Johnny Carson, the reigning monarch of late night television during his 30-year run as host of The Tonight Show, was one of the most loved — and paradoxical — figures in American popular culture. A man who spent his life talking to thousands of people a year and making his devoted viewing audience of tens of millions laugh each night, was, in his personal life withdrawn, mercurial and ruthlessly self absorbed, a faithless husband and an errant father.
In his new memoir, Johnny Carson, Henry Bushkin spells out the good, the bad and the ugly interactions that took place while he was personal attorney to the TV titan. Here are 10 things, which Buskin divulges, that you may not have known about the beloved Carson.
(1) Carson’s second wife, Joanne Copeland, had a serious affair with sports figure Frank Gifford, a liaison that precipitated the couple’s subsequent divorce.
(2) Just hours before his marriage to his third wife, Joanna Holland, Carson tore up a proposed prenuptial agreement, a decision that ultimately cost him $35 million when the couple split eight years later.
(3) Rejecting all advice from the police, Carson personally delivered the requested money to a blackmailer who had threatened Joanna and her son. Following the handoff, the man was quickly arrested.
(4) Among many other Hollywood ladies, Carson dated Sally Field, Ali McGraw and Angie Dickinson.
(5) A contract was supposedly put out on Carson after he made moves on the girlfriend of a Mob heavyweight.
(6) After bearing the brunt of many of Carson’s on-air barbs, Vegas singer Wayne Newton barged into Carson’s office and threatened to beat him up unless the kidding stopped—it did.
(7) Carson personally prevented Dean Martin, an invited guest, from performing at a 1981 Washington D.C. pre-inaugural gala for Ronald Reagan, deciding that Martin was clearly too inebriated.
(8) Carson never visited his son Rick when he was being treated for severe mental illness in New York City’s Bellevue Hospital.
(9) Carson attended neither of his parent’s funerals.
(10) Carson was alone when he died at LA’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on January 24, 2005.