Get to know the real Johnny Carson

Published: December 17, 2013, 11:43 pm, by Terry Terrones


On Saturday I went to the AT&T store to upgrade my phone. I’ve had an iPhone 4S for the past two years and was looking to get a 5S so I could play a wider range of games on it. I brought my old phone and my laptop because I wanted to make sure all my info and data was transferred from one phone to the other.

This was a bit of a time consuming process but the person helping me out was very patient. The customer service rep (Marcel) was a young guy, probably in his early 20s. Since there was a lot of down time we chatted quite a bit. Our conversation turned to books and I mentioned a new book about Johnny Carson that I had recently started reading. Marcel didn’t know who Carson was.

I suppose that shouldn’t be too surprising, considering how the importance of late night TV has dwindled now compared to how it was in Carson’s heyday. That and Carson last hosted the “Tonight Show” in 1992. Not to sound like Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man but back in the day network TV, and late night especially, was a big deal. Of course, viewers didn’t have all the choices they have now and you also had to have actual talent to make it to the small screen in TVs Golden Era. And as most people of a certain generation will tell you, Carson had plenty of talent.

I’m only 42, so I grew up as more of a Letterman fan but the respect Carson commanded among his peers and the adoration his viewing audience had for him was incredibly significant. So it was with great interest that I purchased the Carson biography written by Henry Bushkin, the late night host’s attorney and confidant for 18 years (The book was released in October and is available for under $20 in most places).

It’s only 304 pages and is a brisk read. Bushkin is a solid story teller and you get the feeling that he really cared for Carson, which might be why he waited so long after his death (Carson died in 2005) to release this book that reveals so many scandalous stories about about someone so beloved. The picture Bushkin paints is of a person who’s much more complex than his TV persona lets on. Carson could be an incredible jerk but also monumentally generous. He had trust issues, a bad drinking habit and an inability to form true emotional connections with people he loved (something he blamed on his mother his entire life). Yet he was also revered in way that’s almost impossible to imagine today.

Even after reading this book, I came away note judging Carson for all the crummy things that he did, but feeling like I knew him more as a real person than I did when I used to watch him on TV.

If you’re of a certain age and want to get to know the real Johnny Carson, I highly recommend looking into this book.