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One of television's best known personalities, Johnny Carson hosted "The Tonight Show" for 30 years. His farewell show in 1992 drew 50 million viewers.
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Johnny Carson was on born on October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa. After college he worked as a television writer for Red Skelton's show. He moved to New York City and in 1962 Carson replaced Jack Paar as host of "The Tonight Show" for an Emmy Award-winning run that lasted three decades. Carson's 1992 final appearance as host attracted an estimated 50 million viewers. He died in 2005.
"I am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it."
"Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be vice president."
Born in Corning, Iowa on October 23, 1925 to Ruth and Homer R. Carson, a power company manager, Johnny Carson learned how to reel in audiences at a young age. He fell in love with magic when he was 12 years old, and after purchasing a magician's kit through the mail, began performing magic tricks in public, as "The Great Carson."
Following high school, in 1943, an 18-year-old Carson joined the U.S. Navy as an ensign, and then decoded encrypted messages as a communications officer. Serving aboard the USS Pennsylvania, he continued performing magic, mainly for his fellow shipmates. He later said that one of the fondest memories from his service was performing magic for James Forrestal, U.S. Secretary of the Navy. Though assigned to combat in the summer of 1945, Carson never went into battle — WWII ended in 1945, following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and Carson was sent back to the United States.
In the fall of 1945, Carson began studying at the University of Nebraska, and received a bachelor's degree in radio and speech four years later. After college, he had a short stint as television writer for The Red Skelton Show in Los Angeles, and then moved to New York City in pursuit of bigger audiences.
In October of 1962, Carson replaced Jack Paar as host of The Tonight Show—a counterpart to NBC's Tonight show—and, following wavering ratings his first year, Carson became a prime-time hit.
Audiences found comfort in Carson’s calm and steady presence in their living rooms each evening. Revered for his affable personality, quick wit and crisp interviews, he guided viewers into the late night hours with a familiarity they grew to rely on year after year. Featuring interviews with the stars of the latest Hollywood movies or the hottest bands, Carson kept Americans up-to-date on popular culture, and reflected some of the most distinct personalities of his era through impersonations, including his classic take on President Ronald Reagan.
Carson created several recurring comedic characters that popped up regularly on his show, including Carnac the Magnificent, an Eastern psychic who was said to know the answers to all kinds of baffling questions. In these skits, Carson would wear a colorful cape and featured turban and attempt to answer questions on cards before even opening their sealed envelopes. Carson, as Carmac, would demand silence before answering questions such as "Answer: Flypaper." "Question: What do you use to gift wrap a zipper?"
Carson was The Tonight Show's host for three decades. During that time, he received six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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