Remembering the Titan
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
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
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
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.