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George Carlin Street Renaming Brings Bevy Of Stars to Morningside Heights

By Emily Frost | October 22, 2014 5:16pm
 Fans and fellow comedians came together for the unveiling of George Carlin Way.
George Carlin Way
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MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Comedians, celebrities, relatives and fans of legendary comedian George Carlin gathered Wednesday to commemorate him with a new street sign at the corner of Morningside Drive and West 121st Street.

Gilbert Gottfried, Judah Friedlander, Robert Klein, Rain Pryor, Rick Overton, and Lizz Winstead were among the celebrity comedians who showed up to honor Carlin. His daughter and only child, Kelly Carlin, officiated the ceremony for "George Carlin Way," with speakers alternating between joke and tears.

It was a moment three years in the making, said comedian Kevin Bartini, who made it his mission to get a secondary street sign with Carlin's name placed on 121st Street, where the outspoken comedian grew up.

Carlin died in 2008 at the age of 71.

The street is also the home of Corpus Christi School, which Carlin attended and which was often his target, Bartini said. The school opposed putting a sign right outside its doors, on Carlin's block between Broadway and Amsterdam, he said. The school did not respond to a request for comment. 

Eventually, a compromise was reached where the sign was moved east between Morningside Drive and Amsterdam Avenue, away from the school, he said. 

Kelly Carlin thought the move was fitting and described Bartini's efforts as a "great moment of civic action."

"As we know, my father and the church had a couple of philosophical differences," she reminded the more than 100 people who attended the commemoration. But "Dad loved trees," she said of the new spot, which overlooks Morningside Park. 

"You really can't understand the life of George Carlin without understanding Morningside Heights. It was a grittier, hardscrabble neighborhood back then," said local City Councilman Mark Levine of the neighborhood in the 1940s and '50s.  

Carlin's widow, comedian Sally Wade, said her late husband loved being a New Yorker and that this sign was "the best tribute he could have short of a drink named after him."

Nothing was sacred to Carlin, added comedian Colin Quinn. 

"It was not just society; George Carlin harangued all of us," he said, adding that Carlin ironically was "a priest to all the damaged Catholic people." 

Patrick Carlin, the comedian's older brother, told stories of growing up in the neighborhood and of his family. 

George shared his mother's irreverence, Patrick said, describing her as "a girl who gave a box of horse s--t to a girl who didn't invite her to a birthday party."

He too felt the spot overlooking the park was perfect for George's sign, in spite of the struggle to get it placed right in front of their childhood apartment. 

"George used to smoke dope right over there," Patrick said, gesturing to the park, noting George would be happy with the spot.

"I think of him in [the same league] with Mark Twain and Will Rogers," Patrick.

His daughter Kelly also reminisced about the past, remembering eating pancakes for dinner with her father and lauding him for passing on to her a "genuine adoration of fart jokes."

"He was committed to our family, but he was driven by his craft," she said. 

Dozens of fans also came out to watch the unveiling of the new sign. 

For Angel Eduardo, 29, visiting from New Jersey, George Carlin is "an icon of the city."

His stand-up comedy "made me laugh and it made me think," he said.