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Johnny Carson, King of Late Night, Dies

By JEFF WILSON

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Johnny Carson, the "Tonight Show" TV host who served America a smooth nightcap of celebrity banter, droll comedy and heartland charm for 30 years, has died. He was 79.

"Mr. Carson passed away peacefully early Sunday morning," his nephew, Jeff Sotzing, told The Associated Press. "He was surrounded by his family, whose loss will be immeasurable. There will be no memorial service."

Sotzing would not give further details, including the time of death or the location.

The boyish-looking Nebraska native with the disarming grin, who survived every attempt to topple him from his late-night talk show throne, was a star who managed never to distance himself from his audience.

His wealth, the adoration of his guests - particularly the many young comics whose careers he launched - the wry tales of multiple divorces: Carson's air of modesty made it all serve to enhance his bedtime intimacy with viewers.

"Heeeeere's Johnny!" was the booming announcement from sidekick Ed McMahon that ushered Carson out to the stage. Then the formula: the topical monologue, the guests, the broadly played skits such as "Carnac the Magnificent."

But America never tired of him; Carson went out on top when he retired in May 1992. In his final show, he told his audience: "And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it."

His personal life could not match the perfection of his career. Carson was married four times, divorced three. In 1991, one of his three sons, 39-year-old Ricky, was killed in a car accident.

Nearly all of Carson's professional life was spent in television, from his postwar start at Nebraska stations in the late 1940s to his three decades with NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."

Carson choose to let "Tonight" stand as his career zenith and his finale, withdrawing into a quiet retirement that suited his private nature and refusing involvement in other show business projects.

In 1993, he explained his absence from the limelight.

"I have an ego like anybody else," Carson told The Washington Post, "but I don't need to be stoked by going before the public all the time."


My Two Cents -- This makes me kind of sad. I always admired Johnny Carson for two reasons. First, he was a modern television pioneer. He gave as much as he received, probably more, to the entertainment industry.

Secondly, like some of my favorite pro athletes, he retired at the pinnacle in his career, when the only direction to go was down. Then he quietly disappeared.

So many stars return to the limelight later, not to contribute, but to milk what little fame they have left.

We could have easily seen Johnny hosting second tier awards shows, doing denture adhesive commercials, or being a regular on Hollywood Squares. Instead, he simply faded away, allowing the next generation of talent shine.

I'll be staying up late to watch Jay Leno tomorrow night.

My final hope is that we don't see idiots from the media creating controversy and mystery where it doesn't exist. I can see the National Inquirer style papers claiming Johnny had some rare disease, or some skeleton in his closet, using only his quiet lifestyle as evidence.

Rest in peace, Johnny.

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