John William Carson, popularly known as Johnny Carson, was born on October 23, 1925. He was an American television host, comedian, writer, and show producer. “The Tonight Show” is his most well-known work. Carson won six Primetime Emmy Awards, the Governor’s Award from the Television Academy in 1980, and a Peabody Award in 1985. Carson was well-respected in the world of late-night television shows. So, let’s get to know about the life and career of the legendary Johnny Carson!
John William Carson
October 23, 1925
January 23, 2005 (age 79)
John William Carson was born on October 23, 1925, in Corning, Iowa, to Ruth and Homer R. Carson. When he was 12 years old, he fell in love with magic tricks and began performing in public as “The Great Carsoni” after ordering a magician’s kit by mail. Following high school, Carson enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an ensign and later worked as a communications officer, decoding encrypted transmissions. He continued to perform magic for his shipmates while serving aboard the USS Pennsylvania. Carson stated that one of his favorite recollections from his service was performing magic for U.S. Navy Secretary James Forrestal. Carson got ordered to combat in the summer of 1945; however, he never witnessed combat. Following the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, WWII ended. Carson returned to the U.S. and enrolled at the University of Nebraska in the fall of 1945. He graduated four years later with a bachelor’s degree in radio and speech. After graduation, he worked as a television writer for “The Red Skelton Show” in Los Angeles and then relocated to New York City in search of larger audiences.
Carson took over as host of “The Tonight Show” from Jack Paar in October 1962, and after a year of fluctuating ratings, Carson became a prime-time hit. Carson’s calm and steady presence in the audience each evening reassured the audience. With a familiarity that viewers come to rely on year after year, he guided viewers into the late-night hours with quick wit, an approachable manner, and great interviews. Carson brought Americans up to date on popular culture by interviewing stars of the latest Hollywood films or hottest bands and impersonating some of the most illustrious figures of his age, including his classic take on President Ronald Reagan. Carnac the Magnificent, an Eastern clairvoyant believed to know the answers to all perplexing inquiries, was one of Carson’s recurring comedy characters that appeared on his show regularly to the audience. Carson was the host of “The Tonight Show” for three decades. He won six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1992, an estimated 50 million people watched Carson’s final appearance as host.
Carson married four times over his life and was in and out of partnerships. In 1948, he married Jody Wolcott, with whom he had three kids. Carson and Jody separated in 1963, and Carson married Joanne Copeland only a few months later. That relationship ended in 1972, after a protracted legal struggle in which Copeland received a roughly $500,000 settlement and annual alimony from Carson. Carson married Joanna Holland, his third wife, in the same year, and they divorced in 1983. Carson married for the last time in June 1987 and lived with Alexis Maas until his death over eighteen years later.
Carson graduates from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor's degree in radio and speech.
On W.O.W. station in Omaha, Nebraska, Carson gets a 45-minute morning chat and music radio show.
On C.B.S., Carson debuts “The Johnny Carson Show,” a weekly half-hour comedy variety show, which skyrockets his career.
Carson introduces several characters, including Carnac the Magnificent and Aunt Blabby.
Carson and his team win their first Emmy Award.
Why We Love Johnny Carson
He was multi-talented
Carson loved to do a lot of things and did them well. Aside from presenting, he had talents for ventriloquism, boxing, drumming, and many more.
He was passionate about entertaining
From an early age, Carson showed that he loved to entertain people through his talents. He loved what he did.
He was an influential presenter
Carson significantly influenced many television presenters. They included Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and Jimmy Fallon.
5 Surprising Facts
He worked as a ventriloquist
Carson worked as a ventriloquist with a dummy he named Eddie.
He had an amateur boxing record
When he was in the Navy, Carson was an amateur boxer with a 10-0 record.
He had a dream guest
Carson’s most wanted guest in his show was Cary Grant.
He could play the drums
Carson was great at playing drums; he once played the drums on “The New American Bandstand.”
He could speak Swahili
After he retired, Carson learned to speak Swahili, which he used during his trips to Africa.
Johnny Carson FAQs
What were Johnny Carson’s last words?
Before his passing, Carson said, “I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”
Who did Johnny Carson leave his money to?
Carson left his fortune and estate to the John W. Carson Foundation.
Who were Johnny Carson’s last guests?
On his final show, Carson hosted Robin Williams and Bette Midler.
Johnny Carson’s birthday dates