John William Carson (born October 23, 1925) is an American actor, comedian and writer from Nebraska, best known for his iconic status as the host of The Tonight Show from 1962 until 1992.
He was born in Corning, Iowa, grew up in Nebraska, and served in the U.S. Navy, from 1943 to 1946, and worked as a magician in the 1950s. Carson eventually took a job in radio, and later moved on to game shows. Sometime after that, Carson became a writer for comedian Red Skelton.
Carson became the host of NBC's The Tonight Show on October 2, 1962. His co-host was Ed McMahon. His first guest was Groucho Marx. Carson co-wrote "Johnny's Theme" song with Paul Anka in 1962.
Carson was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1987. His other awards include 6 Emmy Awards, and a George Foster Peabody Award. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
Carson's trademark is the Golf swing at the end of his Tonight Show monologues.
His personal life has been as stormy as his professional life has been smooth. Carson married his college sweetheart Joan Wolcott on October 1, 1949. They had 3 sons. Their son, Richard, was killed on June 21, 1991, after his car plunged down a steep embankment along a paved service road off Highway 1 near Cayucos, a small town north of San Luis Obispo; apparently, Richard had been taking photographs when the accident occurred. In 1963, Carson got a "quickie" Mexican divorce from Joan and married Joanne Copeland on August 17, 1963. After a protracted divorce in 1972, Copeland got nearly half a million dollars in cash and art and $100,000 a year in alimony for life. At The Tonight Show's 10th anniversary party on September 30, 1972, Carson announced that he and former model Joanna Holland had been secretly married that afternoon, shocking his friends and associates. On March 8, 1983, 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. The story goes he met his current wife, Alexis Mass, when he saw her strolling along the beach near his Malibu home holding an empty wine glass. He left his house and offered to fill the glass up for her. They married on June 20, 1987.
Carson retired from show business on May 22, 1992 when he stepped down as host of The Tonight Show. NBC gave the show to occasional guest host, Jay Leno, in spite of promising the job to David Letterman in the 1980s. Letterman, who had been a longtime friend of Carson's, called him to ask him what to do about losing the show. Carson told him to walk. Leno and Letterman were soon competing on different networks.