Everything You Didn’t Know About Johnny Carson’s Mysterious Life

Published on 01/06/2020
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Back in the 1990s, Johnny Carson’s talk show was being watched on TV in every home in the United States. Even though this show paved the way for modern-day talk shows, it still raised plenty of eyebrows. Johnny Carson would often offend people with his jokes, lots of which were about celebrities. Nowadays, a lot of his jokes wouldn’t have been thought about twice. However, back in the 90s, people responded differently to dark humor. Not to mention, Carson’s personal life was far from perfect. He had plenty of secrets he was hiding, including failed marriages and down-low celebrity feuds he was involved in.

Horrible Honeymoon

Whoever watched Johnny on television thought he was a funny and charismatic person. They saw him on TV and felt as if they knew him. While he won over the hearts of his fans on TV, he wasn’t the same nice person in real life when the cameras weren’t rolling. He had a rather dark side, a less-than-nice personality. Those close to him in his personal life, mainly his fourth wife, Alexis Maas, didn’t find it so charming. After getting married, Johnny’s character changed around his wife. When then were on their honeymoon cruise to Italy, Johnny and Alexis got into an argument, leading to Johnny yelling at Alexis, saying, “We have only been married for three weeks. If I hear you saying something like that again, don’t expect this marriage to last another three.” It didn’t take long for a lot of stars around Hollywood to know about his bad personality.

Horrible Honeymoon

Horrible Honeymoon

Family Similarities

It was no secret that Johnny Carson had a drinking problem. Sadly, those around him got to witness his mean behavior get even worse when he drank too much. In 1987, NBC threw him a party on the Queen Mary. Carson’s son, Rick, who also struggled with alcoholism, was there as well. Rick lost control at the party, which was not a good idea seeing as there were a lot of high-profile people there. Seeing his son in this state, Carson became angry and started screaming at his son. He nearly hit him, but someone luckily caught him just before he did.

Family Similarities

Family Similarities

Bad Father

Johnny Carson had three kids with his first wife and they were all boys. He never had any more kids with any of his next three wives. Back in those days, people tended to view mental illness as a socially unacceptable problem. They felt that people who suffered from mental illness shouldn’t be allowed out in public. As a matter of fact, Carson just so happened to be one of the people who felt this way, and the fact that one of his sons suffered from a mental illness was not acceptable to him. He wouldn’t visit his son while he was in a mental hospital. Unfortunately, Rick’s life ended suddenly when he got into a car accident that instantly killed him. While Johnny paid tribute to his son on his show, that doesn’t mend the years of trouble the two had.

Bad Father

Bad Father

His Arrest

In terms of people doing unacceptable things while they’re drunk, Carson was no exception. Seeing as he struggled with alcoholism and was drunk rather often, you can only imagine what kind of situations he got himself into, and frequently. In 1982, he was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Even though he was only charged with a misdemeanor, he was let off with probation and a mandated driving class for alcohol responsibility while operating a vehicle. Carson was no longer allowed to drive unless he was going to or from work. Not to mention, he wasn’t allowed to have any kind of living creature – human or animal – in the car with him while driving.

His Arrest

His Arrest

Being Upfront

Carson was well-aware that he couldn’t totally hide the fact that he had a drinking problem, so he was open to acknowledging it. However, at the same time, he did his best to avoid the media since he didn’t want his life exploited. He knew he had a problem, and this made him want to change the way he responded to these jokes while on his show. During an interview with 60 Minutes in 1977, Carson blatantly admitted that he had an alcohol problem and even went on to say that he and Ed McMahon used to get drunk together. While he knew that he didn’t handle his alcohol well, he also wasn’t going to change his lifestyle. A little while later, there were some celebrities that boycotted his show since they saw him as a “mean-spirited human being” but who was that?

Being Upfront

Being Upfront

Unfaithful

Carson’s second marriage to Joanna Copeland was quite questionable, not to mention, unconventional. They met in 1960 and three years later, decided to get married. Soon after they were married, they both cheated on each other. Joanna cheated on Carson with an athlete named Frank Gifford and Carson cheated on her with multiple women. Nine years of marriage later, the two got divorced, which surprised no one. Even after they were divorced, Joanna supported Carson’s professional aspirations since she thought he could be successful with his show.

Unfaithful

Unfaithful

Terrible Marriage

While Carson did, in fact, cheat on Joanne, he was still upset to know she cheated on him too. His previous lawyer and friend, Henry Bushkin wrote a book about Carson in 2013, in which he spared no detail about Joanna’s affair with Frank Gifford. He said Carson asked him to find proof she was cheating on him by sneaking into the house where the affair was taking place. Henry said Johnny was devastated about his failed marriage, and that he had a gun but didn’t know why.

Terrible Marriage

Terrible Marriage

Lawyer And Detective

In the beginning, Henry was very against sneaking into the house to see if Joanna was cheating, but eventually, he agreed. He found signs she was definitely there, like her undergarments around the house. Once he found out she was cheating, Johnny started binge-drinking again after he fell into a dark place. Despite the affair, Joanna and Frank never became anything more than what they were. Frank ended up getting married to Kathie Lee Gifford years later and she was seen on TV joking about the famous affair.

Lawyer And Detective

Lawyer And Detective

Bad Guests

Johnny often interviewed guests on his talk show and it’s only natural he enjoyed the presence of some guests more than others. He spoke openly about the fact that Bob Hope was one of the guests Carson hated interviewing most. Hope was another TV celebrity, but he was not seen as funny as Carson. Instead of sitting down and having an engaging conversation, Carson said Hope brought in pre-scripted jokes, making Carson’s job rather difficult. Since everything in Hope’s head was scripted, there was nothing for Carson to talk to him about. Carson was an intelligent person who wanted to discuss real-world problems with his guests. He couldn’t do this with Bob Hope.

Bad Guests

Bad Guests

Hopeless Situation

Even though Carson didn’t enjoy having Bob Hope on the show, he kept inviting him back on and seemed to regret it each time he did. Carson kept getting angry about Hope not being able to understand the questions he was trying to ask. Hope’s team gave Carson notes for the show that he had to follow meticulously since Bob would study the answers he should say in that exact order. If Carson did anything out of order, it could be embarrassing since Hope might answer a different question. Hope’s age and health were catching up with him, and that was no secret. Johnny wasn’t so sensitive to the topic of aging, however. He once told one of his writers, “If I ever end up like that, guys, I want you to shoot me.”

Hopeless Situation

Hopeless Situation

He Couldn’t Stay Away From Women

Despite being married, that didn’t stop Carson from having romantic interactions with other women other than his wife. While he was in the process of divorcing Joanne, he had an affair with a model named Angel Tompkins. His lawyers bluntly told him that if he were to get caught cheating he would forfeit his divorce settlement. But Carson didn’t care. Even though unfaithfulness ruined his second marriage, that didn’t make Carson change at all. His third wife, Joanna, was another victim to his wandering eyes. He tried making up for it by buying her expensive gifts, including a Rolls-Royce and a stunning apartment. Eventually, however, their marriage came to an end thanks to his actions.

He Couldn't Stay Away From Women

He Couldn’t Stay Away From Women

Like Mother, Like Son

We all know that everyone has issues and all kinds of things that are stressful in their lives, Carson seemed to have more issues than the average person. It almost looked like he had problems in every area of his life. From his family to his love life to relationships with friends. There was only one person he could blame for having so many problems in his life. He described that person as being “cold and heartless.” It was his own mother, Ruth. He blamed her for all his problems. He never had one single pleasant thing to say about the woman. He said she messed up his life and was the reason for the failure of all four of his marriages. He hated her so much that he didn’t bother going to her funeral. All he said on the matter was, “The wicked witch is dead”.

Like Mother, Like Son

Like Mother, Like Son

Distasteful Jokes

Carson had a bad tendency to blurt out distasteful jokes. The target of those jokes were most often overweight women. Carson was never hesitant about telling a fat joke and he didn’t care whose feelings he hurt in the process. Raymond Burr is one of those who used to be targeted by Carson’s fat jokes more often than not. After he appeared on The Tonight Show twice – in 1968 and 1976, he decided he had enough and said he’d never be on the show again.

Distasteful Jokes

Distasteful Jokes

Goodbye Aladdin

In 1980, Carson almost bought the Aladdin Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas but decided to back out for an unknown reason. While it was his choice to leave the deal and let his competition, Wayne Newton, buy the hotel. As a result, Carson was seen negatively in the media as having lost some sort of competition between the two. The negative attention upset Carson since he thought the event had no reason to be highlighted in the media the way it did. To get back at the person who bought the hotel, Carson began making fun of his masculinity on his show. While these things were happening, being seen as masculine and strong was very important to most men, and these jokes took a toll on Newton’s confidence.

Goodbye Aladdin

Goodbye Aladdin

Public Feud

After a while, Newton began getting more and more irritated by listening to Carson’s jokes about him. He appeared on Larry King and angrily said, “Johnny Carson is a mean-spirited human being. He was deeply hurt by people for some reason, and at one point, he decided to take all his pain and anger out on me.” Newton decided to make the move and go all the way to Carson’s office and threaten to fight him if he didn’t stop making horrible jokes about him. Carson actually agreed to stop and never told another joke about Newton again.

Public Feud

Public Feud

Was He Jealous?

Another celebrity Carson had a problem with was Tom Snyder who was the host of The Tomorrow Show. Carson thought Snyder was a boring person who had nothing to offer him. Unlike Carson, most of America loved Tom Snyder. Once The Tomorrow Show came to an end, he began hosting The Late Late Show. Well, Carson hated him so much that he went on a violent and loud rant one night at a pub about just how much he hated him.

Was He Jealolus

Was He Jealous?

Battle With Joan and John

After being guest stars on The Tonight Show, Joan Rivers and John Davidson started their own talks shows. It just so happened to be that their air times overlapped with Johnny Carson’s. As expected, this seriously upset him. He felt as if he were betrayed. Joan Rivers’ show aired on Fox for two years but then got canceled in 1987. When she was on Larry King Live for an interview, Rivers said that Carson never spoke to her again and that starting her talk show ruined their friendship. They weren’t the only celebrities that Johnny cut off, however.

Battle With Joan And John

Battle With Joan And John

A Secret Love?

After everything happened between Carson and Rivers, people started speculating whether their relationship was more than just a professional one. In Rivers’ book, she admitted that during her marriage with Edgar Rosenberg, she had an affair with Johnny Carson. It makes more sense to think that Carson’s anger for Rivers wasn’t just about her beginning her own talk show. Sadly, Edgar committed suicide a few years later, leaving Joan and her daughter Melissa behind.

A Secret Love@

A Secret Love?

Joan Thought Johnny Was Talented

Joan Rivers was very much known for her blunt personality, and when she was approached by reporters at LAX in 2014, they asked her what she thought about Carson’s manhood. Her reply? “I saw it in real life. How do you think I got on the show in the first place?!” In the book she wrote, she openly spoke about how she had more than just a professional relationship with Carson. Also, she mentioned that he had a sex tape and that she wanted to watch it. Naturally, these comments by Joan were not without snide comments in response.

Joan Thought Johnny Was Talented

Joan Thought Johnny Was Talented

Toilet Paper Crisis

In 1973, Johnny made a joke about the world running out of toilet paper. His viewers did not find this joke very funny. Before he knew it, thousands of people who were watching the show turned their TVs off and ran to stock up on toilet paper. As a result, there really was a shortage of toilet paper for a few weeks. Carson made a formal apology about this joke, and the NY Times took the opportunity to talk about how the public mass spreads gossip so quickly.

Toilet Paper Crisis

Toilet Paper Crisis

Not Your Name

After the toilet paper joke, the owner of a portable toilet company tried naming the brand “Here’s Johnny.” The problem was that this was the same name Ed McMahon used to introduce Johnny on the show. Naturally, Carson sued this company owner and after 10 years of court dates, the judge decided to agree with Carson. Till today, the owner of this company is trying to obtain rights to this name.

Not Your Name

Not Your Name

Messing With Mr. Rogers

Carson thought it would be funny if he did a Mr. Rogers skit on his show. However, the problem was that no one found it funny in the slightest. Mr. Rogers was a beloved TV icon who wanted to spread love and kindness to his viewers. He wanted everyone to be a good person and be kind to one another. But, when Carson made a joke about Mr. Rogers asking kids to steal money from their parents to finance his show, everyone thought he took it too far. Carson ended up apologizing to Mr. Rogers, but it left a bad feeling with a lot of viewers.

Messing With Mr. Rogers

Messing With Mr. Rogers

A Favor For Frank

In 1981, Frank Sinatra produced President Reagan’s Inaugural Gala and wanted Carson to host it. Johnny had no choice but to say yes since Sinatra referred to this as a “personal favor”, and it would be insulting for Carson to say no. It wasn’t until Carson was at the Gala itself that he discovered that it was actually President Reagan who requested he be there, not Sinatra. This upset him. He said, “Ronnie does know that I answered my country’s call once already, doesn’t he?” He went on to negatively comment on Sinatra all evening, but the best part of the night was when Dean Martin showed up and Carson refused to introduce him during the Gala.

A Favor For Frank

A Favor For Frank

No Hope For The Future

When Carson passed away in 2005, there were plenty of upset and saddened fans. His legacy and nickname being the “King Of Late Night Television” will remain, but he didn’t have such high hopes for what was coming in the future of late-night TV. He mentioned to Peter Jones how he was disappointed in the direction TV was headed in, with the rise of tabloids and reality TV. “He had said he was sickened by what was going on and was glad he got out when he did,” Jones mentioned.

No Hope For The Future

No Hope For The Future

Didn’t Like Richard Little

You probably heard the expression, “if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen” and this is the time when Carson would have said this. Richard Little, an American-Canadian impressionist, recalls how much Johnny Carson hated him. He said he was banned from the show since Johny was too sensitive to handle Little’s jokes. He seemed as if he could say anything he wanted to about others but couldn’t handle others speaking badly about him. In all fairness, there were other people who felt the same about Little’s jokes. Henry Bushkin said he thought that Richard brought out the worst in Carson.

Didn't Like Richard Little

Didn’t Like Richard Little

The Matinee Lady

One person who worked closely with Carson on the show was none other than Carol Wayne, a model, and actress who was known as the “Matinee Lady”. She was seen as the ‘dumb blonde’ and many people believed no one could play this role better than Carol. In 1985, Carol mysteriously died at a resort in Mexico, and everyone on the show thought it best to refrain from replacing her for a year as a tribute to her. A year later, they re-cast someone else for the show.

The Matinee Lady

The Matinee Lady

Her Questionable Decisions

When Late Night With David Letterman was new and made its way to TV, the Tonight Show got shortened from 90 to 60 minutes. Due to this fact, some of the skits, including Carol’s role, needed to be cut. Her lack of paycheck made it difficult for her to make ends meet and so she began using drugs to try and deal with her problems. She got into a relationship with Edward Durston, who was a car salesman. They took a trip together to Mexico, and that’s where she mysteriously died. As it turns out, the two got into a fight before she died.

Her Questionable Decisions

Her Questionable Decisions

Her Mysterious Death

Not long after Carol’s death, a few fishermen discovered her body floating in the Mexican bay. Since the water was only 4 feet deep, the thought that she drowned was not on people’s minds. According to the autopsy, she had no drugs or alcohol in her body. To this day, her death remains a mystery. The hotel employees where she and Ed were staying were the ones who identified the body since Ed had already flown back to the States by then. Reports state that he had left Carol’s belongings at the airport. Despite there being no concrete evidence that Ed had anything to do with her death, many speculate he did.

Her Mysterious Death

Her Mysterious Death

Can These Deaths Be Linked?

Aside from Carol Wayne, Ed Durston was also around when another woman died. Diane Linkletter, the daughter of Art Linkletter, fell from a 6-story-tall apartment building in 1969. Art thinks her accident was caused by a flashback from her LSD addiction. After she died, Art put an end to his television career and began campaigning about the dangers of drug use. Some people find it somewhat a coincidence that Durston was present during both women’s deaths, but he was never taken to court for them.

Can These Deaths Be Linked

Can These Deaths Be Linked?

Johnny’s Jokes Were Not Up To Paar

Before Carson started his career on The Tonight Show, Jack Paar was the beloved host from 1957 to 1962. Paar also came with his own baggage and scandals, such as his interview with Fidel Castro. At one point, he made a joke that was so inappropriate that it was censored on air. Paar left the show unexpectedly. In fact, he left smack in the middle of an episode! Just after his joke got censored, he got up and walked out after saying, “This is my last night at The Tonight Show. There just has to be a better way of making a living other than this. Thank you, for always being peachy to me.”

Johnny's Jokes Were Not Up To Paar

Johnny’s Jokes Were Not Up To Paar

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