What a Creep: Johnny Carson
“King of Late Night Creep”
Season 10, Episode 2
Johnny Carson was known as the King of Late Night with NBC’s The Tonight Show which he hosted between 1962-1992. He was so popular that the phrase “going to bed with Johnny Carson” was part of the vernacular.
In his lifetime, he won 6 Emmy Awards, the Peabody Award in 1985, The Presidential Freedom Award in 1992, and the Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.
When Johnny retired from show business on May 22, 1992, it was such a big media news story that some outlets refused to run new episodes so that he could have as large of an audience as possible.
The Tonight Show was considered key in the careers of comedians like Joan Rivers, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jay Leno.
Having a set on the Tonight Show was considered quite the coup—but it was even better when Johnny invited you to the couch afterward. People like Drew Carey, Tim Allen, and Ray Romano had television deals after appearing on the Tonight Show. He had power!
He was flirtatious with women (a habit David Letterman picked up from him) and a famous story from the 1960s had actress Ava Gabor as a guest who brought her Persian cat sitting on her lap. She supposedly asked Johnny “Would you like to pet my pussy?”
Johnny said, “Sure if you move that damn cat out of the way!”
Turns out, that is not true. But what is true is that Johnny challenged her to a game of Twister in 1966, and the popularity of the game skyrocketed.
Johnny was famous for being suave, handsome, married a few times, liking a drink in the evenings, and having feuds with random people. He was a man who could talk in front of 20 million a night but if he had to have a conversation with ten people—he was so awkward that it would make the experience uncomfortable for everyone.
When he left the Tonight Show he basically disappeared except for one appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.
There is a whole story about the Tonight Show, David Letterman, and Jay Leno that we will talk about on our next Patreon bonus ep.
Anyway, mainly due to his decades-long addiction to cigarettes, Johnny Carson died of respiratory failure on January 23, 2005, at the age of 79. He was survived by his 4th wife, Alexis Maas, 2 sons, and his younger brother. A nonreligious person who was quietly a part of the Skeptics movement—he had his body cremated with no public service or memorial.
His legacy is he was one of the best television performers of all time. He kept his act (mostly) fresh with the changing times and was a big believer in promoting new talent. Behind the scenes, he was known for being shy and awkward and could carry a grudge that lasted for decades. Some of that behavior puts him in the Creep category which is why he is the subject of our show today.
Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin
“American Masters” Johnny Carson (2012)
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