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Johnny Carson was born on October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa. Carson was a pioneer in changing the format of late night television programming when he shifted the focus from live performances of artists to a format of having them as guests who sat and held discussions about their lives with this famous TV host. He hosted the Tonight Show for 30 years before retiring in 1992.
Carson was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1992 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and along with many other awards were the Kennedy Center Honors. He was a commissioned ensign after joining the United States Navy on June 8, 1943, and was eventually assigned to the USS Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania was torpedoed on August 12, 1945, and he arrived for duty two days later. As a junior officer Carson was assigned the duty of supervising the removal of the bodies of 20 soldiers, and was later put in charge of decrypting messages as a communications officer. He claimed that the best part of his military career was doing a magic trick for James Forrestal, who was Secretary of the Navy at the time.
Johnny began his performing career at WOW radio in Omaha, NE and was also a news anchor early in his career. Carson's first TV hosting job was The Squirrel's Nest where he interviewed pigeons atop the courthouse who claimed to be spying on corrupt local politicians. When he started working for CBS-owned KNXR in Los Angeles, he joked that he owed his success to the birds in Omaha.
When Carson succeeded with his Prime Time Who Do You Trust in New York City, NBC asked him to replace their current host of the Tonight Show. There were six months left on his CBS contract when he accepted the invite from NBC to be the host of the late night broadcast. Although Carson had his doubts about the success of the show, in 1962 he overcame these fears when the show became a huge success.
In 1973 he challenged Uri Geller to bend spoons on camera to prove his psychic powers. When Geller was unable to perform the task, it was marked as the moment when Geller fell from glory. Carson's experience as an amateur magician and member of the skeptic community lead him to question Geller's abilities.
One of his famous feuds was as a result of Truman Capote's appearance in 1966 when he told Carson that his fellow novelist Jacqueline Susann looked like a truck driver in drag. After the remark hit the headlines, Capote made a public apology to truck drivers, everywhere. Capote and Susann continued to be at odds with each other.
Carson was married three times to women whose first names started with the letter J. Johnny later said he did that to prevent having to change the monogram on his towels. He had three children from his first marriage and a son named Richard who died in a car wreck in 1991. Johnny Carson died January 23, 2005 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of respiratory arrest from emphysema.
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