Tonight Show Host LEGEND Johnny Carson Dies at 79
Johnny Carson, who became a cultural icon by staying up late with America for thirty years as host of The Tonight Show, died early Sunday morning; he was 79. Carson's nephew, Jeff Sotzing, issued a brief statement to the Associated Press, saying that Carson was surrounded by family at his passing and that there would be no memorial service. No further details, including location or cause of death, were given. Born in Iowa and raised in Nebraska, Carson began his career in radio before moving on to television, where he worked for game shows and wrote for comedian Red Skelton's comedy show. It was during his tenure for Skelton that Carson got his big break, going on for the comedian one night when Skelton was injured backstage. His snappy patter, boyish good looks, and spot-on timing got him various jobs hosting game shows and variety shows, as well as a gig subbing for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show in 1958. When Paar left the show in 1962, NBC named Carson his successor, and he reigned over the late-night airwaves for thirty extremely successful years, winning six Emmys, a Peabody award, and ultimately the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
Paired with sidekick Ed McMahon, who opened The Tonight Show with the legendary "Heeeeere's Johnny!" salutation, Carson achieved a kind of showbiz royalty that put him at the top of Hollywood heap; dubbed the "king of late night," he was a mammoth figure on the cultural landscape, hosting innumerable guests from all walks of life and charming audiences with his opening monologues and comedy skits, including a long-running gag as "Carnac the Magnificent." Numerous attempts were made to topple him from his throne, but none could come close, and his rampant success often made salary negotiations with NBC most difficult for the network, and in the early 80s he became the highest-paid television performer in history. Reducing his schedule, Carson brought in a number of up-and-coming comedians to ease the workload, among them David Brenner, Joan Rivers, and Jay Leno, who would ultimately succeed him in a controversy that also included the seeming heir apparent, David Letterman. Carson also performed in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and hosted the Academy Awards five times. Carson was married four times, including a marriage to Joanna Holland in the 80s that prompted a notorious divorce case and innumerable alimony jokes on his show. After retiring in 1992—a television event that had a host of celebrities bidding him a fond and sad farewell—Carson traveled extensively and lived a wealthy and quiet life of retirement, eschewing a number of offers to appear again on television. Carson is survived by his fourth wife, Alexis, and two sons from his first marriage; a third son, Ricky, died in a car accident in 1991