Johnny Carson: The Television Legend's Life

Being one of the best-known television personalities, Johnny Carson was the host of “The Tonight Show” for three decades. Television writer and host, with a side of comedian, Carson’s personality will forever be remembered. But who was he?

Image Credits: Getty Images / Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank | The Tonight Show's host Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank | The Tonight Show's host Johnny Carson.


WHO WAS JOHNNY CARSON?

Born on October 23rd, 1925, Johnny Carson was a natural-born entertainer. Originally from Iowa, Carson was the child of Ruth and Homer R. Carson, who was the manager of a power company. Form the age of twelve, Johnny was already dealing cards in the world of show business.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Keystone Features | Johnny Carson, star of NBC's 'Tonight' show, one of the channel's flagship, colour programmes.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Keystone Features | Johnny Carson, star of NBC's 'Tonight' show, one of the channel's flagship, colour programmes.

After buying a magician’s kit through the mail in 1937, Carson’s public career began. He took to the streets to do his own little magic performances behind the stage name of “The Great Carsoni”. However, his artistic spree would come to a hiatus by the time he became a legal adult. 

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson.


MOMMY ISSUES: WHAT ABOUT IT?

Carson was a bit of an attention seeker, who was always in search of the approval of those around him. Some people have come forward saying that the reason why he was so keen on being loved and cherished by others had to due to the relationship he had with his mother.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Keystone Features | Johnny Carson, star of NBC's 'Tonight' show, one of the channel's flagship, colour programmes.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Keystone Features | Johnny Carson, star of NBC's 'Tonight' show, one of the channel's flagship, colour programmes.

It is rumored that Carson’s mother was a very serious woman, who on top of being reserved, was hard to impress or make laugh. Being an entertainer with a comedic side since he was young, having his mother as the toughest audience he would ever face was probably a difficult thing to handle.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson host of the Tonight Show, performs at the Sahara Hotel circa 1973 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson host of the Tonight Show, performs at the Sahara Hotel circa 1973 in Las Vegas, Nevada.


CARSON AND HIS EXPERIENCE IN THE NAVY

In 1943, shortly after finishing high school and turning 18 years old, Carson went on to join the U.S. Navy. He worked there as an ensign and was responsible for decoding encrypted messages in his role as a communications officer. Nevertheless, while serving on the USS Pennsylvania he did some magic tricks for his fellow shipmen.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank | Co-host Ed McMahon, Host Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank | Co-host Ed McMahon, Host Johnny Carson.


MOVING ON TO UNIVERSITY

Shortly after being dismissed from his service in the summer of 1945, Carson went on to the University of Nebraska the next fall, where he studied for a bachelor’s degree in radio and speech. Due to his studies, he went on to work as a radio presenter for WOW in Omaha, where he wrote and performed comic skits and commercials.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank | The Tonight Show Host Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank | The Tonight Show Host Johnny Carson.


MAKING IT ON THE TV SCREEN

We all know that making it on television is not easy, so while Caron had his first gig as a presenter on The Squirrel’s Nest, he was working a second job as a master of ceremonies. But his day job was about to be left behind, as people in the industry were starting to notice him and his skills.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson host of the Tonight Show poses for a portrait circa 1965 in New York City, New York.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson host of the Tonight Show poses for a portrait circa 1965 in New York City, New York.


HOW MAKING FUN OF PEOPLE LANDED HIM A JOB

While his television experience was not that amazing, Carson’s humor has always been stellar. During his shows, he would spoof several public figures, which eventually led to him being recommended to KNXT television station. Caron’s own show had come at last, and he started turning heads with “Carson’s Cellar”.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Johnny Carson.


HITTING THE BIG BREAK: A SURPRISE TO ALL INVOLVED

Red Skelton, who had already made a name for himself in the comic industry, was quite impressed by Carson and his ability to entertain, which led him to invite him to join his team. Carson took on the challenge and became a writer for the comedy show, which would become one of the best decisions he had ever made.

Image Credits: Getty Images / CBS Photo Archive | In a skit set in a kitchen, American comedian Red Skelton (1913 - 1997) tugs on the tie of fellow comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005), a guest on 'The Red Skelton Show,' 1953. Both men make goofy faces, with Carson pretending to strangle.

Image Credits: Getty Images / CBS Photo Archive | In a skit set in a kitchen, American comedian Red Skelton (1913 - 1997) tugs on the tie of fellow comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005), a guest on 'The Red Skelton Show,' 1953. Both men make goofy faces, with Carson pretending to strangle.


OCTOBER 1ST, 1962: THE BEGINNING OF A WONDERFUL CAREER

Carson’s biggest break in his career was when he was invited to replace Jack Paar as the host of The Tonight Show. For thirty years, Carson became the late-night companion of many American families, becoming one of the most famous television personalities of the 20th century.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Johnny Carson, c.1962, California, Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Johnny Carson, c.1962, California, Johnny Carson.


THE BEEF BETWEEN TV STARS: CARSON VS HOPE

Bob Hope and Johnny Carson will forever be remembered as two of the biggest television personalities to have ever worked together, however, their relationship wasn’t always good. Carson was not a fan of how Hope could just book himself on his show simply because he had something new to promote - which to him seemed to be way too often.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Gary Null / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Comedian Bob Hope, host Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Gary Null / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Comedian Bob Hope, host Johnny Carson.

“We’d get a request and Johnny would go, ‘Again?’ And I’d say, ‘Do you want to tell him no?’ And he’d say, ‘No. You can’t turn down Bob Hope.’”, Lassally said on the matter. Not only that, but Carson was not very fond of how Hope would behave as a guest.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Hulton Archive | American television talk show host Johnny Carson, American actor Angie Dickinson and American film director and actor Orson Welles hold vintage NBC microphones and smile as they stand in front of a wall plastered with photographs of celebrities.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Hulton Archive | American television talk show host Johnny Carson, American actor Angie Dickinson and American film director and actor Orson Welles hold vintage NBC microphones and smile as they stand in front of a wall plastered with photographs of celebrities.


CARSON ON HOPE’S SPONTANEITY 

Carson was never afraid to voice his opinions on Bob Hope, especially on how he felt about his scripted jokes and lack of the ability to engage in any genuine conversation. Andrew Nicholls commented that “There was nothing spontaneous about Hope. He was a guy who relied on his writers for every topic.”

Image Credits: Getty Images / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Comedian Bob Hope during an interview with host Johnny Carson on September 5, 1980.

Image Credits: Getty Images / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Comedian Bob Hope during an interview with host Johnny Carson on September 5, 1980.

This made Hope the complete opposite of Carson. Nicholls continued that “Johnny was very quick on his feet. Very well read. He was a guy who learned Swahili, learned Russian, learned astronomy. He appreciated people who he felt engaged with the real world. There was nothing to talk to Bob about.”

Image Credits: Getty Images / Frank Carroll / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Johnny Carson as The Masked Killer, Bob Hope.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Frank Carroll / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Johnny Carson as The Masked Killer, Bob Hope.


CARSON’S FAVORITE: DON RICKLES

Appearing on The Tonight Show more than one hundred times, Don Rickle’s ability to quickly make jokes and entice the audience in laughter made him one of the favorite guests of Carson. The relationship that the two built kept the viewers on their edge and always waiting for the comedic relief they could provide them.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Chris Haston / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Comedian/actor Don Rickles, host Johnny Carson on February 7, 1990.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Chris Haston / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal | Comedian/actor Don Rickles, host Johnny Carson on February 7, 1990.


CARSON’S LOVE LIFE WAS NOT AS FUNNY

Carson’s love life was a complicated one, which led him to go through four wives. But the rumors tell that maybe it was his own fault that his relationships weren’t working out. Behind the cameras, Carson was not the engaging American sweetheart that the public was used to. 

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson With Virginia Gibson left and wife Joan.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson With Virginia Gibson left and wife Joan.


FIRST MARRIAGE, FIRST DIVORCE

In 1949, Carson married Jody Morrill Wolcott in Nebraska, but the relationship didn’t last very long. Throughout the time they were together, both parts committed adultery, which led them to separate ten years after getting married. From this relationship, Carson had his first three children: Cory, Richard, and Christopher.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Archive Photos | American television host and comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005) with his first wife Jody Wolcott and their sons (left to right) Christopher, Richard (1952 - 1991)and Cory at their home in Encino, California, circa 1955.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Archive Photos | American television host and comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005) with his first wife Jody Wolcott and their sons (left to right) Christopher, Richard (1952 - 1991)and Cory at their home in Encino, California, circa 1955.


SECOND MARRIAGE, SAME STORY

Carson met his second wife Joanne Copeland in 1960, and just three years later, the couple tied the knot officially. But, like his first marriage, it all came crumbling down due to infidelity. Copeland was caught having an affair with Frank Gifford, a football player, however, Carson was also sneaking around during the same time.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Hulton Archive | American talk show host and comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005) and his second wife Joanne Copeland, mid 1960s.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Hulton Archive | American talk show host and comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005) and his second wife Joanne Copeland, mid 1960s.


THIRD MARRIAGE, A SECRET

On September 30th, 1972, Carson married Joanna Holland in secret. Holland was a former model who had worked with world-renowned fashion designers, however, what really made the headlines was their divorce. Joanna received $20 million in cash as part of the divorce settlement.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection | Johnny Carson and Joanna Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection | Johnny Carson and Joanna Carson.


FOURTH MARRIAGE, LOVE AFTER ALL

Carson kept looking for love, and it seems that he finally found it with Alexis Maas, the American heiress, and socialite. The couple spent 18 years together and during that time they were living a luxurious lifestyle. From wonderful properties and mansions in Malibu and Beverly Hills, the couple seemed to have it all.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Kevin Winter | Television host Johnny Carson and his girlfriend Alex Maas attending the American Film Institute Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, California, March 6th 1986.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Kevin Winter | Television host Johnny Carson and his girlfriend Alex Maas attending the American Film Institute Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, California, March 6th 1986.


JOHNNY CARSON’S SONS

“It was a tragic story of a very successful father who had children who never gave him anything to be particularly proud of, And I don’t think he ever did anything as a dad they were terribly proud of,” lawyer and biographer, Henry Bushkin, commented. But who are the sons of the famous Johnny Carson?

Image Credits: Getty Images / Hulton Archive | American television host Johnny Carson kneels while he reads a children's book to his sons (L-R): Kit, Cory and Ricky, in their nursery. There are cartoon characters on the wall behind them.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Hulton Archive | American television host Johnny Carson kneels while he reads a children's book to his sons (L-R): Kit, Cory and Ricky, in their nursery. There are cartoon characters on the wall behind them.


CORY CARSON: THE YOUNGEST AND MOST FAMOUS

The youngest son is the one that has made it to the public eye. Cory has made a name for himself in the music world and released a few songs under this name, as well as being a guitarist. He also worked as a stage manager for some television series, but not much information has been disclosed about it.

Image Credits: Getty Images / NY Daily News Archive | Johnny Carson and his family at his home, Birch Hill Estate, Winfield Ave, Harrison, N.Y. Cory Carson, 4, is wrapped in his own thoughts as parents relax, brothers Kit (left) and Ricky (right) leaf through picture books.

Image Credits: Getty Images / NY Daily News Archive | Johnny Carson and his family at his home, Birch Hill Estate, Winfield Ave, Harrison, N.Y. Cory Carson, 4, is wrapped in his own thoughts as parents relax, brothers Kit (left) and Ricky (right) leaf through picture books.


CHRISTOPHER AND RICHARD: THE OLDEST BROTHERS

Not following his farther’s footsteps, Christopher and Richard lived quite ordinary lives. Christopher worked as a gold instructor, and for a while made the news in the tabloids due to having fathered a biracial child outside of marriage in 1987, but other than that nothing much has been exposed about the oldest brother.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny's three sons watching TV at home, L-R: Cory, Christopher, Richard.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny's three sons watching TV at home, L-R: Cory, Christopher, Richard.

Richard, the middle son, passed away in late June 1991 in a car accident. NBC released a statement, mentioning “Everyone at NBC is deeply shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Ricky Carson. Our hearts go out to Johnny Carson and the entire family on this tragic loss.″

Image Credits: Getty Images / NY Daily News Archive | Johnny and his wife, Jody, with their sons, Kit, 7, Ricky, 6, and Cory, 4, walking around their almost 4 acres of land.

Image Credits: Getty Images / NY Daily News Archive | Johnny and his wife, Jody, with their sons, Kit, 7, Ricky, 6, and Cory, 4, walking around their almost 4 acres of land.


JOHNNY CARSON’S CHARITY

The John W. Carson Foundation, a charity organization created by Carson in 1981, aims to support children, education, and health services. But Carson was still helping his Foundation even after passing away, having left $156 million to charity. The money was used to support dozens of nonprofit organizations.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson host of the Tonight Show, performs at the Sahara Hotel circa 1965 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Johnny Carson host of the Tonight Show, performs at the Sahara Hotel circa 1965 in Las Vegas, Nevada.


THE LEGEND

Carson’s personality, skill, and talent had earned him worldwide recognition, having received many awards during his long and illustrious career. He received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy’s Governor Award, and a Peabody Award. Not only that, but he was also inducted in the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987.

Image Credits: Getty Images / CBS Photo Archive | Television star and comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005) dwarfed by two bronze awards, 1972.

Image Credits: Getty Images / CBS Photo Archive | Television star and comedian Johnny Carson (1925 - 2005) dwarfed by two bronze awards, 1972.

A few years later, in 1992, he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was given a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993. To this day, Carson is remembered as one of the most charismatic presenters of The Tonight Show, and surely he will never be forgotten due to his quick wit and classy comebacks.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Mirek Towski / DMI / The LIFE Picture Collection | Television personality Johnny Carson.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Mirek Towski / DMI / The LIFE Picture Collection | Television personality Johnny Carson.

With a longlasting career, Johnny Carson kept following his childhood dream of being in the entertainment business and, not only did he managed to do that, but he accomplished much more than he ever expected. Living a fulfilling life, we are certain that his name will still be mentioned for many years to come.

ⓘ The information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, and images contained on, or available through this ENG.AMOMAMA.COM is for general information purposes only. ENG.AMOMAMA.COM does not take responsibility for any action taken as a result of reading this article. Before undertaking any course of treatment please consult with your healthcare provider.

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