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Carson, John William 1925-2005

CARSON, John William 1925-2005

(Johnny Carson)

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born October 23, 1925, in Corning, IA; died of emphysema January 23, 2005, in Malibu, CA. Entertainer and author. Carson was best remembered as the familiar face on the late-night television program The Tonight Show, which he hosted from 1962 until 1992. Growing up in a middle-class, Midwestern home, he joined the U.S. Navy after high school, attending midshipman's school at Columbia University and serving part of World War II in the Pacific. After the war, he attended the University of Nebraska, where he received his B.A. in 1949. Carson, though shy and reserved in private, had been interested in entertaining since he was a child. In high school he wrote a humor column for his school newspaper, and at age fourteen put together a magic act. He started his professional career as an announcer for KFAB in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1948, and also hosted a show for an Omaha television program called The Squirrel's Nest. Moving to Los Angeles, Carson got his own show, Carson's Cellar, on KNXT in 1951, but his first real break came in 1954. He was working as a writer for the Red Skelton Show when Skelton suffered an injury. Carson was asked to guest host in the star's place, and the executive producers were so impressed by his performance that he was offered his own program. Unfortunately, The Johnny Carson Show proved to be a disaster and was cancelled in 1956. Carson decided to move to New York City, where he bounced back as the host of the game show Who Do You Trust? from 1957 until 1962. Proving himself a popular television personality, executives at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) began to eye Carson as a possible replacement for Jack Paar, the host of The Tonight Show. When Paar quit in 1962, Carson took the reins. The Tonight Show was already a popular program at that point, but Carson's good sense of humor and genial rapport with his guests made the program a huge hit for the network. Soon, the sound of sidekick Ed McMahon's introduction, "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" was familiar to everyone. At its height, The Tonight Show was responsible for nearly a fifth of NBC's profits, and Carson was commanding the largest salary on television. Founding his own company, Carson Productions Group, he earned even more money by producing such shows as TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes. In addition, he started his own clothing line and attempted to run a restaurant franchise that later failed. But it was as king of late-night television that Carson was most admired. In addition to attracting guests ranging from stand-up comics to zookeepers to politicians, Carson was famous for his opening monologues and daffy characters. Among his alter egos were "Carnac the Magnificent," who humorously predicted the answers to questions written on sealed envelopes, "Floyd Turbo," and "Aunt Blabby." The entertainer's personal life, however, was more troubled. He was divorced three times before finding success in marriage, and in 1991 one of his sons was killed in a car accident. Carson always remained a very private man when he was not on the stage, and after his 1992 retirement he virtually disappeared from the camera's eye. In addition to winning four Emmy Awards, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, as well as the Kennedy Center Honor for career achievement. Carson was the author of two humorous books, Happiness Is . . . a Dry Martini (1965) and Misery Is . . . a Blind Date (1967).


OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Chicago Tribune, January 24, 2005, section 1, pp. 1, 6.

New York Times, January 24, 2005, pp. A1, A18.

Times (London, England), January 24, 2005, p. 50.

Washington Post, January 24, 2005, pp. A1, A7.

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