Served in the U.S. Navy, 1943-1946.
Hometown is Norfolk, Nebraska, in which he lived from the time he was eight years old until he was inducted into the US Navy in 1943. Carson made monetary donations totalling nearly $5 million to causes and organizations there, including the Carson Regional Cancer Center (named after his parents Homer and Ruth), the high school's Johnny Carson Theater, the Norfolk Public Library, the Norfolk Arts Center, the Elkhorn Valley Museum and Research Center and the Lifelong Learning Center at Northeast Community College. He last visited Norfolk in 1997, when he attended his former penmanship teacher Fay Gordon's 100th birthday party.
While in the U.S. Navy during World War II (1943-1945), Johnny Carson was an undefeated amateur boxer, posting a record of 10 wins. Most of his boxing matches were held on the USS Pennylvania in which Carson served on.
In 1949 received a Bachelor of Arts degree in radio and speech (with a minor in physics) from The University of Nebraska.
Had a lifelong interest in magic, and started performing in the community as a 14-year-old magician/comic, under the name "The Great Carsoni." Plied his magic tricks in early performing days of the 1950s in places like the Seven Seas lounge in Omaha, Nebraska.
Once appeared on "Bandstand" (1952) and stood in for a drummer.
Had once been considered for the part of "Rob Petrie" on what subsequently became "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961).
At "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962)'s tenth anniversary party on 30 September 1972, he announced that he and former model Joanna Holland had been secretly married that afternoon, shocking his friends and associates.
In April 1967 he walked off "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) convinced that NBC had violated his contract by showing reruns during an AFTRA strike. He refused to go back to work when the strike ended and won a new contract that reportedly guaranteed him an income in excess of $4 million for the following three years.
Although he announced during his final "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) that he hoped to return soon with a new project, he chose to fully retire from the public eye instead and has declined invitations to appear on talk shows and NBC anniversary specials. He has made a few exceptions to over the years: he provided a guest voice for "The Simpsons" (1989) (the famous Krusty the Clown Telethon episode), and he brought the house down with a brief, surprise appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman" (1993) to congratulate Letterman on his new show.
Co-wrote "Johnny's Theme" with Paul Anka when he signed on in 1962 as the new host of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962).
His very first guest on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) on 1 October 1962, was Groucho Marx, who actually introduced Carson to his new audience. Reacting to the ensuing applause, Carson said, "Boy, you would think it was Vice President [Lyndon Johnson]". Johnny's last guest on 22 May 1992, was Bette Midler, who sang him out.
During one live dog-food commercial on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962), when a stunt dog failed to appear on cue, Johnny came out on all fours, panting and licking announcer Ed McMahon's hand, to keep the commercial going.
He made one foray into movies - he played himself in the 1964 Connie Francis movie, Looking for Love (1964). The MGM flick didn't do that well, and Carson was never seen in movies again - except for those contemporary films where "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) is playing on a TV set in the scene.
"'I'll be right back.'" Carson, when asked what he'd like for an epitaph at a press conference after he'd accepted Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Club Man of the Year Award, 1977.
On 8 March 1983, third wife Joanna Holland filed for divorce. Under California's community property laws, she was entitled to 50% of all the assets accumulated during the marriage even though Carson earned virtually 100% of the couple's income. During this period, he joked on The Tonight Show, "My producer, Freddy de Cordova, really gave me something I needed for Christmas. He gave me a gift certificate to the Law Offices of Jacoby and Meyers." It finally ended in 1985 with a whopping 80-page settlement, Holland receiving $20 million in cash and property.
Was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1987.
First wife, Joan "Jody" Morrill Wolcott, was his college sweetheart. They divorced and later, in 1990, she lost a suit trying to increase the alimony that she was receiving. The two dates of 1970 can't be right, because she and Johnny were divorced in 1963. She probably filed in 62 or 63, probably 62 because I think California still had a one-year period for the interlocutory decree.
Son Richard Wolcott Carson was killed after his car plunged down a steep embankment along a remote coastal road. The accident apparently occurred while Carson was taking pictures along a paved service road off Highway 1 near Cayucos, a small town north of San Luis Obispo about 215 miles from Los Angeles (21 June 1991). He had two other sons: Christopher, born in 1950, a golf professional, and Cory, born in 1953, who is a guitarist.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 95-97. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
When Carson announced his impending retirement, there was fierce competition between David Letterman and Jay Leno to be Carson's "Tonight Show" successor. Leno eventually won the coveted spot, and an angry Letterman moved over to rival network CBS to host a competing show. Many, including Leno, took Carson's walk-on appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman" (1993) as a signal from Carson that he preferred Letterman to Leno. (Carson has never appeared on Leno's show to congratulate his "Tonight Show" successor).
Won Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.
In January 2005, one-time "Late Show with David Letterman" (1993) producer Peter Lassally revealed that Carson occasionally contributed material for Letterman's monologues. What he missed most in retirement was performing his own "Tonight Show" monologues, according to Lassally.
In addition to his walk-on appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" (1993) stage, he also appeared on another episode in a filmed segment where Letterman has car problems while visiting Hollywood and Carson drives past, shaking his head in disapproval.
Underwent emergency quadruple bypass surgery at Santa Monica Hospital in California after suffering a severe heart attack. [19 March 1999]
Until the record was broken by Bob Barker in 2002, hosted the same network series for the longest time: 29 years, 7 months, 21 days.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 65-68. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.