating and obfuscating agents of American life — politicians, advertisements, religion, the media and conventional thinking of all stripes.
“If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?” he asked in a 1980s routine, taking a jab at the Reagan administration’s defense of the Nicaraguan Contras.