In remembrance of....

Johnny William Carson
October 23, 1925 - January 23, 2005

Tonight Show Host 
10/1/1962 ~ 5/22/1992
4531 episodes

The following is the new article carried by CNN on the day of Johnny's passing 

(CNN) -- Johnny Carson, host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" for nearly 30 years, died Sunday of emphysema.

"He passed away this morning," Carson's nephew, Jeffrey Sotzing, told CNN.  Carson, a longtime smoker, was 79 and had announced in 2002 that he was suffering from the disease.  Carson was host of the late-night talk show from October 1, 1962, to May 22, 1992, taking over from Jack Paar and handing off to Jay Leno after 4,531 episodes.  "It is a sad day for his family and for the country," "Late Show" host David Letterman said in a statement Sunday. "He was the best -- a star and a gentleman."

Carson kept a low profile after leaving "The Tonight Show" in 1992.  "He has been greatly missed since his retirement" Letterman said. "Thank God for videotapes and DVDs. In this regard, he will always be around."

Born John William Carson on October 23, 1925, in Corning, Iowa, he is survived by his fourth wife, Alexis, and sons Christopher and Cory from his first marriage, to Joan "Jody" Wolcott. Another son, Richard, died in a car accident in 1991.

Despite decades on television, Carson was never open publicly with the details of his personal life. "Nobody got to know him," said comedian Joan Rivers, who often substituted for Carson as a "Tonight Show" guest host. "He was very private."

Teenage magician

Carson began his show business career as a teenage magician and ventriloquist before serving in the Navy during World War II.  After the Navy, he attended the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1949 with a bachelor of arts degree. While still in college, Carson took a job as an announcer with KFAB in Lincoln, Nebraska, and two years later moved to Los Angeles, California, where he took an announcer's job at KNXT-TV.  A year later, the boyish-looking budding comedian had his own show -- "Carson's Cellar" -- 15 minutes of poking fun at the news, on which Carson persuaded stars of the 1940s and 1950s to appear for free.  In the midst of the show's run, famed clown Red Skelton hired Carson as a writer -- and even put him on as host on live television when Skelton was injured during a rehearsal.

"The Johnny Carson Show" spent 39 weeks on CBS in 1955 and 1956, then he moved to New York, where he was host of ABC's quiz show "Who Do You Trust?" and met Ed McMahon, who became Carson's sidekick until Carson retired from "The Tonight Show" 35 years later.  Under Carson, "The Tonight Show" earned 42 Emmy nominations and won seven trophies. Carson picked up a Golden Globe nomination in 1975, three years after moving the show from New York to Hollywood.  Carson was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1987. An estimated 50 million people watched his final broadcast in 1992.

"And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it," Carson said to close his final show. "I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight."  President George H.W. Bush awarded Carson the Medal of Freedom on December 11, 1992, and the following year he was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award.  Carson's departure led to a bitter battle to replace him, between Letterman, whose "Late Night with David Letterman" followed "The Tonight Show" on NBC's schedule, and frequent guest host Jay Leno. Leno won and remains the host; Letterman jumped to CBS, where he is host of "The Late Show."

Who's Who of top comedians

Carson is credited with boosting the careers of numerous young comedians. 

"The Carson show changed your life," Rivers said. "If Carson liked you, you were set. He got the bright comics. He picked the ones who were different, who were smart."

The list of other Carson alumni reads like a Who's Who of top comics -- Bill Cosby, David Brenner, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin and Garry Shandling.

"He gave me a shot on his show and in doing so gave me a career," Letterman said. "A night doesn't go by that I don't ask myself, 'What would Johnny have done?'"

"All of us who came after are pretenders," Letterman said. "We will not see the likes of him again."

Rivers said she, too, owes her start -- and her later introduction to the man who became her husband -- to Carson.

"We all started on his show," Rivers said. "Every solid comedian today really got their break on the Carson show."

Carson had a special knack for putting people at ease, comedian Jackie Mason said.

"The nervousness never lasted more than a second because he was so congenial and comfortable," Mason said. "He made more stars on his show, probably, than anybody in the whole history of show business."

A guest's ability to make the host laugh was the sign of a successful appearance, said Dr. Joyce Brothers, who appeared on Carson's show about 90 times.

"If you made Johnny Carson laugh, the sun shone. It was such a triumph for you, and he was always, always kind," Brothers said. "[He] never said a cutting remark in all of the years that I watched the show, and I watched it for years and years, because it was fun to go to bed feeling happy and pleased."

"He was kindness personified," Brothers said.

Rivers called Carson "the best straight man in the business."

"Nobody in the world was like him," she said. "He was absolutely the best I've ever worked with."

But Rivers said Carson never spoke to her again after she left to start her own late-night show -- one of many challenges he fended off during his time on "The Tonight Show."

And Carson worked hard to maintain his privacy, Brothers said.

"He had his own entrance onto the stage," she said. "He had his own makeup room.

"You never spoke to him at all before the show. He didn't want the guests to say something funny, and then feel that they were too embarrassed to say it on air."

Peter Lassally, Carson's executive producer for 23 years, took credit for Carson's continuing to write jokes for Letterman until recently.

"It gave him great pleasure," Lassally told CNN. "He'd pick up the paper in the morning and could think of a dozen jokes and had no outlet for them, so I urged him to share them with America."

 

Johnny's last monologue

Here is the monologue from Johnny Carson's final "The Tonight Show" on May 22, 1992:

Around the studio, we are still on an emotional high from last night; we have not come down yet. I want to thank Robin Williams and Bette Midler for last night, for giving us an excellent show. They were absolutely sensational.

The show tonight is our farewell show; it's going to be a little bit quieter. It's not going to be a performance show. One of the questions people have been asking me, especially this last month, is, "What's it like doing 'The Tonight Show,' and what does it mean to me?"

Well, let me try to explain it. If I could magically, somehow, that tape you just saw, make it run backwards. I would like to do the whole thing over again. It's been a hell of a lot of fun. As an entertainer, it has been the great experience of my life, and I cannot imagine finding something in television after I leave tonight that would give me as much joy and pleasure, and such a sense of exhilaration, as this show has given me. It's just hard to explain.

Now it's a farewell show. There's a certain sadness among the staff, a little melancholy. But look on the bright side: you won't have to read or hear one more story about my leaving this show. The press coverage has been absolutely tremendous, and we are very grateful. But my God, the Soviet Union's end did not get this kind of publicity. The press has been very decent and honest with me, and I thank them for that . . . That's about it.

The greatest accolade I think I received: G.E. named me "Employee of the Month." And God knows that was a dream come true.

I don't like saying goodbye. Farewells are a little awkward, and I really thought about this -- no joke -- wouldn't it be funny, instead of showing up tonight, putting on a rerun? NBC did not find that funny at all.

Next question I get is what am I gonna do? Well, I have not really made any plans. But the events of this last week have helped me make a decision. I am going to join the cast of Murphy Brown, and become a surrogate father to that kid.

During the run on the show there have been seven United States Presidents, and thankfully for comedy there have been eight Vice Presidents of the United States. Now I know I have made some jokes at the expense of Dan Quayle, but I really want to thank him tonight for making my final week so fruitful.

Here is an interesting statistic that may stun you. We started the show Oct. 2, 1962. The total population of the Earth was 3 billion 100 million people. This summer 5 billion 500 million people, which is a net increase of 2 billion 400 million people, which should give us some pause. A more amazing statistic is that half of those 2 billion 400 million will soon have their own late-night TV show.

Now, originally NBC came and said, what we would like you to do in the final show, is to make it a two-hour prime-time special with celebrities, and a star-studded audience. And I said, well, I would prefer to end like we started -- rather quietly, in our same time slot, in front of our same shabby little set. It is rather shabby. We offered it to a homeless shelter and they said 'No, thank you.' I am taking the applause sign home -- putting it in the bedroom. And maybe once a week just turning it on.

But we do have a V.P.I. audience -- V.P.I. audience? We could have had that, too. What I did was ask the members of the staff and the crew to invite their family, relatives and friends, and they did; with some other invited guests. My family is here tonight; my wife, Alex, my sons Chris and Cory. My brother Dick and my sister Katherine, a sprinkling of nephews and nieces. And I realized that being an offspring of someone who is constantly in the public eye is not easy. So guys, I want you to know that I love you; I hope that your old man has not caused you too much discomfort. It would have been a perfect evening if their brother Rick would have been here with us, but I guess life does what it is supposed to do. And you acccept it and you go on.

About tonight's show. This is not really a performance show. This is kind of a look-back retrospective. We are going to show you some moments in time. Some images of the many people, and there have been some 23,000 people. We are going to show you a little excerpt of how the show is put together, so go get some more cheese dip and we'll be back in just a moment.

 


 

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