Born in Corning, Iowa, on October 23, 1925, to Homer “Kit” Lloyd Carson and Ruth Hook Carson, Johnny grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. Here, he learned to perform magic tricks and debuted as the “Great Carsoni” at age 14. He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946 and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor’s degree in 1949. He then got a job at WOW radio station in Omaha, where he hosted an early morning television show called “The Squirrel’s Nest.” His entrance into the big time came with his subsequent job at CBS-owned Los Angeles television station, KNXT, where in 1953 Red Skelton, who was a fan of his, asked him to join his show as a staff writer. One night he had to fill for Skelton, and a star was born.
He hosted several television shows, including “Who Do You Trust?” for five years (1957-1962) before becoming the host for “The Tonight Show” in October of 1962. This evening program became a fixture for many late night viewers for more than thirty years. Originally produced in New York City with occasional stints in California, the show moved to Burbank in May of 1972. Johnny was at his best when things went wrong (which they often did), as his power to ad-lib would then come to the surface. His show was the launching pad for many talented performers, notably comedians. Carson was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. He also won 6 Emmy Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award.
He was married four times, and had three sons, one of whom, Richard, was killed in a car accident in June of 1991. He retired from show business in May of 1992, and the role of host went to Jay Leno. He died of respiratory arrest arising from 20 years of emphysema on January 23, 2005, at the age of 79.
What are some of YOUR favorite Johnny Carson routines?