Remembering the Titan
January 24, 2005

He was the titan of TV who we loved for his everyman charm, his quick and positive wit and for the fun he provided America for 30 years as the host of the "The Tonight Show," but Sunday night, Johnny Carson took his final curtain call. He was 79.

The news of the reclusive star's death surprised and saddened the nation and Hollywood, and as America remembers the life and laughter of Johnny Carson, his famous friends, many of whom he gave a crucial career break, spoke to "Extra," remembering the legend and his contributions to comedy and more.

"That was the great thing about 'The Tonight Show,'" Bonnie Hunt recalled. "It didn't matter who the guest was, Johnny was going to be there."

Yes, Johnny was there for all of us, and "Extra" bridged the generation gap of his famous fans. "Everyone is going to miss Johnny Carson. He had a connection with everyone young and old," longtime friend Phyllis Diller noted.

He did indeed. Johnny touched his Hollywood fans of all ages, from young admirers to showbusiness legends, and even Carson emulators who followed in his footsteps.

Keanu Reeves remembered, "I was one of the lucky ones who got to grow up watching him on 'The Tonight Show.'"

Comedy icon Carl Reiner told us, "People say there's not going to be a memorial for him. Oh, boy is there going to be a memorial. There may not be one place, but there are going to be thousands of places where people get together and talk about Johnny."

And Ellen DeGeneres remembered getting her big break on "The Tonight Show.""I was like a scared little girl that was meeting the king," Ellen recalled. "Johnny Carson was the king. That's the one thing that he did, he paid attention, he really looked at you, listened to you, it felt like you were having a conversation. He's really been my beacon."

According to Regis Philbin, who knows a thing or two about hosting a show, Carson had the knack. "It's not just getting a good show off," Regis told us. "It's every night getting that good show off, and he was dedicated to it."

"When he said, on the air, 'You're going to be a star,' that was it." Joan Rivers remembered. "America heard it. America loved Johnny. That was it."

And comedy champ Chevy Chase told us that losing his longtime friend is nothing less than heartbreaking, saying, "He was an interesting human being with a great intellectÖ and he could speak Swahili." (Which was in fact true; Johnny also spoke fluent Russian.)

"People use the word legend, they throw it around," Henry Winkler observed. "He was! He's irreplaceable."

After retiring in 1992, Johnny seemed to pull a disappearing act, but according to Larry King, there was at least one tempting offer to come back to TV. "There's a great story about Steve Martin, when he hosted the Academy Awards," Larry recalled. "They would introduce 'the greatest host ever' and Steve Martin would walk on, and instead [Johnny] would walk on -- and he thought about it for thirty seconds and he said,'Nope, I quit, I quit.'"

And Johnny's heart was as big as his fame. David Brenner, who appeared on "The Tonight Show" 158 times, told us of the time he asked Johnny to pitch in for a charity, "He sent me the mug from his desk -- and I wanted to bid on it," David remembered.

Johnny's touch left an indelible impression, one that Bonnie Hunt told us would live with her forever. "The first time I was on the show, we finished the same sentence at the same time with the same joke. And Johnny reached over and grabbed my wrist and squeezed it while we were laughing and I went, 'Ah!' And Johnny said. 'What? Didn't you want me to touch you?' I said, 'No, I've watched you my whole life and sitting here it was like with a hologram.' I didn't expect him to be so real."

And real is just what he was, to all of us, for so long. Goodnight, Johnny.

Johnny Carson 1925-2005
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