Edward Peter Leo McMahon, Jr., was born on March 6, 1923, in Detroit, Michigan. After WWII, Ed McMahon started his entertainment career in radio, later moving onto TV and his role at Johnny Carson's side on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where he would become a fixture for the next three decades, keeping American viewers laughing with his banter and on-air personality.
Performer. Edward Peter Leo McMahon, Jr., was born March 6, 1923, in Detroit, Michigan. Blessed with an unusually resonant voice, McMahon spent several summers working as a bingo announcer at various carnivals during high school. While studying electrical engineering at Boston College, he enrolled in the Navy's V-5 training program with hopes of becoming a Marine Corps fighter pilot. McMahon earned his wings in 1944, but spent most of World War II working stateside as an instructor and test pilot. After his discharge, he got his BA from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in 1949.
McMahon's first foray into professional broadcasting came just after he graduated, when a Philadelphia radio station that was branching out into television hired him to serve as a producer and co-host for The Take Ten Show, a three-hour variety show. Over the next few years, McMahon appeared on a number of TV programs, most notably The Big Top, a circus show in which he played a clown. At one time in the early 1950s, McMahon was appearing on no fewer than 13 concurrently running programs on local Philadelphia television.
During the Korean War, McMahon was called into service and eventually earned six air medals. He returned to TV with several new efforts, including a late-night talk show, McMahon and Company. His breakthrough chance came in October 1958, when the producer of the New York-based ABC daytime quiz show Who Do You Trust? hired him as the show's announcer. It was on Who Do You Trust? that McMahon first worked with Johnny Carson, a rising young comic star who was the show's host.
The Tonight Show
Four years later, Carson was tapped to replace Jack Paar on NBC's late night talk show, The Tonight Show. Carson insisted McMahon come with him to NBC. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson first aired on October 1, 1962. For the next three decades, McMahon served as the show's announcer—with the trademark line "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!"—and the perfect chuckling foil for Carson's monologues and witty banter. First based in New York, then in Burbank, California, The Tonight Show became one of the best-loved programs in America. Even as Carson himself relied more and more on guest hosts during the 1980s, McMahon appeared nightly to perform his announcing duties and support the visiting hosts, who included Joan Rivers and Jay Leno.
Long before the final episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson aired on May 22, 1992, McMahon made a name for himself in other areas—first as a pitchman for products as diverse as Budweiser, Breck Shampoo, and Sara Lee Kitchens, and later as host of the long-running syndicated talent show Star Search, which debuted in 1983. McMahon also became well-known for his role as spokesman (along with longtime friend Dick Clark) for American Family Publishers (not to be confused with Publishers' Clearinghouse) and its sweepstakes.
McMahon has also pursued a career as an actor, with considerably less success. His interest was sparked by a brief stint as a replacement in the Broadway production of The Impossible Years in the mid-1960s. His feature films included The Incident (1967), Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973), Fun With Dick and Jane (1977), and Full Moon High (1981). More recently, McMahon appeared as himself in Love Affair (1994), starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and earned a measure of praise for his supporting role on the short-lived 1997-1998 sitcom The Tom Show, starring Tom Arnold. In 1998, McMahon published a popular autobiography, For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times (he had previously published another memoir, Here's Ed, in 1976).
McMahon and his first wife, Alyce Ferrell, married while he was in college and had four children—Claudia, Michael, Linda, and Jeffery—before divorcing in 1976. With his second wife, Victoria Valentine, McMahon adopted a daughter, Katherine. McMahon and Valentine divorced in 1989. He married Pamela Hurn in March 1992.
McMahon was extremely active in various charities. He made frequent appearances with Jerry Lewis on the Muscular Dystrophy Association annual telethon, served on the board of the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund, and also supported the United Negro College Fund.
McMahon died on June 23, 2009. He was suffering from bone cancer, among other illnesses, at the time. He was 86 years old.
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