Updated: March 17, 2020
IN MEMORY OF TALK SHOW HOST JOHNNY CARSON #01
Johnny Carson was remembered Monday on "The Tonight Show" with an
affectionate look back at his nearly 30 years as host, including
reminiscences from comedians and former guests that left many in the
Carson died Sunday at 79 after nearly 13 years in retirement. NBC said he
died of emphysema.
"As a performer, I never wanted to impress anyone more than Johnny
Carson," said "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, on his first show after
Carson's death. "Johnny had that special quality of grace, charm and
dignity in the public arena. He was an incredibly polite man and when you
were invited into his house, this show, you knew you were an honored
David Letterman, who competed with Leno to be Carson's successor and went
on to success as host of CBS' "The Late Show with David Letterman," has
also made it clear that the hole Carson leaves now is one that cannot be
"It's a sad day for his family and his country," said Letterman upon
hearing the news of Carson's passing. "All of us who came after are
pretenders. We will not see the likes of him again."
"He gave me a shot on his show and in doing so, he gave me a career,"
Letterman continued. "A night doesn't go by that I don't ask myself, 'What
would Johnny have done?' He has been greatly missed since his retirement.
Thank God for videotapes and DVDs. In this regard, he will always be
around. He was the best, a star and a gentleman."
Letterman had kept in touch with Carson and only a few days before he
died, it was revealed that the comedic legend - rarely seen in public
after his retirement - still enjoyed hatching headlines into jokes, some
of which he e-mailed to Letterman for use on "The Late Show."
Onstage at the "Tonight Show" Monday, in tribute to Carson, were longtime
Carson favorites Bob Newhart and Don Rickles, as well as comedian Drew
Carey, singer k.d. lang and Carson's former sidekick, Ed McMahon.
McMahon told Leno that on their first "Tonight Show" together, he asked
Carson what his own role should be. McMahon said Carson replied, "Ed, I
don't know how I see my own role. Let's just go down and entertain the
hell out of them."
McMahon also recounted the entertainer's strong sense of privacy.
"He was great with 10 million people, lousy with 10," McMahon said.
The tribute show contained an abundance of archival clips, including one
of a dark-haired young Leno making his first appearance as a guest on the
"Tonight Show." He would take over as host when Carson retired in 1992.
Others included Carson in one of his signature bits, the mind-reading
"Carnac the Magnificent," a routine that David Letterman's band leader
Paul Shaffer occasionally still borrows for the "Late Show."
Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne Barr, who made their starts on the
show, also appeared in clips.
Missing from the show was Carson's longtime bandleader Doc Severinsen, but
he made an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live," where he told King he
was still grieving.
"I'm still having a problem with it, you know," he said. "I think 'I'm OK,
now, OK, I've got everything under control,' and then bam, it hits again."
While the mood on the "Tonight Show" set was often celebratory, there was
quiet reflection outside NBC's Burbank studios.
At Johnny Carson Park, adjacent to the studio, a vase of red roses and
other flowers had been left at a plaque of the late-night host along with
notes that said, "Goodnight Johnny, we'll miss you" and "Nobody did it
better than Carson."
"He will be missed by a lot of people, especially his sidekick Ed
McMahon," said Basha Kerbel, 73, of Toronto, who came with her husband and
received standby tickets for the show. "It's a sad day for everybody. He
was liked by so many people."
Debby Kulber, 50, of Cleveland, remembered Carson for his self-deprecating
"He was able to laugh at himself. And he made all the guests seem
interesting," she said. "He was just very funny."
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, flowers were placed on Carson's star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"This is a very sad day in Hollywood and I could tell you that Hollywood
hasn't been this shocked since the news flash of Marilyn Monroe's demise,"
said Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood. "I think we all
figured that Johnny Carson would just live on forever."