Johnny Carson’s show, The Johnny Carson Show, was a popular product of its time. In its day it was the most modern form of live T.V. that you could get. Carson was iconic but he was also controversial at times.
Carson wasn’t a perfect man and he didn’t have to be back then. What broadcasters wouldn’t tolerate today just flew by when Carson’s show was on the air. There were many rumors that people never really believed in until now.
Johnny was definitely no saint. It’s a known fact that Carson often treated those close to him in a horrible manner. Even after his marriage, he was anything but lovey-dovey.
While honeymooning with his fourth wife he went into a sour mood and said to his new wife in front of strangers, “We’ve been married for three weeks. If you say something like that again, this marriage won’t last another three weeks.”
Carson had three children in his first marriage and no others in his other three. Rick Carson, his son, was having mental difficulties and no attention was put on his situation since mental illness wasn’t considered a big thing back then. After going to a mental institute his father refused to go visit him.
Unfortunately, Rick died on June 21, 1991, when his car fell off the edge of Morro Bay in California and dropped 125 feet. Johnny paid respects to his son on the show but that didn’t change the way their relationship was when his son was alive.
People knew about Carson’s drinking, but a lot didn’t know that he had a bad attitude that came with it. The broadcaster of his shows, NBC, decided to throw Carson a party to celebrate 25 years on the air. The party was aboard the Queen Mary.
His son, Rick, who was still alive at the time drank a lot of alcohol. When Johnny went to check on his son he started yelling at him for an unknown reason. The fight further ensued as Johnny punched his son in front of all the executives at the network, his family, and even his friends.
Johnny’s worst qualities came out when he started to drink after he became an alcoholic. Almost everyone who remembers how he was when he drank says he was a very obnoxious and spiteful drunk.
Johnny drove under the influence of alcohol in 1982 in his DeLorean when he was stopped by the police. He got 3 years probation and had to go to a group for alcoholics to try and get better. Johnny could only drive to and from work and wasn’t allowed any passengers.
Carson never tried to hide his alcoholism. But he did try to avoid answering questions from reporters and the media. On the show 60 minutes, Carson looked back at his addiction in a humorous light.
In his interview, he talked about how he couldn’t handle himself when he began to drink: “I don’t handle alcohol well at all, no. Really don’t, Oh, Ed [McMahon] and I have had some wonderful times in the past.”
Carson and his second wife Joanne was a famous relationship among celebrities. Joanne Copeland was a stewardess and first started dating him in 1960 while Carson was the host of ‘Who Do You Trust?’ The two went on to get married and had numerous affairs with other people.
The rocky marriage lasted until 1972 where they went through with a divorce. Even though they were now exes Copeland wanted to see Johnny succeed and helped his legacy.
Henry Bushkin, who used to be Carson’s lawyer, wrote a book in 2013 about him. A detail revealed in the book was Copeland’s affair with Frank Gifford.
At the time, Carson asked Bushkin to go look for evidence of Copeland’s affair. Carson apparently broke down and started crying just thinking about her infidelity and had a revolver holstered on his hip yet didn’t tell the lawyer why he had it.
His lawyer refused to get any evidence in the beginning. But when the lawyer finally caved and in doing so he found a number of items that were evidence. After telling Carson about the infidelity he went on a binge with Ed McMahon.
Frank Gifford later found his wife, Kathie Lee Gifford. She would ask if there was any truth to the rumors about the affair to which he’d say he couldn’t remember. The couple got married in 1986 and Frank, unfortunately, passed away in 2015.
Carson had a lot of famous people come onto his show, while he preferred some to others. Carson said that a guest that he particularly didn’t like having on the show was Bob Hope.
Carson didn’t like the fact that Bob Hope didn’t engage in genuine conversation very often. A former writer for Bob Hope said: “There was nothing spontaneous about Hope. He was a guy who relied on his writers for every topic. Johnny was very quick on his feet. Very well-read. He was a guy who learned Swahili, learned Russian, and learned astronomy. He appreciated people who he felt engaged with the real world. There was nothing to talk to Bob about.”
Carson’s patience with Bob Hope wained when his hearing and eyesight began getting worse. Hope had to ask Carson to repeat his questions which annoyed Carson greatly.
Hope kept coming back for more interviews and kept showing his health decline on national television. A write from the show remembers how enraged Carson was after an interview with Hope and said: “If I ever end up like that, guys, I want you to shoot me.”
At the time it was common for show hosts to be womanizers. While he was busy with the messy divorce from his second wife, Joanne Hopeland, he was seeing Angel Tompkins, a Playboy Model.
While he was married to his third wife he sent many gifts to his second wife so she would keep quiet about his infidelity. He gave Hopeland anything from diamonds to a Rolls-Royce to even an apartment.
Johnny Carson had many personal problems. Whether it was his family, friends, or lovers, he struggled every day. But he blamed his personal coldness on his rather heartless mother, Ruth.
When speaking of his mother, Carson only had one thing to say: “She’s the toughest son of an [expletive] of them all.” He also blamed her for his failed marriages. “There is no way to please that woman. She’s Lady Macbeth!” When she died, he did not go to her funeral. He said, “The wicked witch is dead.”
It’s hard to say who started fat jokes. But either way, Johnny was no stranger to the kind of joke. He didn’t mind putting someone’s weight to shame in front of millions on national television. Can you imagine if you were that someone?
Actor Raymond Burr was the butt of many of Carson’s fat jokes. Burr got incredibly angry over Carson’s continuing fat jokes that he refused to appear on ‘The Tonight Show.’ He appeared twice in 1968 and in 1976.
Johnny backed out of a big deal in 1980 when he was going to acquire the Aladdin Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. A competing group (led by Wayne Newton) bought the property instead. While this is solely a financial decision, Carson became annoyed when he was portrayed in the media as having “lost” the deal.
Carson reacted by publicly telling jokes on his show about Newton. Newton spent a great deal of effort, building a masculine image for himself. This created a high-profile dispute between Carson and Newton.
Years later, Newton came on ‘Larry King Live.’ He said that “ Johnny Carson is a mean-spirited human being. And there are people that he has hurt that people will never know about. And for some reason at some point, he decided to turn that kind of negative attention toward me. And I refused to have it. ”
Newton had enough. He personally confronted Carson; he barged into his office at the studio and threatened to fight him if the jokes didn’t stop. Carson saw he meant business and finally ended the jokes.
Carson supposedly hated Tom Snyder, the ‘Tomorrow Show’ host whose show followed Carson’s on NBC. Carson considered him a no-talent bore. Snyder gained fame as the host of ‘Tomorrow with Tom Snyder’ (known as The Tomorrow Show) until it was canceled. He was later offered another show: ‘The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.’
One night, while he was in the popular LA eatery Chasen’s, Carson became violent after two glasses of wine. He went on a rant about how much he hated Snyder.
When ‘Tonight Show’ guest hosts John Davidson, and Joan Rivers got their own talk shows, Carson was downright mad. He hated what he perceived was their disloyalty to him because their shows were in competition with his.
Rivers’ show was on Fox and her time slot directly competed with Carson’s during the 1986–1987 season. But regardless, her show was later canceled. In 2009, Rivers praised McMahon on ‘Larry King Live.’ But she made a comment about Carson, saying that after she got her own show, Carson never spoke to her again.
While Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson had a longstanding feud, this wasn’t the only scandal between the two. Rivers alleged in her book that they had an affair at some point. The affair allegedly took place during her marriage to Edgar Rosenberg.
Joan and Edgar were married for 22 years, and apparently, she was not always faithful. It’s interesting to think about whether Johnny’s banning of Joan on his show had more to do with their affair than her loyalty. Edgar later committed suicide, which was devastating to Joan as well as their daughter Melissa.
In 2014, reporters met Joan Rivers at LAX and asked about the size of Carson’s private parts. Can you believe that? She didn’t hold back, either. She explained, “I saw it in real life. How do you think you got on the show!?”
Apparently, he had a sex tape and Rivers expressed some interest in watching it. She said of the man: “Obviously the wife that he made it with wasn’t the wife at the time that he made it. Once you’re married, you don’t wear knee pads.”
Ever imagined if the world ran out of toilet paper? Well, in December 1973, that idea created panic when Carson joked around about an alleged shortage of toilet paper. Think about how many viewers he had, and you’ll understand the panic that ensued across the United States.
Consumers emptied stores, causing an actual shortage that lasted for weeks. Stores and toilet paper manufacturers had to ration supplies until the panic ended. Carson apologized in January 1974 for the incident. The New York Times called it a “classic study” of how rumors are spread.
From toilet paper rumors to portable toilets with an interesting name, a portable toilet company wanted to use the name “Here’s Johnny” for their toilets. But the problem was that it was the phrase used to introduce Johnny Carson on his show.
In 1977, Carson sued the manufacturer of portable toilets and won. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that the company could not use the phrase “Here’s Johnny.” To this day, the company is still trying to claim the name.
You don’t mess with everyone’s favorite neighbor. On his show, Carson did a version of the “Mr. Rogers” character. He played him as an evil Mr. Rogers, who wanted kids to steal money from their parents for his show could continue. This wouldn’t go over very well.
Mr. Rogers, portrayed by Fred Rogers, was not impressed. His show was about love and kindness and taking kindly to your neighbors. Carson later apologized to him for making fun of him and for his distasteful skit.
Frank Sinatra produced President Reagan’s Inaugural Gala in 1981. He requested that Carson host the event and would call it a “personal favor,” which meant that if Carson refused, Sinatra would take it as an insult.
Carson agreed, but he was not pleased about how the event was going. When he was told that the request to host actually came from Reagan himself, Carson (who served in the Navy in World War II), replied, “Ronnie does know that I answered my country’s call once already, doesn’t he?” He was miserable at the event and slammed Sinatra every chance he had. The final straw was when Dean Martin showed up drunk, and Carson refused to introduce him.
When Carson passed away in 2005, there were endless tributes. The King of Late Night was gone forever, and he left behind a legacy.
“ Not long before he died, Johnny went to dinner with Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld, and apparently went on about his disappointment in the direction television was going, with its tabloid nature, and reality garbage ,” filmmaker Peter Jones said. “ He said he was sickened by what was going on and was glad he got out when he did. ”
In Richard Little’s 2016 memoir called ‘Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been,’ he claimed that Carson hated him. Richard was banned from the show because Johnny had extremely thin skin. Richard said Johnny could dish it out, but he couldn’t take it. Johnny disliked Richard’s impersonations of him.
Johnny wasn’t the only one to dislike Richard for his impersonations, however. Paul Lynde also hated his act. Lawyer Henry Bushkin added that Richard “brought out the worst in Johnny.” But some attributed Johnny’s hatred of Richard to the alcoholism.
Carol Wayne was an actress and model best known for her work on the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ where she played the “Matinee Lady.” She had a trademark persona as the ditzy blonde, which many claimed no one did it better than her. She also did appearances on ‘The Red Skelton Show’ in a similar character.
It was due to her work on the ‘Tonight Show’ that Carol experienced her downfall and subsequently her mysterious death. The show was performing well, and Johnny later wanted the run time to be shortened from 90 minutes to 60 minutes, which he received.
After the ‘Tonight Show’ was shortened, it gave space for David Letterman’s ‘Late Night with David Letterman.’ But the shortening of the show meant Carol Wayne’s character was discarded from the new format.
Carol fell on hard times financially and turned to drugs and alcohol. She allegedly turned to escort to pay the bills. Carol had many relationships with questionable men, including used car salesman Edward Durston. At one point, the two were in Mexico when they supposedly had an argument and Ed left her on the beach.
A few days after Ed Durston left Carol on the beach, her body was found floating in the water in a Mexican bay. The water was just four feet deep, and she was fully clothed. She also tested negative for any drugs and alcohol, so her death was very mysterious.
Carol had to be identified by hotel workers where she and Ed were staying. Ed had already left town and even left her luggage at the airport. As you can fathom, many believed that Ed was directly involved with her death.