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January 23, 2005

RIP, Johnny Carson

One of the greats of television:

LOS ANGELES - Johnny Carson (news), the "Tonight Show" TV host who served America a smooth nightcap of celebrity banter, droll comedy and heartland charm for 30 years, has died. He was 79. "Mr. Carson passed away peacefully early Sunday morning," his nephew, Jeff Sotzing, told The Associated Press. "He was surrounded by his family, whose loss will be immeasurable. There will be no memorial service."


Sotzing would not give further details, including the time of death, the location or the cause of death.

The boyish-looking Nebraska native with the disarming grin, who survived every attempt to topple him from his late-night talk show throne, was a star who managed never to distance himself from his audience.

His wealth, the adoration of his guests — particularly the many young comics whose careers he launched — the wry tales of multiple divorces: Carson's air of modesty made it all serve to enhance his bedtime intimacy with viewers.

"Heeeeere's Johnny ..." was the booming announcement from sidekick Ed McMahon that ushered Carson out to the stage. Then the formula: the topical monologue, the guests, the broadly played skits such as "Carnac the Magnificent."

But audiences never tired of him; Carson went out on top when he retired in May 1992.
...

In 1993, he explained his absence from the limelight.

"I have an ego like anybody else," Carson told The Washington Post, "but I don't need to be stoked by going before the public all the time."
...

Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, and raised in nearby Norfolk. He started his show business career at age 14 as the magician "The Great Carsoni."

...

His quickness and his ability to handle an audience were impressive. When his jokes missed their target, the smooth Carson won over a groaning studio audience with a clever look or sly, self-deprecating remark.

Politics provided monologue fodder for him as skewered lawmakers of every stripe, mirroring the mood of voters. His Watergate jabs at President Nixon were seen as cementing Nixon's fall from office in 1976.

He dispatched would-be late-night competitors with equal aplomb. Competing networks tried a variety of formats and hosts but never managed to best "Tonight" and Carson.

There was the occasional battle with NBC: in 1967, for instance, Carson walked out for several weeks until the network managed to lure him back with a contract that reportedly gave him $1 million-plus yearly.

In 1980, after more walkout threats, the show was scaled back from 90 minutes to an hour. Carson also eased his schedule by cutting back on his work days; a number of substitute hosts filled in, including Joan Rivers, David Brenner, Jerry Lewis and Jay Leno, Carson's eventual successor.

In the '80s, Carson was reportedly the highest-paid performer in television history with a $5 million "Tonight" show salary alone.

I suppose his friends saw this coming, as they disclosed several days ago that Carson had been a secret contributor to the Letterman show, keeping his hand in comedy by submitting jokes for Letterman's monologue.

Thanks to TLowery for the (sad) tip.

Update-- We're Just Never More Than One Step Away From Paul Anka: Turns out...

Americans were reassured when Doc Severinsen, the show’s bandleader, would start up the show’s bouncy theme song (written by Paul Anka and Mr. Carson himself).

Thanks to Molly for the tip.


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posted by Ace at 02:19 PM

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