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Heeeeere’s Johnny: Carson is back in the news again

August 14, 2010

Johnny Carson is in the news again.

The late late-night king has been back in the mainstream for two reasons: A website featuring clips from his show (and of course, DVDs to purchase) has been revamped; and it was revealed recently that his foundation donated more than $150 million to charity right before the icon's death in 2005.

Let's start with the second thing first. $150 million. Even by today's inflated money standards, that's a HUGE number. The New York Post repored the donation was made through the late entertainer's foundation and consisted of $35.2 million cash and $121.2 in security and royalty rights.

The news was broken by the website The Smoking Gun. It seems to me nowadays much news is broken by organizations like that and TMZ rather than traditional media outlets. But I digress...

The New York Post story goes on to say Carson's organization, The John W. Carson Foundation, carries on the TV star's charitable bent by giving grants to other causes. While he was alive, Carson donated to environmental groups, schools, organizations that help children and AIDS charities.

Which means that even through he passed away five years ago, Carson is still doing good in this crazy world. That makes me smile.

Because, getting back to the first thing, I look forward to exploring the updated Johnny Carson website. His show was one of my all-time favorites.

Late-night television isn't really on my radar any longer. Being to work super-early most days precludes me staying up to watch television much past 11 p.m. Heck, some nights, I am snoozing before that, even.

But by nature, I am a night owl and in my long ago youth, watching Carson -OK, yes, it really was "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" but everyone called it Carson - was something I did all summer long.

Whether it was talking with movie stars and other comedians or handling zoo animals, Carson had it going on. He was hilarious in so many ways. He didn't need words: Sometimes his face said it all with just a lift of the eyebrow or a startled expression.

But when he used words, Carson was king. He had impeccable timing and a delivery matched by no one since. He had a quick wit and a self-depreciating manner that made him pure fun to watch.

In my junior high and high school days, Carson was my TV mainstay. My parents rarely stayed awake with me long enough to catch the show, but when they did, my Dad could be counted on to roar with laughter. When my Dad thought something was funny, everyone knew. His joy was unrestrained. When he thought something was REALLY funny, he would slap the armrests on his reclining chair.

That chair took a beating when my Dad watched Carson.

My Mom liked Johnny, too. She especially enjoyed when Joan Embrey from the San Diego Zoo was there and Carson got to hold this exotic animal or that. She was a more subdued audience member than my Dad but she chuckled at Carson quite freely.

My parents died much too soon, but after they passed, watching Carson gave me a sense of comfort and continuity. When my mind was full and I couldn't sleep, switching on that show somehow made me feel better, connected to something we all enjoyed. It made me miss them a little less, at least for a little while.

All of which contributed to my sorrow when Carson retired in 1992. By that time, I had been working here at the paper for a decade and hadn't been a regular viewer except on Fridays.

But to see Carson say goodbye was still heart-wrenching. In the years before cable, Carson was a dear friend to me and so many other people because he was the top choice among limited options.

Yet when a new generation discovers Carson through his revamped website and DVD, they will be impressed, I think. Carson was simply the best.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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