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He-e-e-e-re’s Johnny Carson’s Secrets From The Tonight Show



The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was as much a daily essential for Americans during its time as bagged Wonder bread. For decades the vibrant and colorful Johnny Carson entertained families with his liveliness and jokester personality.
For all of his good humor, however, Carson had some secrets — as we all do. For Johnny, though, some of these things will likely surprise you.

Mommy Issues

One would assume that a funnyman like Carson would have had a rock of foundation during his younger years, but according to him his mother was “the toughest son of a gun of them all.” “There is no goddamn way to please that woman. She’s Lady Macbeth!” He never even attended her funeral, simply stating, “The wicked witch is dead.”

Un-Blissfully Wed

Carson was widely known for his multiple marriages throughout his life that he simply couldn’t keep together. One such form of his matrimonial cruelty occurred during his honeymoon with his fourth wife in 1987 in which he was heard emphatically telling his new wife after a snide remark, “We’ve been married for three weeks. If you say something like that again, this marriage won’t last another three weeks!”

Strained Relations

Johnny Carson never was exactly the fatherly type, as evidenced by his relationship with one if his sons from his first marriage. His son Rick struggled with mental illness — something that was basically unspoken about during the ‘60s and ‘70s — and Carson would refuse to visit his son while in hospital. Their relationship ended permanently in 1991 when Rick’s car plummeted 125 feet down a cliffside, killing him instantly.

Violent Drinker

While being a known social drinker, Carson let his foul attitude accompany it. During a party hosted by NBC for his 25th anniversary on the show in 1987, Johnny got into it with his son Rick, who also favored the bottle. What began as a screaming fight escalated into a fist fight, with Carson acting as the aggressor.

Drinking Problems

In a 1977 interview with 60 Minutes, Carson revealed: “I don’t handle alcohol well at all, no. Really don’t.” Known for being a mean-spirited individual, guest stars would avoid him when the cameras weren’t rolling, and he would purposely avoid the media to escape their questions. Just five years later, he would receive a DUI.

Revealing Marriage

In 2013, Johnny Carson’s former lawyer Henry Bushkin revealed the secrets of Carson’s second marriage in a book. His second wife, Joanne Copeland, was having an affair (though Johnny had his fair share of infidelities). When he found out about his wife’s unfaithfulness, Johnny began sobbing uncontrollably. Henry also stated that Carson wore a revolver on his hip at the time.


Even in the midst of his brutal divorce from Joanne, Johnny was dead-set in his womanizing ways and would carry on with Playboy models. His third wife was well aware his unfaithfulness, which Carson tried to compensate by giving her all sort of lavish gifts.

Bringing Up Their Weight

Fat jokes may be common practice today, but during the ‘60s and ‘70s it was considered somewhat taboo. Johnny Carson had no aversion to poking fun at guest’s weight, however, particularly with Veteran NBC actor Raymond Burr who received the brunt of the jesting. It eventually irked him so much that he refused to return to the show.

Snide About Snyder

Tom Snyder was the host of The Tomorrow Show which aired directly following The Tonight Show. Carson hated Snyder, considering him a talentless bore. After consuming a couple glasses of wine one night while out for drinks, Carson very unprofessionally went on a tirade about how despicable his colleague was.

Joan’s Unloyalty

Joan Rivers was a frequent guest on the show (and the two even had an affair at one point), but when she started her own show in 1987 — which ran on Fox Network at the exact same time as The Tonight Show — Johnny viewed it as an insult and a violation of her loyalty. Carson refused to speak to her for the rest of his life because of it.

Toilet Paper Shortage

Ever the jokester, Johnny Carson kidded on his show in 1973 that there was a toilet paper shortage. His viewers didn’t know it was a joke, and grocery stores around the country were emptied of their supplies, leaving a supply deficit which lasted for weeks. Retailers had to ration their supplies until the panic died out.

Commode Commotion

When a port-a-potty company wanted to use “Here’s Johnny” for their slogan in 1977, Carson sued the company for using the expression that was the common catchphrase on his show. After a decade of legal battles, the courts finally sided with Carson and ruled that the potty company would have to come up with something different.

Mr. Carson’s Unfriendly Neighborhood

Johnny Carson was never opposed to poking fun at other shows, and that included the very popular Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. One of his skits had him playing a conniving version of Mr. Rogers who prompted children to steal money from their parents to fund his show. The real Fred Rogers — upset that his show about love and compassion and kindness was being tainted — expressed his dissatisfaction. Carson eventually apologized for his antics.

His Least Favorite Guest

Of all the guests he experienced over the decades, Johnny Carson considered Bob Hope to be the worst. Hope was a scripted comedian who relied solely on his writers and lacked the ability to engage in natural wit — unlike Carson who was a natural at spontaneity and adlib. Whenever the conversation veered from the scripted dialogue, Bob Hope became completely boring.

Inaugural Disaster

Carson reluctantly agreed to host Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Gala at his friend Frank Sinatra’s request. He was a miserable excuse for a host, making derogatory comments behind Sinatra’s back at every opportunity. When Dean Martin showed up drunk, he refused to even announce him.

Sex Tape

In 2014, TMZ uncovered a sex tape with Johnny Carson and his first wife and offered to sell it to his estate. The response was an emphatic no and the threat of suing if the tape was released. For legal reasons, the tape could only be sold to a private collector.

Affecting Politics

While it’s common practice today to make fun of politicians, back in the ‘80s it was a rare occurrence. Johnny Carson was among the television personalities who popularized it after Democratic presidential nominee Gary Hart was discovered in an affair. Carson immediately turned the scandal into a hot topic, later forcing Hart to drop out of the race.

Out of Their Time

By the 1990s, stars like Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby were no longer in vogue, with rising stars like Steve Morrissey becoming more attractive to younger audiences. One particular episode with Cosby guest starring yielded a large amount of young people in the audience, but they were largely unresponsive to the two’s discussion. As such, Johnny’s monologue fell to a depressing level of mediocrity and Cosby’s attempts at engaging with the younger audience failed.

Harassment Allegations

There were rumors for many years that Carson was involved in various sexual harassment situations with both female employees of the show and female guest stars. No lawsuits were ever presented, though some have speculated that this was due to the savvy lawyers that Carson had in his employment.

Octopus and Guppy

Sally Field has, in recent past, revealed her relations she had with the late Johnny Carson. The term she used to describe their relationship was “The octopus and the reluctant little guppy,” meaning that he was all hands with her and she wasn’t all that interested in him but didn’t know how to turn him down.

Car Investments

When John DeLorean began his automobile company that manufactured the DeLorean (the car made famous in the Back to the Future movies), Johnny was one of their largest investors. When John DeLorean was arrested in 1982 for trafficking millions of dollars worth of cocaine, Carson quickly found himself light on some cash when the company went under.

Losing the Deal

When the Aladdin Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas became available, Carson almost purchased it but eventually backed out of the deal. A group led by singer Wayne Newton ended up stepping in and purchasing it instead. Johnny Carson became quite upset when the media portrayed him as “losing” the deal to Newton, so the television host retaliated by spouting some less-than-kind jokes about him on the show.

Carol’s Downfall

Model Carol Wayne became a regular on the show after she played the “Matinee Lady” who was a stereotypical ditzy blonde. She was so well received that she returned quite frequently. However, when Carson decided to shorten the show from 90 minutes to 60, Carol was bumped off the show. Jobless, Carol turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Carol’s Mysterious Death

Out of desperation, Carol began escorting men just to pay the bills. During a vacation in Mexico with car salesman Edward Durston, Carol’s body was found floating in a shallow bay. No drugs or alcohol were found in her system, which led authorities to believe that she had simply drowned.

Sickened By Modern Television

Before he passed away in 2005, Carson had stated how displeased he was with how television was evolving. During dinner with Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld, he went on a tirade about how sickening it was to see television turning into tabloid and reality garbage and that he was glad he retired before it got worse.

An Essential Part of Americana

Regardless of how you remember him, there’s no changing the fact that Johnny Carson changed pop culture, late night television, and Americana as a whole during his late night TV reign. And for that, he’ll never be forgotten.