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Who is Johnny Carson?

By Phil Shepley
Updated May 23, 2024
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John William Carson, popularly known as Johnny Carson, was born 23 October 1995, and was a comedian and television host who was most widely known for his 30 years as host of The Tonight Show. He died on 23 January 2005, leaving behind his legacy as late night “king of comedy” whose brand of comedy was massively popular as well as influential to many entertainers. In 1987, Johnny Carson was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, and over the course of his career was awarded six Emmy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Honor, and many more accolades.

The entertainment career of Johnny Carson began at the age of fourteen when he performed as magician “The Great Carsoni” for the local Rotary Club in Norfolk, Nebraska. He served the Navy from 1943 to 1946, and then attended the University of Nebraska where he would graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Logic in 1949. Johnny Carson would then officially begin his career in the entertainment industry the following year when he began working at local radio and television stations, and soon he hosted a morning television program titled The Squirrel's Nest. Quickly, Carson was able to move to Los Angeles and take a job at a CBS-owned station, from where he would move on to even bigger ventures.

Johnny Carson became the host of a television show named Carson’s Cellar, in which he performed comedy monologues and sketch comedy. The show ran from 1951 to 1953, and was a hit with other famous comedians at the time, one of which was Red Skelton, who had a program of his own and asked Carson to join as a writer, which he did. During one of Skelton’s programs he was unable to perform due to a head injury, and Johnny Carson ended up taking his place hosting the show.

Before he was able to host The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson hosted various game shows as well as variety shows with varying marginal success. During one of these programs, a game show called Who Do You Trust? that he hosted for five years, Carson met a man named Ed McMahon. When Carson would finally get his job at The Tonight Show in 1962, McMahon would become his sidekick who was famous for introducing Carson with the line “Here’s Johnny.”

Johnny Carson ended up transforming The Tonight Show into one of NBC’s most successful programs of all time. He had a unique presence as a talk show host that combined his own unique brand of humor, highlighted in his monologues at the beginning of the show, with his ability to interview and entertain simultaneously. The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson would go on to air on NBC for an unprecedented thirty years before Carson’s retirement in 1992.

Johnny Carson also had many other ventures, including a successful production group, which along with his program enabled him to become very wealthy. He chose to live a very private life in contrast to his popularity, during which he was married four times and lost a son to a car accident, an event that shook up Carson visibly. When he died at the age of 79, his already legendary status was cemented by many tributes by famous entertainers, all of which respected and admired Johnny Carson with great magnitude.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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