Kelly Carlin remembers the morning her father rushed into her room and woke his 11-year-old daughter with the words, “Kelly, I have something important to tell you.”
“Kelly,” legendary standup comedian George Carlin continued in a cocaine-fueled frenzy, “the sun has exploded and we have eight, no — seven and a half minutes to live.”
“This is your dad and he’s saying something really terrifying,” recalled Kelly Carlin, who recounts the incident in her new memoir “A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George.” She can chuckle about the incident now — in fact, it became a popular dinner party story for her family — but at the time the experience was truly frightening.
Carlin, 52, will speak about “A Carlin Home Companion” and sign copies of her book Tuesday at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo. (The event is hosted by the JCC-Federation of San Luis Obispo.) In addition, Carlin will do a reading and book signing at Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown San Luis Obispo on Wednesday.
According to Carlin, “A Carlin Home Companion,” published in September by St. Martin’s Press, was about a decade in the making.
In 2006, she said, “I put together an outline for a memoir about my spiritual journey and my awakening and my psychological healing.” A few years later, she started developing a one-woman show based on the same subject matter.
“It was really long gestation with the solo show and I really got a chance … to deepen and enrich the journey I look to heal myself and to come to my own wholeness” while refining her personal narrative, she said.
“A Carlin Home Companion” offers an overview of life with the “Three Musketeers” — George Carlin, his wife Brenda and their only child, Kelly — that is alternately touching, tender, heartbreaking and darkly humorous.
Kelly Carlin documents the highs and lows of her father’s Grammy Award-winning career as the counterculture comedy icon behind the routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” while revealing the flipside of fame: her parents’ struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, health scares, tax troubles and run-ins with the law. “To be on the edge of that all the time as a kid is terrifying. It’s traumatizing,” Carlin said.
The psychological impact of such a tumultuous childhood is clear in Carlin’s narrative.
We watch this lonely girl transform into a reckless, rebellious young woman caught up in a chaotic whirlwind of drugs, partying and abusive relationships.
“I walked around in a constant stage of confusion,” she writes, torn between her twin identities as “the great rebel leader’s daughter (and) the Brentwood disco queen.”
Carlin doesn’t shy away from exploring the darker periods of her path from disaffected teen and aimless adult to successful author, actress, speaker and Sirius XM radio host. She writes candidly about her multiple pregnancies, examines her marriage to an emotionally manipulative man and details her ordeals with anxiety and panic attacks.
“That’s tough stuff to talk about,” she acknowledged. “I felt it was important to lay all of my dysfunction and insanity out on the page because we all have moments in our lives where we feel out of control. …”
“A Carlin Home Companion” also delves into Carlin’s complicated relationship with her famous father, who died in 2008 at age 71. In one moving passage, she describes how she’d sidle up to her dad while he chatted with well-wishers backstage.
“Some person might glance at me, unsure of who this child was. … Then I’d touch my father, or ask him a question, as to say to the doubter of my status, ‘I’m with him,’ ” she writes, believing that “my connection to the crackling luminosity surrounding my father had been affirmed in their eyes.”
“When you walk into the room with your father or mother who is successful and famous, you become instantly invisible,” Carlin explained. “It really affects your sense of identity and your place in the world.”
Years later, she realized, “My father saw me, acknowledged me and supported me. He always had — I’d just had a hard time seeing it and receiving it.”
Asked what she’d like people to know about her dad, Carlin said, “I want people to see that he was a genius and he was human and that you can be both.”
“Even George Carlin struggled as a father at times, struggled as a husband at times. He even struggled as an artist at a time,” she said. “That takes nothing away from his genius, his intellect, his incredible impact on our culture as an artist.”
“In our family, that love was always there,” Carlin continued. “We went through some hard challenges together, but we loved each other deeply.”
Carlin hopes “A Carlin Home Companion” will help others find hope and healing, just as she did.
“I want people to see their lives in my life. I want them to find their humanity in my humanity, to find their victories in my victories, to find their moments of confusion and despair in my moments of confusion and despair,” said the author, who has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute.
“I felt very, very lost for decades in my life,” Carlin said. “To be able to come out the other side of it … to be able to believe I had a purpose and a place on this planet, to be able to have a career and direction in my life, that is fulfilling to me. …
“If I can give one person a little sliver of ‘You can do it too,’ ” she said, “That’s my work (done) here on the planet.”
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6 p.m. April 19, Steynberg Gallery
1531 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo
2 p.m. April 20, Barnes & Noble
426-5465 or http://carlininslo.eventbrite.com