The death of late-night legend Johnny Carson has made the headlines of every television broadcast and newspaper this week. However, while clips of his 30 years hosting The Tonight Show flash by, some of the most interesting facts of this comedic genius are not on air.
When Carson came to host The Tonight Show in 1962, the show was taped in New York and aired the same day of taping. On his first show, Carson was not introduced with the famous Ed McMahon yelp “Heeeerreee’s Johnny!” but introduced by film star, Groucho Marx. It was not until May of 1972 that the show moved to its permanent home in Burbank, Calif..
With the move to the West Coast, Carson began to have a guest host every Monday night. According to Johnnycarson.com the guests included Joan Rivers who hosted 93 times, Bob Newhart with 87 times and David Letterman with 51 times. Many comedians credit Carson with launching their careers. George Carlin, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno were all given the opportunity to perform their brand of stand-up on The Tonight Show.
In his years as host, Carson featured a staggering 22,000 guests stated on LATimes.com. The most- watched show in his career was his last on May 22, 1992, with ratings that equaled those of the Super Bowl. After being serenaded by Bette Midler and rehashing memories with friends, Carson opted to demurely sit on a stool and say to America, “I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight.”
Carson did not only host The Tonight Show, but he also hosted the Academy Awards five times in the 1970s and ’80s. He collected an ample number of awards himself. He won six Emmy awards for The Tonight Show, and was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Carson was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1987.
Carson was always at ease in front of the camera, but was somewhat reclusive in his personal life. He had struggles that he wished to keep from the public view. He was married four times. Son, Rick Carson, was a photographer who was killed in a car crash in 1991 while on assignment.
While he had three failed marriages, Carson had been married to Alexis (formerly Mass) for about 17 years when he passed away. Alexis is 25 years Carson’s junior, and the two reportedly met as Alexis walked past Carson’s beach house and he offered to fill her empty wine glass.
The family has stated that there will be no memorial service. Carson was 79 years old and was about to enter his thireeth year of retirement. He will be remembered as one of the greatest television personalities of all time. However, Carson may have had a different vision of how he wanted to be remembered. In a 1979 interview for the CBS show 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace asked him, “What would you like your epitaph to be?”
Carson said, “I’ll be right back.”