Monday, January 24, 2005

So Long, Johnny

Like almost everyone over the age of 25 or so, I was saddened to hear of Johnny Carson's death on Sunday. My parents watched him all the time; for all I knew, the other channels played "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the 10:00 news and went off the air. I grew up with Johnny. For a while, my bedtime was 10:30 when he came on. Sometimes I was allowed to stay up to see his monologue. When I got older, my bedtime shifted to 11:30 so I could watch the whole show. Johnny was a constant through my teenage years, and he retired as I graduated from college.

I still recite bits from his show. Just the other day I repeated one of my favorites, a spoof on the Ernest and Julio Gallo wine commercials. After "we will sell no wine before its time," they cut to Johnny dressed up as a bum with a brown paper bag in hand. "It's time!" he exclaimed, taking a swig from the sack.

I'll never forget when Julio Iglesias was on the Tonight Show, and Johnny came out dressed as Willie Nelson to sing the duet "To All The Girls I've Loved Before." That was especially appropriate considering that Johnny was married four times!

Another area where Johnny stood above other talk shows was in developing (and playing) recurring characters, like Carnac the Magnificent and Floyd R. Turbo (of whom I am reminded every time I see a hat with ear flaps). I also remember recurring gags like the Slawson Cutoff and the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe.

Johnny was such a great all-around entertainer, someone who could tell jokes, do interviews, and perform in sketches. Just look at how many people have failed with talk shows and remember that Johnny succeeded for 30 years. There will be many tributes this week, and the Tribune has an excellent obituary. A few years ago I bought my parents a "Johnny Carson Collection" video set. I wish I had my own to watch tonight.

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