“Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy. If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself, you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.”
– Johnny Carson
Legendary entertainer Johnny Carson has died from emphysema, according to MSNBC.
Carson grew up in Nebraska and began his broadcasting career in radio. He hosted early game shows on television, including “Who Do You Trust?” (where his sidekick was Ed McMahon) and made appearances on “I’ve Got a Secret” and “What’s My Line?” After serving as a writer for Red Skelton, he got the job that would make him a household name for decades: he succeeded Jack Paar as host of “The Tonight Show,” NBC’s late night variety show.
Taking the reins of ‘Tonight,’ in 1962, Carson proved himself to be a great interviewer, witty comedian and lovable character actor. He was introduced as host to the audience by Groucho Marx, Carson’s very first guest. In 1991, he shocked NBC station executives at the annual affiliates meeting by announcing that he planned to retire the following year. His final guest, Bette Midler, sang “One More For the Road,” and Carson was visibly moved by the tribute.
On his final show, broadcast in May of 1992, Carson told a VIP audience that he’d like to go back and do the whole thing over again. The remark produced loud cheers from his audience, and undoubtedly, the home audience who tuned in to see a farewell they hoped would never happen. That final episode, which featured clips and reminiscences rather than in-studio guests, reached an audience of 50 million. After more than 29 years, he left the stage for the last time, setting a record of hosting the same show on the same network that has only been broken by Bob Barker on “The Price is Right.”
Carson was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1992, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President George Bush said of Carson:
“With a quick wit and a sure golf swing, Johnny’s good-natured humor kept the pulse of the Nation, and assured us that even in the most difficult times, it was still okay to laugh.”
That same year, he received the American Comedy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1993, he was honored with the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award.
Since his retirement, he refused all requests for appearances and interviews, living out his later years with his wife in an intensely private setting. He made only one on-camera television appearance after leaving “The Tonight Show:” in May, 1994, he made a surprise cameo to congratulate his friend David Letterman on the start of his new show at CBS.
The memories from Carson’s show are endless. I haven’t been able to watch Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” for any length of time because it just isn’t “Tonight” without Johnny Carson. I think it’s time to pull out the Johnny Carson boxed set I own and laugh for a while. As Bob Hope would have said, “Thanks for the memories.”