The Johnny Carson Show, which was formally known as “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” was one of the most popular television shows of its era. Johnny Carson gave his audience something that not too many people delivered in those days – controversy – and the crowd went wild for it.
People who weren’t around during Carson’s heyday may not know, but the star’s personal life was just as entertaining as his on-screen persona, and the man never failed to present drama, both on stage and off of it. This is everything you never knew about his fascinating life story.
It’s pretty hard to find someone who has an ideal personal life. After all, everyone has some skeletons in their closet – but Johnny Carson seemed to keep an entire graveyard in his. He seemed to have a pretty rough time maintaining any normal relationship and blamed his inability to do so on his own relationship with his mother, Ruth, a woman he described as “cold and awful.”
In fact, when all four of Carson’s marriages fell apart, he pointed the finger at Mommy Dearest. At one point, he even referred to his mother as “Lady Macbeth.” When most people’s mothers die, they feel sad, and it takes some time for them to recover, but when Ruth passed away, Carson didn’t bat an eye. He also steered clear of the grounds where his mother’s funeral was held.
Johnny Carson, like many megastars in Hollywood, portrayed himself in a way that made his fans fall in love with him, even though he acted like a monster in his personal life. In fact, it didn’t matter how close someone was to Carson, he had it in him to completely belittle them and drag them through the mud. One example of this sort of behavior was when he and his new wife, Alexis Maas, went on their honeymoon.
Carson’s marriage to Maas was his fourth, but that didn’t seem to stop the young bride from falling into his trap. The couple decided to take a yacht ride around Italy for their honeymoon in 1987. But this trip was anything but paradise for Alexis, who Carson humiliated in front of some other people. Witnesses report that Carson got into a bad mood and lashed out at her, telling her that if she didn’t act how he wanted her to, the marriage wouldn’t last another month.
More Family Hardships
Rick Carson, one of three of Johnny’s sons from his first marriage, was diagnosed with mental illness. In the days of his diagnosis, these types of ailments were less understood than they are today, and Johnny couldn’t even bear to be around him, as he was embarrassed by the whole thing. Rick ended up being committed to an institution, and Johnny never visited. Little did he know that decision would have even more serious consequences than he could imagine.
In 1991, Rick drove his car through Morro Bay, California, when he lost control of the vehicle, and it tumbled over one hundred feet down a levee. Rick was dead upon the impact of the accident. Johnny did pay his respects to his son on "The Tonight Show," but he also acknowledged that there were some issues with their relationship or lack thereof.
The Apple and the Tree
Carson’s controversial behavior was again put on display for the world to see when he and his son, Rick, got into an argument at a party that was thrown in his honor. NBC put together a posh affair on the Queen Mary for his 25th year as a host on the network. Johnny and his son both threw back one too many drinks and ended up getting into a shouting match in front of a boat full of NBC execs, along with Carson’s relatives and close friends.
When people spoke about the account, they all seemed to agree that Carson himself was the instigator of the fight. Johnny stepped not only started yelling but also, at one point, became violent toward his son before another party guest stopped him. But this wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last, that he would take things too far.
Bottom of the Barrel
Carson was known for a few things, but one of the main ones was that he had a serious drinking problem. And because he had a drinking problem, he wound up acting overly aggressive in public a lot. When he was arrested for drunk driving in 1982, it only made matters worse.
Lucky for him, he ended up pleading no contest and was charged with a misdemeanor. As a part of his three-year sentence on probation, Carson had to participate in a court-ordered program for alcohol and drunk drivers. The sentence also required that he only use his car for transportation to and from work, and he was not able to have anyone in his car with him while he drove.
Johnny Carson knew that he had an alcohol issue, but he didn’t like to talk about it. In fact, he actively kept away from the press so he wouldn’t have to. But it wasn’t just that he didn’t like to talk about it, he didn’t like to think about it. However, eventually, he did, and in a very public fashion.
Carson appeared on "60 Minutes" in 1977 and discussed the issue with host Ed McMahon. When asked, he told Ed that he knew he couldn’t “handle” his liquor but that while drinking, he had some “good times.” The people around him spin a different story, though. Carson’s habits were no secret in Hollywood, and many celebrities wouldn’t even consider coming to his show because they knew he would be a jerk.
The Sky’s the Limit
Johnny Carson met wife number two, Joanne Copeland, in 1960 when she was working as a flight attendant and he was hosting "Who Do You Trust?" But not long after her marriage to the television star, Copeland found herself having an affair with Frank Gifford, a big name in the sports world. Johnny discovered this when he found out about an apartment that Joanne leased behind his back – however, he was having a few of his own.
Johnny and Joanne were married for nine years before finally splitting up in 1972. The couple had seen their fair share of turmoil, and the public could see it too, so no one was very surprised when they finalized their divorce. Joanne stuck by Carson’s side in terms of business and was committed to assisting him to rise through the ranks in the entertainment industry.
Henry Bushkin, Carson’s lawyer in his heyday, really had his work cut out for him among all of the craziness that ensued between Johnny and his second wife, Joanne. He witnessed so many juicy events that he ended up releasing a book that was full of all of the dirty little details of the affair between Copeland and sports announcer Frank Gifford.
When Carson first caught wind of the affair, rather than simply taking Joanne to court, Johnny insisted that Bushkin accompany him to the love shack to gather evidence of her dalliance and he certainly got what he was looking for. When the men arrived at the apartment, Carson found framed pictures of Gifford lining the shelves around the main room. According to Bushkin’s written account of the situation, Carson burst into tears when he got his hands on the photos.
When Carson made the call to Henry Bushkin, his former attorney, and asked him to come with him to help compile evidence of his wife’s affairs, he said no. But Carson could be pretty persuasive, and he ultimately ended up convincing him. Aside from the framed photos of the man-in-question, Johnny and his lawyer found quite an assortment of incriminating objects, including some of Joanne’s lingerie that he had never seen before.
Johnny turned to the liquor. Carson went all out and wound up binge-drinking with television host Ed McMahon. In 1986, Frank ended up getting married to Kathie Lee Gifford, who addressed the entire situation on TV, laughing it off as a rumor. After all, by that point, it had been nearly twenty years since his relations with Joanne. On August 9th, 2015, Frank Gifford passed on, and he never publicly confirmed nor denied what was going on.
Not Him Again
Johnny Carson was used to dealing with all sorts of Hollywood personalities, thanks to his extensive experience as a television host. And, like many talk show hosts, he had favorite guests and some not-so-favorite guests. Bob Hope just so happened to be on the latter list, and Carson really did not like it when he had to have him on the show. But why?
Hope used to appear on Carson’s show with scripted jokes up his sleeves and Carson was not a fan. In fact, according to Carson, that’s all he had to offer. Andrew Nicholls, who used to write for Johnny Carson, reported that Johnny didn’t appreciate Hope reading from a script rather than engaging in real and meaningful conversation. Hope and Carson were like night and day on stage, with Hope solely leaning on his writers and Carson thinking at lightning-speed on his feet.
Hope Gets Lost
As life happens, Hope started to age, and as the days flew by he began to lose his sight and hearing. Because of this, Hope’s stints on Carson’s show irritated Carson even more than they had before. Now, not only was Hope leaning on his writers, but Carson was forced to do that as well.
Since Hope was having a difficult time seeing, he had a hard time following cue cards and instead relied on memorizing the order of questions. If Carson didn’t stick exactly to the order of the questions he had rehearsed – Hope may become confused and talk about the topic he remembered instead.
No Mercy for Bob
The whole Bob Hope going rogue thing really bothered Carson, and he felt like he had little control over his show when Hope was around. According to one of Carson’s writers, he was so infuriated with dealing with Hope that he asked the writer to “shoot him” if he ever became confused like him.
Unfortunately, staff members weren’t the only ones to witness Hope’s deteriorating physical and mental health. Since the show was nationally syndicated, each time Hope would lose his place in the interview, the entire world could see it. But even through all of the issues, he kept coming back to Carson’s set.
It should come as no surprise that, like so many celebrities, Johnny Carson had many women. Aside from his four marriages, he had countless relations and one-night stands. During all of the divorce turmoil with Joanne Copeland, he found himself in the arms of Angel Tompkins. Carson’s lawyer told him that he was risking a lot settlement-wise if his wife or her attorney discovered he was involved with another woman, but he carried on.
However, when Johnny tied the knot for the third time in 1972, his new wife gave him a little bit more leeway to do whatever he wanted. Joanna Holland gave him his freedom to play in exchange for an array of presents from him, ranging from diamonds to cars to real estate. But this little arrangement wouldn’t last, and Johnny would again find himself in divorce court in 1985.
Personal relationships weren’t the only ones that Carson had a tough time maintaining, as he burned his fair share of professional bridges in Tinsel Town, too. Making jokes about someone’s weight is considered highly unacceptable behavior, and the internet will literally tear a bully apart in the blink of an eye. But in Johnny Carson’s time on television, things were slightly different. Sure, “fat” jokes were never nice, but it’s something that happened, and Johnny was one of the main culprits in producing the distasteful puns.
Raymond Burr, an established and respected actor, found himself playing an undesired role as Johnny’s punching bag more than just a couple of times. After Carson had picked on him about his weight repeatedly during his appearances on his show in 68’ and 76’, Burr finally put his foot down and flat-out refused to have anything to do with Carson or his show anymore.
Sin City Slick Tongue
Wayne Newton found himself on the butt-end of Johnny Carson’s jokes after successfully closing a deal that Carson was toying with the idea of clinching himself. Both men had their eye on a resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. However, Carson decided the deal wasn’t for him and ended up backpedaling on it while Newton closed it successfully. The media, though, set Carson in a way that made him look like a loser rather than like he had just changed his mind.
Carson decided to express his negative feelings about how the press was making him look by blasting Newton with some rather disagreeable jokes. This entire ordeal drew up some serious tension between the two stars, and Carson would hassle the singer so much that Newton would take some pretty serious measures to stick up for himself.
Newton Has Enough
A few years after the bad business deal that (almost) went down between Carson and Newton, Wayne discussed his issues with Carson while doing a guest appearance on Larry King’s show. Newton basically laid out his reasons for disliking Carson out for the world, including that he considered Johnny to be mean. He claimed that Carson “hurt” people that he wouldn’t even know of and couldn’t understand why the mean jokes had begun to fly in his direction.
But even though Wayne Newton was a mostly positive person, who didn’t want to be involved in this feud with Carson anymore, he would prove that he was no pushover, either. One day, Newton showed up at Carson’s studio and flew through his office doors, telling Carson that he either stopped with the jokes or fight him right there on the spot. Luckily, Johnny believed him and let go.
Another Enemy on the Air
Tom Snyder, the host of "The Tomorrow Show," was another TV personality that was on Carson’s bad list. According to Carson, Snyder was boring and lacked any genuine talent. But Snyder was doing alright professionally, as he had success for many years hosting "The Tomorrow Show" and then moved on to host "The Late Late Show."
Carson found himself at Chasen’s in LA one night, having one too many drinks, as per usual. After a few glasses of wine, his angry and violent side proceeded to emerge, and he flew off into a rant about how he absolutely couldn’t stand Tom Snyder. But this little public stunt did not fare well for him and was added to his lengthy list of bad behavior. After all, going on about someone in public isn’t something to be seen as mature or rational.
Johnny vs. Joan
Johnny found himself squaring off with even more famous faces when Joan Rivers and John Davidson, who previously hosted the "Tonight Show," wound up each getting their own show. Surprisingly, this wasn’t what drove Johnny to the tipping point with Joan, but rather the fact that Joan’s new show was on at the exact same time as his, between 1986 and 1987.
However, Johnny later realized that he had little to concern himself with when Joan’s show was canceled in May of 1987. This didn’t stop him from cutting things off with Joan Rivers, who stated that she never heard from him again after receiving her own show. John Davidson, nor Joan Rivers, would be the last celebrities to wind up on the wrong side of Johnny Carson.
Carson and Rivers’ Romantic History
Everyone is aware of the feud that went down between Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson when Carson became bitter about the fact that Joan had gotten her own television show. But some may not know that this wasn’t the only scandalous thing that happened between the two, as it turns out that they had had a romantic affair.
When Joan released a tell-all book, she stated that she and Carson were romantically involved while she was married to Edgar Rose. During their twenty-two years of marriage, Joan did her fair share of exploring outside of her nuptials. Some speculations exist as to the reason that Johnny was so hurt over Joan leaving the show was not that he was bitter but rather upset that he was losing a romantic interest. Unfortunately, Edgar Rose would later take his own life.
Where’d All the Toilet Paper Gone?
Carson created a national panic and toilet paper shortage – yes, toilet paper shortage – when he jokingly talked about there actually being one on his show. Consider for a moment just how many people watched his show and believed the things that he told them. So, when viewers heard that there was a shortage of TP around the country, what did they do?
Well, they rushed to the supermarkets and bought all the toilet paper, of course! In fact, so many stores ended up running out of toilet paper because of Johnny Carson that he ended up creating the shortage that he joked about in the first place! It took weeks for stores to stock back up, and Carson would later express remorse for the situation. This is the perfect example of how fake news can be spread rapidly by one simple joke being made.
The Butt of Another Joke
Johnny Carson certainly has made himself a name within the… toilet industry. This traces back to 1977 when a portable toilet manufacturer put out a product with the name “Here’s Johnny” on it. The issue with this manufacturer dubbing their product with that title was that it was the same phrase that Carson used when being introduced on the set of "Tonight."
Carson heard about the name of the toilets and immediately contacted his lawyer to initiate a lawsuit, which he won. The Judge ruled that the toilet manufacturing company needed to cease all use of that name on their toilets. But this lawsuit was no easily won feat, in fact, it took nearly a decade for him to get the ruling he desired. And even now, after Carson’s death, Braxton, the toilet manufacturer, is still pushing back against that ruling and attempting to use “Here’s Johnny.”
Get Out of My Neighborhood, Carson
Carson really ticked off Mr. Rogers of "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" when he decided to use his own version of the character as a joke on his show. But Johnny didn’t play the nice Mr. Rogers that everyone in America knew and loved. Instead, he portrayed him as a dark figure, attempting to get kids to take cash from Mom and Dad. No one took very kindly to this act, especially not Fred Rogers, who played the beloved Mr. Rogers.
Fred Rogers was upset that Carson had used his character in such a negative way when everyone knows that "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" was all about positivity and being a kind and loving person towards everyone you meet. This caused so much of a stir in America that it forced Carson to apologize to Fred, and everyone else, for the bad jokes. But Fred was far from the last person to require an apology from the late comedian.
Just Being Frank
President Ronald Reagan had a beautiful and glamorous inauguration in 1981, which was produced by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra had his heart set on having Johnny Carson host the evening, but Carson resisted early on. He didn’t really want to say no to Sinatra, who asked him personally to do him this special favor.
But as it turns out, that special favor came from a little higher up than Mr. Frank Sinatra, as Reagan actually asked for Carson himself. But Carson still didn’t really want to go and joked that he’d already served his country before. Johnny did end up hosting the event and afterward commented on the fact that it was very extravagant, like a Hollywood premiere. Carson was truly unhappy during the entire experience and apparently wouldn’t even include a drunk Dean Martin during the inaugural.
Johnny Hates Reality TV
Before Johnny Carson passed away in 2005, he had dinner with Jerry Seinfeld and Garry Shandling and expressed his disgust with how television was evolving. He considered reality TV to be trashy, and he was not impressed in the slightest. According to Peter Jones, a Hollywood filmmaker, Carson felt good comedy was fading away and being overrun with this tabloid-like nonsense.
After he passed, waves of celebrities hit the screens and papers, paying their respects to the late television star. But Johnny clearly wanted nothing to do with modern television anyways, according to the source, and said that he felt lucky to have gotten out at the point he had. The former late-night king of comedy may have been considered somewhat controversial during his time, but he would have really hated the way reality TV has taken over the world.
Johnny Wouldn’t Reap What He Sowed
According to Rich Little, The Man of a Thousand Voices, Johnny put on this tough guy act but was entirely capable of having his feelings hurt. The voice actor claimed that he had been tossed off of Carson’s set because he shot back at him after being targeted by Carson’s jokes, and Johnny apparently couldn’t take the heat. As Little also worked as an impressionist and gave Johnny a sneak peek at himself on his set, Carson probably was not very impressed.
Richard Little released a tell-all memoir that he titled: "Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been," in which he actually went so far as to say that he thought Johnny hated him. Although, like Johnny, Little himself had a list of people in Hollywood who didn’t like him very much. After all, he made his money performing impressions of celebrities, and some of them didn’t take it very kindly.
The Flighty Blonde
Carol Wayne played this “valley girl” type of persona on various talk shows, including Carson’s. While appearing on "The Tonight Show," she played the character of the “Matinee Lady.” She had quite the reputation around tinsel town for being able to portray this type of on-screen persona better than anyone else – so she was frequently typecast, including her stint on the "Skelton Show."
Unfortunately, playing these types of roles may have gotten to Carol, especially after her work on Carson’s show. After losing her job on Carson’s show, she started to experience a serious downfall due to financial difficulties. This downfall would lead Ms. Wayne down a devastatingly dark path, one which would ultimately cost her her life.
The Blonde Loses Control
When Late Night with David Letterman emerged on TV, the "Tonight Show" received several cuts in airtime, which resulted in “The Matinee Girl,” Carol Wayne’s character, being cut from the show altogether. Because of this, Carol found herself facing some tough times as far as finances were concerned. When she started to lose the luxurious life she was so accustomed to, she began drinking and taking illegal substances.
When she reached a point where she could no longer sustain herself with the money she’d earned from acting, she became a working girl to pay for her rent. Going into this line of work introduced her to some dangerous people, one of which possibly includes her former companion, Edward Durston. Durston was the last person who was seen with Carol before her body was discovered by a fisherman in Mexico, days after she and Durston were seen arguing on the beach.
Carol Wayne’s Last Appearance
The last time anyone saw Carol Wayne, she was seen walking with Edward Durston along a beach – and according to witnesses, they were arguing. Ed claims that he left Carol on that beach alone, which some speculate is far from the truth. Wayne’s body was discovered in just four feet of water in a shallow bay in Mexico.
According to reports, Ms. Wayne’s body was free from any kind of substances or alcohol. It was also noted in reports that when she was found, she was still wearing all of her clothes. Investigators are still unsure of exactly how Carol Wayne died, especially since she was only in four feet of water. The death was ruled as a drowning, but some people still swear that Edward Durston was behind the former actress's mysterious and untimely death.
Paar-don Me, I’m Out of Here!
Between 1957 and 1962, "The Tonight Show" found itself being hosted by its second star, Jack Paar. Paar, like most late-night television hosts, wanted to use his platform to tell the kind of jokes that stirred the pot, and boy did he ever. Paar always seemed to be mixed up in different controversies. His list of public whoopsies includes his interview with Fidel Castro when he kicked Mickey Rooney off of his stage for having one too many drinks.
But it was a bathroom-related joke that meant the final stop for Paar’s Tonight Show career. Even though it was ultimately censored from the show. In 2019, the words that came out of Paar’s mouth probably wouldn’t have been dissected as they were in his day, but it was too much for the audience to handle. This experience caused Paar to make an impromptu exit from The Tonight Show, quitting live that very same night.
Johnny’s Outrage Over Parks
For two decades, Bert Parks delighted America by singing potentially one of the most famous songs to ever hit the silver screen: "There She Is, Miss America." Of course, he also hosted the pageant for the same time frame. Throughout the course of his career, the Miss America pageant was his true claim to fame. Parks had a long list of fans that loved him, including Johnny Carson.
So, you can imagine how ticked off Carson was when Bert Parks was released from his on-screen duties on the pageant show because the organization said he’d aged too much. Like with many Hollywood shows, producers put a time limit on the host in favor of reaching out to a younger crowd. Carson was so passionate about Bert’s layoff that he initiated a movement to have him put back in his position as host of the show, but unfortunately, it didn't work.
Here’s All of Johnny
Even after Johnny’s death, scandalous news of him surfaced, like in 2014, when a tape starring him hit the market. Reports claim that the tape was created when Johnny was still a brunette youngster and that his co-star was one of his ex-wives. TMZ, who of course, was in the mix of trying to discover details about the mysterious tape, said that the seller had initially tried to hand it off to Johnny’s people, who declined and threatened to sue if it went public.
No one knows exactly what happened to the tape, but apparently, the person who was pushing the sale was unable to sell it to businesses, so it must have been purchased by a collector. The full video is hidden from the public eye, however, image clips excerpted from it are rumored to have made their way around the internet. Johnny would probably be rolling around in his grave hearing this.
Carson impacted quite a few things, and lives, throughout his career. Take, for instance, that one time he caused someone who was running for president to completely drop out of a race. Yep. Gary Hart, who ran against Michael Dukakis in 1988 for the Democratic ticket, threw in the towel after Carson called him out for an affair on "The Tonight Show."
An image of Hart with a young woman, who was obviously not his wife, surfaced, which showed him entertaining this woman on a boat. The photo made headlines in the New York Post, and Carson, along with all of the other late-night TV personalities, passed it around like hotcakes. Hart didn’t say for certain that the photo is the reason he backed out of the race, but most speculate that it definitely had something to do with it.
Johnny, in particular, threw a lot of shade in Hart’s way and totally destroyed him through never-ending jokes about the affair. But one thing really made Johnny laugh – the name of the boat where the image was taken – Monkey Business. One television critic joked that "The Tonight Show" writers were going to have an impact on the vote due to tearing Hart apart in front of so many people on a regular basis.
But it isn’t like the Tonight Show writer singled Gary Hart out. Late-night comedy writers would destroy their own mothers if it meant high ratings and a lot of laughs. Hart’s scandal was not the first, and it would not be the last, political scandal to hit late-night television. In fact, Hart would soon be forgotten, lost in a never-ending sea of scandals.
What Is Happening?
To set the scene – it’s the 1990s, and a young and popular Morrissey hits the stage on "The Tonight Show." Can you hear all of the high-pitched screaming? Can you see the underwear flying onto the stage? Okay, maybe there was no underwear, but there was definitely screaming. The audience that night had zero interest in listening to Carson or to guest Bill Cosby, but they almost broke the glass when it was Morrissey’s chance to appear.
Ed McMahon caught sideways glances from Johnny, who struggled to keep the audience engaged as he spoke. He was visibly uncomfortable, and it appeared as though time froze as he pushed to make it through the segment without completely falling flat. Everyone who wasn’t Morrissey, or a teenager in the audience, looked highly irritated, and the men all just crossed their fingers and forced themselves to finish the show.
Johnny’s Dirty Laundry
For years, rumors of Johnny Carson’s behavior toward women in Hollywood circulated around the country. But since Carson was such a popular figure and had so much money, no formal charges were ever made. Like many powerful men in Hollywood, he got away with what he had done because he could pay his victims to stay quiet. The rumors include indiscretions against both former "Tonight Show" employees and guests, among others.
Obviously, since Carson died, it isn’t very likely that any charges will come about now, but with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements in full swing, it is possible that more stories will arise from the shadows. In fact, some of the guests of his show have come forward and spoken about their own experiences with the late television star. Keep your eyes peeled for more women’s stories floating around the internet and other media sources.
The Oppressive Octopus
Sally Field was one of many women to come forward and share her negative thoughts about Johnny Carson. During her appearance on "Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen," she let the audience in on a disturbing image that describes his behavior with women in Hollywood. She told Cohen that she thought of him as an “octopus” and herself as a “little guppy.”
Cohen responded by asking if she meant that he was handsy with her, which is clearly what she was trying to indicate by using those terms. Sally actually dated Johnny for a short period of time but said that she never had any real interest in him. When asked about her reasoning behind dating him, she said that she found it “hard to turn him down.”
Sally’s Defense Mechanism
Johnny Carson wasn’t the only man in Hollywood that Sally couldn’t say no to. During her interview with Andy Cohen, she talked about her inability to turn men – or anyone else – down. She went on to describe an interesting method of defense that she created for herself. Sally said that in order to get out of things she didn’t want to do, she would pretend to go insane.
Cohen asked Field if this is how she got out of dating Johnny Carson, and Fields confirmed. “I told him I had lost my mind,” she said. This may seem a little out there to some, but as Field is a great actress, she probably pulled this off with ease. Doing this gave her the ability to say no, which she publicly said that she had a very tough time doing. You go, Sally!
Before Johnny secured his spot on "The Tonight Show," he had somewhat of a competition going on with Bob Crane, who was all set to take over for Jack Paar. Fortunately for Johnny, and for Johnny’s career, Crane didn’t end up accepting the offer. Instead, he went on to work as an actor in things like the television show "Hogan’s Heroes," which is quite possibly the feat that he is most recognized for accomplishing.
On a dark and gloomy night in 1978, Crane’s body was discovered in his Scottsdale apartment. The person responsible was nowhere to be found. When police searched his apartment, they collected all types of evidence – including some homemade tapes, as well as a ton of blood found around the place. However, the identity of the person that took Bob Crane's life remains a mystery to this very day.
You may have heard a thing or two about famed automobile exec and engineer John DeLorean. DeLorean is perhaps most well-known for his creation of The DeLorean from the enormously successful "Back to the Future" movies. DeLorean launched an automobile company that was all his own, and Carson was one of the main investors there.
Unfortunately, in 1982, DeLorean found himself in the middle of a legal nightmare after he was caught moving a whopping $24 million worth of illegal substances. The engineer was nailed attempting to traffic the substances when he was recorded by someone wearing a wire throughout the deal. DeLorean tried to defend himself by saying that what the police did was entrapment, which actually worked for him in the end, and he was acquitted of the serious charges. However, DeLorean completely ruined his image, and he, and his company, crashed and burned.
Carson’s High Horse
One may think that because of their extroverted behavior on stage, talk show hosts always have something to say, but Johnny preferred to save all of his conversation for when the cameras were rolling. Orson Welles, who made numerous appearances on the show, was in for a surprise one night when Johnny decided to pop in and say hello before they started filming. This confused not only Welles but all of his employees as well!
Unlike other major TV hosts at the time, such as Merv Griffin, Johnny refused to overexaggerate his enthusiasm and would only laugh at something a guest said if he was truly tickled by it. Sometimes, Carson would end up cutting the entire interview off if he wasn’t amused by the discussion. Ouch, that’s cold!
Magic and Musings
Carnac, the wise and mysterious “mystic from the East,” was one of Johnny’s many characters that made multiple appearances on the show. When Johnny played Carnac, he would wear his dark cape and Turban and arise from the shadows on the stage into the spotlight, accompanied by Indian tunes.
Carnac’s on-air duty was to respond to questions mailed in by Carson’s fans. Carnac had the ability to “divine” the future, and his responses were always very entertaining. After making his grand entrance to the stage, wearing his fortune-telling garb and all, Carnac would stumble to his desk and prepare to mystically answer any questions he had for that day.
Carson: Head Honcho
"The Tonight Show" pulled in more money than any other late-night show of its time, which meant Johnny was responsible for big ratings and big money. In the late ’70s, Carson’s show was bringing in close to $60 million per year, which equals out to around $220 million in today’s television world, so let’s just say that NBC executives would do pretty much anything to keep him happy.
In fact, he used to throw tantrums if he wasn’t getting what he wanted, and he’d claim that if they didn’t give it to him, he would simply move to a different network. Usually, getting what he wanted consisted of asking for more vacation time – which they typically obliged, somewhat reluctantly.
Thank Johnny Carson for SNL
Honestly, if it weren’t for Johnny Carson’s temper tantrums, Saturday Night Live may have never come into existence. When Johnny’s show was at its peak, he threatened network execs with a change of network anytime he wanted some time off. In fact, Johnny even requested that NBC give him a shorter work week, and they did. Executives, in a panic to try and fill Johnny’s former Saturday showtime, decided to slot the prime time for SNL.
After the network gave him his shorter workweek, he decided that he also wanted a shorter run time and asked that his screen time be shortened from an hour and a half to an hour – which the network also gave him. The reasoning behind these demands, according to Carson, was that it would be of better quality and it would flow more naturally.
Carson Didn’t Care for Reruns
In any job, you probably don’t care to relive the history of your work. Carson felt the same about his. And even if he wanted to, he couldn't because most of the tapes from the first few seasons have been wiped. Television networks reused their tapes for new shows, so they would erase all of the previous content to do so. Johnny had zero issues with the way the whole arrangement worked.
During one interview, he commented that he couldn't care less about what happened to the old shows and that he saw no value in them. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch one floating around out there somewhere because some of the show's guests were able to snag a copy for themselves before the others were erased. Plus, even though most of the early episodes are hard to find, the tapes of the later seasons are still safe and sound.
The First Show Is Gone for Good
One episode of "The Tonight Show" that seems to have been completely eradicated from existence is the very first episode that Carson hosted. On October 1st, 1962, Carson stepped into his new role as the host, replacing Jack Paar. For an appearance that soon followed, he was introduced to the stage by comedian Groucho Marx. Marx welcomed him with some words of wisdom that included telling him to steer clear of Hollywood.
Carson seemed to feel right at home on the stage – maybe a little too much at home, as he jokingly called for his “nana.” An old black-and-white copy of the episode is still in existence, as well as some others from that era. Color copies of the show can be found and date back to a 1964 episode of "The Tonight Show" featuring Jake Ehrlich Sr.
Blah at First Sight
Considering the explosive magic Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon created, it's surprising to know that when the two met, things couldn’t have been any less funny or exciting. McMahon likened their very first get-together to watching a changing light in a traffic jam. But the meetings that soon followed got better and better, and the relationship between the men blossomed into one of the most fruitful of the ages. McMahon’s voice was the one that could be heard introducing Johnny to his show, with the famed catchphrase, “Here’s Johnny,” for roughly thirty years.
During the first several years of "The Tonight Show," he actually acted as host during the first segment. But before working together on Tonight, the dynamic duo hit it off, working side-by-side on ABC’s game show, "Who Do You Trust?" McMahon was known for his ultra-bubbly personality and his booming laughter, hence his nickname: The Human Laugh Track.
Johnny Carson coined the phrase “Here’s Johnny” when he used it as his introduction on stage. But doesn’t that line sound a little bit familiar? It should be because it’s been used in quite a few other places, too. Possibly the most common placement of this phrase is when Jack Nicholson’s character says it to his family in "The Shining". Aside from that, the phrase was also used in "Trading Places," a 1983 film starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.
Goofy singer Weird Al Yankovich also uses the line as the title of a song on his 1986 album "Polka Party." It was also used by the character named Johnny Cage in the 1992 version of Mortal Kombat. But this didn’t stop Johnny from suing the portable toilet manufacturer who tried to use the line on some of their products.
What Did McMahon Even Do?
Ed McMahon did a lot for "The Tonight Show." But McMahon claims that he never really had any specific title on Tonight. Basically, McMahon claims that he acted as a “floater” and did whatever they needed him to do whenever they needed him to do it to support Carson throughout each episode. McMahon says that he would do everything from moving furniture on set to interacting with the audience to ensure the success of the show.
In fact, McMahon hosted the first 15 minutes of the show for the show’s first several seasons. But then he moved on to doing the voice, assisting with commercials, and being Carson’s right hand, helping him out with whatever he needed. Ed claims that he had to make it appear like he wasn’t actually doing much of anything – but doing pretty much everything to get the job done.
McMahon’s Financial Stressors
Ed McMahon and his wife found themselves in financial turmoil, and in 2008, his $4.8 million mansion in Beverly Hills went into foreclosure. This decision came after he had defaulted on over $630,000 in mortgage payments. Not only were they going to lose their house, but his bank (Citi) was also coming after him for almost $200,000. Citibank ultimately won their suit and was awarded $180,000 for all of the debt that he racked up with them over a period of almost four years.
McMahon appeared on Larry King Live with his wife to discuss the situation. He said that he wasn't as rich as everyone seemed to believe. Why, then, would he buy a $4 million-dollar house? Hmm. Even his wife, Pamela, admitted that they didn’t have that kind of money. Although, it all seemed pretty fishy because, during this same time period, the McMahons paid an attorney to represent their daughter during her divorce.
Ties to Trump
Back in 2008, before Trump became president, he was focusing his efforts on his real estate business. Apparently, when Trump discovered that McMahon’s house was going into foreclosure, he reached out to Ed with a deal – he would buy Ed’s house and rent it to him. Sure, doing this would mean that Ed gets to live in the house, but he didn’t want to take it, so he turned down the deal.
Rather than being in Trump’s pocket, McMahon opted to sell the house to a buyer. Trump’s representatives claim that he was reaching out to offer this deal simply because he wanted to help him out and that it had nothing to do with money or business. In the end, everyone involved was happy.
Not too long after midnight, on the 23rd of June, 2009, Ed McMahon passed away. McMahon was 86 and had previously been admitted to the hospital for a variety of medical issues, including pneumonia. A few years before his passing, McMahon had fallen and broken his neck and blamed several people, initiating a series of lawsuits to attempt to gain compensation for his troubles.
He sued a couple of doctors, along with a hospital, after he said they failed to treat him properly. Nevertheless, Ed McMahon was sorely missed after his departure. Talk show hosts all over the country paid their respects, such as Conan O’Brien, who commented that it is hard to imagine Tonight without Ed and that the relationship dynamics between Carson and McMahon were going to be very hard to beat – if at all even possible.
NBC was used to Carson asking for time off. So much so, in fact, that they had a list of guest hosts that they could call up when Carson decided it was time for a vacation. One such instance was in 1968 when the network tagged Harry Belafonte as a guest host and he ended up hosting for the entire week. It made Harry Belafonte the first African American to host the Tonight Show – and to host any talk show.
He made his first hosting job count and pulled in such powerful guests as Martin Luther King Jr. Another curious guest host was Kermit the Frog. In April of 1979, Kermit and all of his Muppet buddies got their turn on "The Tonight Show" stage. NBC may have been reluctant about giving Carson his time off, but if they didn’t, amazing episodes like that one wouldn’t exist!
Carson Relives the Good Old Days
Even though Johnny Carson retired from hosting television in 1992, it doesn’t mean that he lost touch with his talk-show roots. Carson was known to have watched his fair share of late-night TV shows and had a load of friends that still hosted their own, such as David Letterman. We’re not entirely sure if he ever watched Jay Leno hosting "The Tonight Show," but it’s quite possible.
Peter Lassally, a friend of Johnny Carson, told one reporter that Carson still thinks up quips that he would use on TV when he reads his newspaper in the mornings. But since he wanted his jokes to actually hit the screen, he sent them off to David Letterman, who is rumored to use them in some of his shows.
Happy Birthday, Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson would have turned 90 on October 23, 2015. A publication called the New York Daily News released a list of some of his most famous quotes. Some of the quotes included on the list are: On priorities: "People will pay more to be entertained than educated."
On the perception of death: "For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow, but the phone calls taper off." On self-confidence: "Just be yourself — it's the only way it can work." And, on appreciating the television set: "If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners.”
Getting Out While the Getting Is Good
Carson was a huge star, and he didn’t want to fade away before he retired. He was reported saying that he wanted to get out of the business while he was on top. He had been hosting his show for nearly three decades, and he was just ready to let it all go and lead a normal life. Near the end of his career, he used to play some excerpts from his favorite shows and started inviting previous guests that he’d enjoyed having around again.
Although his fans were upset that he was leaving, they were excited that he was going out with a bang. After all, most of the shows leading up to his grand exit were packed with hot topics and celebrities. The last guests to ever appear on a regular Johnny Carson show were the late Robin Williams, on May 21, 1992, along with Bette Midler.
Bette Has All the Feelings
In what was arguably one of the most emotional moments on late-night television, Bette Midler joined Johnny Carson on the set of "The Tonight Show" for his second to last episode to sing a heartfelt duet of “One for My Baby.” By the end of the song, Bette, Carson, and every single member of the audience’s eyes were filled to the brim with tears. Even though this moment was one of the greatest in television history, no copies exist of the tape that shows them opposite one another while performing.
At the end of the show, Bette Midler and Robin Williams joined hands with Johnny Carson to deliver bows. The room was filled with emotion, and it was obvious that everyone was sincerely moved by the entire situation. In a later interview with Midler, she revealed that it was one of the most impactful performances that she could remember.
The Final Curtain
On May 22nd of 1992, 50 million people put "The Tonight Show" on their TVs at home and watched as Carson delivered a powerful and moving final performance. As a part of his final speech, he told his viewers that he felt like he was one of the luckiest men on the planet because he had been doing what he loved.
Carson went on to tearfully deliver thanks to his audience, along with all of the people that had supported him throughout his lengthy career – like Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen. He circled back around to thank his viewers once again, noting that he felt honored to be in the position that he was in for all of that time, being invited into everyone’s homes to entertain them.
On January 23, 2005, the world lost an American icon. Johnny Carson passed away in his hospital room in Los Angeles at age 79. But of course, Johnny’s fans weren’t the only ones left in mourning. After he passed on, his friends and family went public with their tributes, paying their respects to their late friend.
Even though Carson made quite a name for himself in a negative light as well as positive, he leaves behind a legend that will not soon be forgotten. Johnny Carson set the bar for late-night comedy, creating a legacy that’s admired by people in and out of Hollywood to this day. Jay Leno called Johnny Carson the “gold standard” and said that he made one of the single greatest impacts on television.