Johnny Carson was a trailblazer in the world of late-night television, paving the way for the many popular shows we know and love today. As the host of “The Tonight Show,” he kept audiences entertained with his quick wit, memorable monologues, and iconic characters.
In addition to receiving six Emmy Awards and earning a place in the Television Academy Hall of Fame, Carson was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992. Furthermore, many of today’s successful chat show hosts have credited Carson as an influence on their own careers, including David Letterman.
Despite his successful career and adoring fans, Carson’s personal life was marked by turmoil. According to reports, his relationship with his mother was a major source of stress and difficulty for him.
Carson’s mother is said to have favored his sister, Catherine, over him and his brother, Dick, which led to feelings of resentment and insecurity for Carson. His first wife, Jody Wolcott Carson, even spoke about the impact of Carson’s mother on his life, stating, “She was a real force in the family, the real matriarch.”
Despite the challenges he faced in his personal life, Carson remained a beloved figure on television, captivating audiences with his charm and humor. Even today, his legacy continues to be celebrated as one of the most influential and enduring figures in the history of late-night television.
The book that sent shockwaves
When Henry Bushkin, Carson’s personal lawyer, released a tell-all book about the American icon, it sent shockwaves around the nation. Many rumors and speculations surrounding Johnny Carson and his persona were finally confirmed. In a 2013 interview with Inside Edition, Bushkin revealed that Carson was not a happy man. He stated that Carson would often say “My personality is basically unhappy”.
Furthermore, Bushkin revealed that Carson refused to attend his mother’s funeral, Ruth, and said “The wicked witch is dead.”
The book “Johnny Carson” gave an in-depth look at the personal life of the beloved American icon, lifting the veil on the private struggles he faced despite his successful public persona. It was a reminder that even the most successful and admired people have their own battles to fight.
The book was a best-seller and it also helped to further solidify Carson’s place in American television history, by giving a more complete picture of the man behind the legend.
Married four times
Ruth, Carson’s mother, reportedly never acknowledged her son’s success, which constantly affected him deeply. As Bushkin stated, her lack of any sort of emotion towards him and her failure to give him the satisfaction of being the giant star he became, constantly got to him.
Despite his successful public persona, Carson’s personal life was marked by turmoil, which reflected in his multiple marriages, he married his second and third wives the same year his divorces came through.
In a 2017 interview with People, Carson is said to have joked about his marriages, highlighting the difficulties he faced in his personal life, “My giving advice on marriage is like the captain of the Titanic giving lessons on navigation.” This quote serves as a reminder that even the most successful and admired people have their own battles to fight.
His son’s tragic death
In 1948, Carson married Jody Wolcott and they had three sons together, who would turn out to be his only children. Although they divorced in 1963, Carson was deeply affected by the tragic death of his middle son, Richard, in 1991.
The death of a child is unbearable to any parent, and Carson displayed a rare moment of emotion on camera in thanking his fans for their “very thoughtful and compassionate” letters concerning the death of his son.
According to Bushkin’s book, Carson’s longtime executive producer, Fred De Cordova, gave him a sign to wrap it up because they were running out of time and Carson became so angry, he “banned De Cordova from the floor of “The Tonight Show” set and never permitted him to return.”
Despite his on-camera charm, Johnny Carson was known for his womanizing ways and troubled marriages. He also struggled with alcoholism and faced consequences such as a probation sentence for driving under the influence. However, Carson revealed a different side of himself off-camera, describing himself as shy and private.
He often struggled to separate his public persona from his personal life, as evidenced by his marriages, including his second wife Joanne Copeland, whom he married the same year as his divorce from his first wife. Despite their short-lived marriage, Joanne described him as funny and painfully shy.
Carson’s complexity was further highlighted by his explosive personality and tendency to be both gracious and generous, as well as curt and hard-hearted. Even his long-time friend and lawyer, Henry Bushkin, was not immune to Carson’s mercurial nature, and was fired by him in 1981.
The guest he couldn’t stand
As a renowned late-night host, Johnny Carson welcomed thousands of guests onto his show over 8,000 episodes. However, in the book “Hope: Entertainer of the Century,” Richard Zoglin revealed that there was one frequent guest that Carson had a difficult time with – Bob Hope. According to the author, Carson didn’t appreciate Hope’s “obviously prepared gag lines” and “scripted jokes.”
Furthermore, Carson resented the way Hope could easily book himself on The Tonight Show whenever he had something to promote. Eventually, Carson retired from The Tonight Show in 1992, and was rarely seen in public again. He passed away in 2005 in Los Angeles due to respiratory failure caused by emphysema.
Johnny Carson’s sons
As one of the most iconic late-night hosts in television history, Johnny Carson had two sons, Christopher and Cory. While Christopher attempted to become a golf professional and made headlines during a custody dispute in the late 1980s, Cory has kept a low profile and is said to have made a living as a guitarist.
Despite the lack of information about his children, Carson’s legacy lives on through the John W. Carson Foundation, which he created in 1981 and dedicated to supporting children, education, and health services.
The Foundation is reportedly the largest of the Hollywood charities and received $156 million upon Carson’s death. Despite his troubled childhood, Carson rose to great success and will forever be remembered as a TV legend, leaving the Tonight Show to never be the same since his retirement.
Despite his on-camera charisma, Johnny Carson was known to be a shy and private individual off-camera. His marriages were plagued with infidelity, and he had a drinking problem, but he was able to separate the two sides of himself. Carson’s second wife, Joanne Copeland, described him as painfully shy and guarded. However, his family also described him as having an explosive personality and being an incredibly complex man.
When it comes to guests he liked the least, Carson had a hard time with Bob Hope, who he resented for booking himself on The Tonight Show whenever he had something to promote. Carson retired from The Tonight Show in 1992 and was rarely seen in public again. He died in 2005 in Los Angeles of respiratory failure arising from emphysema.
In addition to his successful career, Carson’s legacy lives on through the John W. Carson Foundation, which he created in 1981 to support children, education, and health services. It’s said to be the largest of the Hollywood charities.
Upon his death, he left the Foundation $156 million. Despite his troubled childhood, Carson rose to be the success he was and will forever be remembered as a TV legend. The Tonight Show hasn’t been the same since he retired and there will never be a great night show like this again. If you want to stay updated with such interesting updates, follow DailyWize.