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At a Loss

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Carson as Carnac

Beturbaned telepath Carnac the Magnificent regards the envelope he holds in his hand, rips it open, blows into it, and pulls out a card containing the question to the answer he has divined, the one that titles this piece: How does news of the loss of legendary TV host Johnny Carson leave his fans?

From the Associated Press via MSNBC:

Johnny Carson, the “Tonight Show” TV host who served America a smooth nightcap of celebrity banter, droll comedy and heartland charm for 30 years, has died. He was 79.

“Mr. Carson passed away peacefully early Sunday morning,” his nephew, Jeff Sotzing, told The Associated Press. “He was surrounded by his family, whose loss will be immeasurable. There will be no memorial service.” …

The boyish-looking Nebraska native with the disarming grin, who survived every attempt to topple him from his late-night talk show throne, was a star who managed never to distance himself from his audience.

Reuters reports that NBC cites emphysema as the cause of death.

In particular, I loved the hilarious character Carnac; please enjoy some of his funniest questions and answers. I suspect that right now, laughter is the best cure. Somehow, I think Mr. Carson would agree.

RIP, Mr. Carson, and thanks for 30 years of impeccable late-night comedy. Your departure from television left a void yet to be filled; today’s news is a reminder that you — and only you — remain the King of Late Night.

from all facts and opinions

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About NR Davis

  • Thanks for the Carnac link, Natalie.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Nat, terrible news, loved Carson and Carnac was a hilarious character. He was funny almost always but also had an empathy and underlying decency that kept him evergreen

  • Absolutely, absolutely true. All I can say is long live Letterman, who is the closest to Carson’s near perfection than we likely will ever get. Must get back to the Carnac jokes for fear I’ll break down into tears.

  • Carson was a past master of the celebrity interview, but my absolute favorite Carson moments were when he was interviewing “civilians,” people outside the show business industry who were notable for some rather obscure reason (like the old lady who collected potato chips that resembled famous people.)

    He was especially good with elderly folks. He always treated them with dignity, never condescended, but was never afraid to make a joke with them or about something they said or did.

    We won’t see his like again.

  • Tom

    Barry, thanks for bringing back the memory of Johnny and the potato-chip lady. When Carson took a bite of a chip when she wasn’t looking ranks as one of my favorite moments on unscripted TV. And that’s what Carson was to me – the kind of unscripted TV. Who can truly surprass what Carson was capable of pulling off? Letterman’s always been the edgy, off the wall option, but I honestly cannot remember an instance where I found Carson’s sketches and interviews to be boring or dumb enough to change the channel – as I routinely do with Letterman and, most often, Leno. Johnny set the bar very high, and I doubt any will ever be able to even reach what he did.

  • I merged your’s and Barry Campbell’s posts to put the, at Advance.net.

    Wih co-authorship. Each was too short too stand on its own. Together, with the addition of Barry’s comment here, it made a good piece.

  • RJ

    Great post, ND. We will all miss him…

  • Shark

    Carson reminds me of my late father and my late father-in-law; they too were the last of that “Greatest Generation” that contained so many of the now-or-soon-to-be extinct “Gentlemen” from that era.

    Those men shared the same general character traits shaped by the Depression, a world war, and the building of a nation from a collective vision based on hard work and sacrifice, honesty and personal integrity.

    Carson (like so many others from that era) had class, composure; he was sociable – but not too emotional; was unimpressed by riches, status, and stardom — but above all, he had Manners.

    And it is with fondness and a profound existential nostalgia that I remember Carson’s main contribution to my own life: no matter what had happened to me personally or to the world during the day, there was always a mental sanctuary waiting where the clock indicated 10:30 at night, a place of humor, light laughs, some hilarious improv, a non-threatening interview, a chance to meet American icons, (often one’s ‘heroes’) as ‘real people’ sitting on a couch talking small-talk and laughing and telling stories — right there in your living room!

    No harm could could to you or the world during that 90 minutes. That was the implicit promise of any time spent with Johnny Carson.

    Stress, worry — all the negative distractions of life would melt away at the sound of those familiar first five notes of Johnny’s musical theme.

    Do-doot-doot-doo – dooo…

    Mom was on the couch. Dad was in his chair.

    And everyone was Happy.

    At least for the time being.

    RIP, Johnny.


  • Eric Olsen

    what a super and profound tribute Shark, thanks. While you are a superior satirist, this voice is a very welcome balance

  • I was watching the news over the weekend and on one show they were interviewing Jerry Lewis. One thing Lewis said stuck with me. If Johnny Carson liked you, the nation liked you.

    Mr. Carson will be missed, thank goodness for video tape.

  • Niiiiiice, Shark. Thanks.

  • HW Saxton

    One of the funniest things I ever saw on
    The Tonight Show was the following: JC
    was interviewing Memphis bluesman Furry
    Lewis.Furry had done a small acting bit
    in the Burt Reynolds film “WW And The
    Dixie Dancehall Kings” as Uncle Furry,a
    blues singing friend of Burt’s.

    Johnny Carson asked Furry if he had a
    wife. To which Furry replied: “What do I
    need a wife for? The man next door to me
    got one”… JC turned about three shades
    of red and laughed so hard I thought he
    would choke. What a cool down to earth
    guy he was. He’s gone but not forgotten.

  • Nick Jones

    My favorite Carson moment was the time a guest said that he had the easiest job in the world. Carson traded places with the guest and had him try interviewing him. Johnny then portrayed a guest who was paralysed with nerves and only gave monosyllabic answers. He always made interviewing look easy, but Johnny was truly a hard worker and a great talent.