Born October 23, 1925, in Corning, IA; son of Homer and Ruth (Hook) Carson; married Jody Wolcott, 1948 (divorced, 1963); married Joanne Copeland, August,1963 (divorced); married Joanna Holland, 1972 (divorced); children: (first marriage) Chris, Ricky, Cory. Addresses: OFFICE--NBC, 3000 W. Alameda Avenue, Burbank, CA 91505.
Considered America's most durable television personality, comedian Johnny Carson has hosted the NBC talk show Tonight since 1962, when he replaced Jack Paar. Carson's audience, an estimated 7.5 million when he took the job, has increased steadily and by 1978 had reached 17.3 million viewers, "a feat that,"Kenneth Tynan asserted in The New Yorker of February 20, 1978, "in its blendof staying power and mounting popularity, is without precedent in the historyof television." In 1983, Pierson G. Mapes, the president of NBC's televisionnetwork said, "By any count that matters, he [Carson] is now what he has been from the beginning--America's most popular, best loved late-night entertainer."
Carson began his show business career as a radio comedy writer while still astudent at the University of Nebraska. After graduating he worked as an television announcer on WOW in Omaha, Nebraska, before moving to California, wherehe became an all- purpose announcer with a Los Angeles television station. Within a short time he had his own show, a half-hour comedy program aired on Sunday afternoons as Carson's Cellar. Comedians Groucho Marx and Fred Allen were among the show's fans and made guest appearances without pay. The show lasted for only thirty weeks, but having attracted comic Red Skelton as a viewer, it earned Carson a job as a writer on Skelton's television show. One night,after Skelton injured himself two hours before air time, Carson substitutedfor the ailing star. He so impressed network officials that they gave him hisown prime-time show. The Johnny Carson Show failed after thirty-nine weeks and Carson moved to New York where in 1957 he signed on as the host of the daytime game show Who Do You Trust? The show, which featured Carson's humorous repartee with guest contestants, became ABC's top daytime program and led NBCto offer Carson the Tonight Show when Paar quit in 1962.
By 1967 Carson was "an institution," reported a May 19 Time cover story thatyear. Over the years since, his popularity has remained undiminished. Carson's phenomenal success during nearly a quarter- of-a-century as Tonight's hosthas been attributed to his comic charm and to his ability to make guests andaudiences alike feel comfortable. As Time put it: "Carson is a master of thecozy pace and mood that he believes are appropriate for the muzzy midnight hours...he avoids meet-the-press style interviewing, and never goes beyond hisintellectual depth. Neither does he use his terrible swift wit to cut down guests." Celebrities praise Carson's ability to bring out the best in them; they particularly appreciate his role as straight man and the fact that he nevercompetes with his guests for laughs.
In 1979, only two years after negotiating a landmark contract with an annualsalary of $3 million, Carson threatened to quit NBC. At that time, the Tonight Show accounted for approximately 17 percent of the network's profits, or $23 million annually. Carson, whose contracts over the years have earned him increasing sums of money while at the same time reducing his Tonight work schedule, reportedly was miffed at a network executive who commented that the hostshould spend more time on the show. Carson's action earned him a new contract in 1980 that further lessened Carson's work time, shortening the show fromninety minutes to one hour, and increased his pay check to $5 million a year.Now earning more than $15 million a year, including personal appearances andsuch business ventures as Johnny Carson Apparel, Carson recently signed a contract with NBC which, according to NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff will keep him on the network at least through 1987. Carson is uncontested as the highest paid television personality in history.
March 2, 2004: The John W. Carson Foundation donated a grant to help build the Performing Arts and Education Association in Red Oak, Iowa, near Carson's home town of Corning. Source: Associated Press, http://customwire.ap.org, March 2, 2004.January 23, 2005: Carson died on January 23, 2005, at his home in Malibu, California, of emphysema. He was 79. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com,January 24, 2005.January 18, 2005: It was revealed that Carson sometimes writes jokes and sends them to David Letterman for use on Late Night. Source:Reuters, www.reuters.com, January 19, 2005.January 23, 2005: Carson died on January 23, 2005, in Los Angeles, California, of emphysema. He was 79. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, January 24, 2005.July 29, 2005: Carson donated $5 million to his alma mater, Universityof Nebraska-Lincoln, for the endowment of the Johnny Carson Fund for Theater, Film and Broadcasting. His total donations to the university amount to $11million. Source: Yahoo News!, http://news.yahoo.com, July 29, 2005.