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John Carson Dies at 79

Aired January 23, 2005 - 18:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Carol Lin and here's what's happening right now in the news.
The entertainment world is mourning the loss of one of its biggest stars. Johnny Carson died today at the age of 79. He had been suffering from emphysema. He started his show biz career as a teenage magician and ventriloquist and hosted THE TONIGHT SHOW for 30 years. Much more on Johnny Carson's death straight ahead.

Also the howling storm that's been slamming the northeastern United States today has caused a lot of problems. More than two feet of snow buried parts of the region. A state of emergency is in place in two of the hardest hit states -- Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

And he was one of America's most beloved entertainers. Johnny Carson, the king of late-night television for 30 years, died today at the age of 39 (sic). Johnny Carson's nephew says he died at his Malibu home of emphysema. Tonight his fans are paying tribute to the comedian at his place on the Hollywood walk of fame. That is where we find CNN's Miguel Marquez. Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How are you, Carol? We are on the walk of fame, right down the street from Hollywood and Vine, the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, right on the other side of the hill from Burbank where Mr. Carson did his show for many years out here, about 20 years out here. He brought it from New York to Burbank in 1972. The AP, the Associated Press, reports that Mr. Carson had some 20,000 guests on his show during his time on THE TONIGHT SHOW. They said it would equal a couch about 8 miles long.

He was just as comfortable interviewing stars as he was presidential candidates and presidents. He did interview Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, even Martin Luther King way back when. It's so hard to judge and to say anything that adds up to the totality of Mr. Carson's life. Ed McMahon saying he was like a brother to him. His family saying that he -- his loss will be immeasurable and to be one way, the best way to try to figure out what Mr. Carson meant to all of us is to talk to some of the fans, the people who grew up watching him. I want to bring in Geronimo Burks who is a local musician here. You play bass guitar. You always wanted to play on THE TONIGHT SHOW.


MARQUEZ: When you heard that he died, what was your reaction?

BURKS: It was a sad occasion because Mr. Carson helped a lot of people with his own personal career. He used his career to help musicians like myself. Guys like Doc, for instance, the TONIGHT band.

MARQUEZ: He really touched the entire entertainment community. Is there anything that -- you grew up watching him. Is there anything that you -- what did you like about Carson so much?

BURKS: He was a funny guy and then at the same time, I liked the way he dressed. I'm into dressing. I'm not dressed now, but he was very, very stylish in his attire. So I really respected that about him, too. Which is -- to me, it's a trend of America that, and it's a tradition that we should keep going to.

MARQUEZ: Sort of that classy, classic style dress that he always had on. Any of his schtick that you liked more, the Carnack (ph) the magnificent or any of the stuff that he did that cracked you up?

BURKS: Well, the head piece he used to wear with the -- what was it, the genie?

MARQUEZ: Carnack.

BURKS: Yeah. I loved that. I really loved that. He was crazy. He was out there, man. Good guy. Good guy and he'll be missed too.

MARQUEZ: He will be missed by many people certainly here in Hollywood. People are starting to react to his death. You go anywhere and it's the -- you get the reaction with the jaw dropping open and saying, oh my God. Johnny Carson dead at 79. Carol?

LIN: Oh, gosh. I'm just looking at some of the videotape that we're running during your interview Miguel and Johnny Carson was just the master of that rye grin or that perfect hand gesture, his impeccable comedic timing.

MARQUEZ: He was the straight man all the time and what always got me about him was that even if his jokes completely bombed and failed, the guy with that little look could completely crack up the audience and get sort of the secondary joke out of it. It was brilliant.

LIN: He didn't take himself too seriously. Thanks Miguel.

Well Johnny Carson as was Miguel was talking about, entertained Americans. He was just so funny and charming and he was so great at that celebrity banter for decades on NBC's TONIGHT SHOW. But his success, which seemed to come so easily, actually didn't start right there. CNN's Sibila Vargas takes a look back at Carson's career and the legacy that he leaves behind.


ED MCMAHON: Here's Johnny!

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For three full decades, he was the reigning king of late night. His cool and understated attitude and his impeccable comic timing entertained audiences of all ages, through both the good and bad times. Johnny Carson was a master at his craft and he always showed a great respect for the thing that made him a household name.

JOHNNY CARSON: I'm sticking up for television because I think it's a marvelous, marvelous medium and I'm optimistic about it. Of course, as you probably know, an optimist in the entertainment business is an accordion player with a beeper.

VARGAS: Johnny Carson was born October 23rd, 1925 in Corning, Iowa. He moved to Norfolk, Nebraska as a boy, where he bought his first mail order magic set and began his career as an entertainer. He was known as the Great Carsoni and later performed in the Navy. And after graduating from the University of Nebraska, went on to work at Omaha radio stations.

His first televised show, CARSON SELLER (ph) debuted in 1952. It led to a job as a staff writer on Red Skelton's variety show. In 1954, Carson got his big break when Skelton was knocked unconscious an hour before air time and Carson was asked to step in. His natural ease in front of the camera led to a contract with CBS. After a short stint as an MC of "Earn Your Vacation," Carson got his own half hour comedy show called the JOHNNY CARSON SHOW.

Carson moved to ABC for the daytime game show WHO DO YOU TRUST? where in '58 he was joined by his sidekick Ed McMahon. In that same year, he was asked to sit in for Jack Parr on THE TONIGHT SHOW.

McMAHON: I sit next to the quickest, the brightest, most well- read, most entertaining, most brilliant man. If television was ever invented for somebody, it was invented for him.

DAVID LETTERMAN: I don't know of a person in comedy or television who didn't sort of grow up with Johnny Carson as a role model, and it was, I think it's something everybody, one of the reasons people leave home and come to New York or go to California to get into comedy or show business.

CARSON: I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you.

VARGAS: Carson did come into the homes of his many fans throughout the years, but his constant need for privacy prevented the world from glimpsing into his home life. He was married four times, first to Jody, then Joann (ph), and Joanna and 1987 to Alex Mass (ph). He had three children from his first marriage: Chris, Cory and Ricky. Ricky was tragically killed in 1991 in a car accident. Though his personal life was often rocky, his career seemed to grow quickly and effortlessly.

CARSON: I could never have imagined I'd walk through that curtain almost 5,000 times in 30 years.

McMAHON: And now, ladies and gentlemen here's Johnny!

VARGAS: Carson may have hosted just under 5,000 episodes of THE TONIGHT SHOW, but he continued to pursue opportunities outside of late night. He founded his own production company and created shows like TV BLOOPERS AND PRACTICAL JOKES. He hosted the Academy Awards five times and took home four Emmy awards. He was also the recipient of the communications award and the Kennedy Center honor. Perhaps more important than anything else to Carson, was that he loved entertaining as much as we loved being entertained by him.

CARSON: I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it.


LIN: We're starting to hear from Johnny Carson's family. His nephew issued a statement on the comedian's passing and it read something like this. Mr. Carson passed away peacefully early Sunday morning. He was surrounded by his family, whose loss will be immeasurable. There will be no memorial service. Fellow comedian and long-time friend David Letterman reacted to Carson's death, stating that it's a sad day for his family and for the country. All of us who came after are pretenders. We will not see the likes of him again. He gave me a shot on his show and in doing so, gave me a career. A night does not go by that I don't ask myself, what would Johnny have done? He has been greatly missed since his retirement. Thank God for videotapes and DVDs. In this regard, he will always be around. He was the best. a star and a gentleman.

Johnny Carson will be remembered as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Joining me to talk about his long-standing contributions to comedy is ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT host Mary Hart. Mary, when you got the news, what was the first thought that entered your mind?

MARY HART, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT: Carol, even though it was not a big surprise because we all knew his health was failing, it came as a stunner this morning when I got the call from our newsroom. I happened to have had the good fortune of -- I got to know Johnny. My husband knew him very well. My husband, Burt Sugarman (ph) was his next-door neighbor for years and he and Johnny would play tennis a couple of times a week. Johnny was always fiercely competitive, no matter what you say and however easy going he was on the air every single night, he was a competitor, like no other.

LIN: Then Mary, why is it that after he bid farewell on his TONIGHT SHOW and he said that he might come back. In fact he signed a deal with NBC to do some specials and yet they never came about. And he frankly, he just chose to stay behind the scenes, play tennis and relax.

HART: You know, it is interesting and knowing so many of the people who really were in his close circle, Johnny, once he did retire, even though he had said, if I find something I like I'll be back, he really decided not to do anything. He was loving being on his yacht. Right after he retired or right before, I can't remember exactly, he bought a beautiful yacht. He and Alex were on that yacht up in the Pacific northwest, all over the world, and he was having a great time.

Occasionally, he would come into Beverly Hills and have lunch. My husband ran into him, it couldn't have been more than four or five months ago, and Johnny said, you be sure and tell Mary hello. I'm watching ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT every night. At that time, Carol, Johnny was looking great, just a few months ago. He looked fit. He was energized. Alex was with him. And it was so good to see him and hear from him.

And here we are today, and yes, it is a very sad day, but Johnny has left us with so many good laughs, great memories and like Letterman said, thank God for DVDs and video.

LIN: You bet. You bet. And that there never will be another Johnny Carson. He, frankly, his career grow, spanning 30 years. He had a very particular style that was so appropriate for the times. I'm wondering, did he ever say to you any criticism of today's comedians or the direction of network television and how reality shows or, you know, how comedy has turned on, you know, maybe the obscene word once in a while because he got away with just pure entertainment.

HART: You know, he really, to my knowledge, Carol, he really didn't want to sit back and become a critic. Johnny wanted to continue observing and seeing what was going on in the world. He was as on top of it as ever. And he was paying attention to the entertainment world and certainly has seen all of the changes. But I never had that specific contact with him to say, what do you like today? What don't you like? How would you compare Dave to Jay and all of that. But you know darn well he was watching. And I'm sure there was a big side of him that missed it, too.

And I have a wonderful story that I wanted to tell you, Carol. I don't think anybody had ever heard this one, but back when my husband Burt and Johnny were neighbors, one day Burt, because they knew of his relationship with Johnny, somebody at the Hilton Hotel in Vegas called Burt and said, look, Burt, we know you know Johnny, we really want to get him from Caesar's over to the Hilton. This was back in the '70s. And Burt said, well, call his manager. Call his agent. I'm not the one. And they said, no, no. This has to be on the QT, very, very private. We know that Johnny can make more money than anybody has ever made in Las Vegas if he comes to the Hilton and plays our showroom. Well, Burt went to Johnny one day while they were playing tennis and said, John, I got this call. They really want to get you over at the Hilton. And Johnny's immediate reaction was, Burt, that is the biggest room in Las Vegas. Only Elvis can fill that room every night. I'm not going to do it because I'm never going to play to anything less than a sold-out house.

LIN: Wow. And that's --

HART: And that's very telling about Johnny.

LIN: You bet, because that is the theory why he never, for example, came back for an anniversary show to celebrate THE TONIGHT SHOW, that he didn't want to even take the chance that the ratings might tank.

HART: Absolutely. And that's why he went out on top. And I always said since he left, and knew, we have seen in this business, so many people retire and then rethink it and come back. We see it in the sports world all the time. We see it in show business too and then, sadly you go, oh, they should have stayed away. Well with Johnny, he went out in style at the top of his game. Nobody wanted to see him leave at that time.

But he did, and he did it the right way and then thankfully he enjoyed life for many years after. And I think that's, to such a great credit to his wife Alex. I mean, she really was a wonderful, wonderful companion for him. I've often thought about her thinking, it's got to be a little lonely because Johnny always was such a loner. But you know what, she loved him very, very much and was a great companion.

LIN: How are she and the family doing right now?

HART: I think this is, you know, they have been watching his decline and I think they've been preparing themselves for it. I think what comes after now will really be the question. I'm sure they are doing as well as can be expected. Alex is a very strong person and so is Johnny's family.

LIN: Mary, how do you think -- how do you reconcile the difference between his public persona, this easy-going guy, with his very turbulent personal life, the marriages, the loss of one of his sons in the car accident?

HART: Johnny had a very clear sense from the very beginning about who he was and how he was going to separate his private persona from the public persona. More than anybody else, I don't think there was ever confusion about that. But I think just innately, Johnny was a very guarded, private person.

LIN: The family, Mary, the family is not even having a memorial service.

HART: Right. And that surprised me a little bit, too, because there are -- there's a large contingent here in Hollywood who would love to be able to celebrate his life. But again, it goes back to Johnny's wishes to be private. I am sure that, you know, he probably didn't want a big hullabaloo about his death and that's why no memorial service. But I think it's very consistent with who he was in life. And unlike anybody that I can think of today, he really was always able to separate the public from the personal.

LIN: So it doesn't really surprise you when his producer came out last week, just a few days ago to say that Johnny Carson would write up some jokes, he'd still be reading the headlines and write up some jokes for David Letterman to use on the show and what a kick he got when he saw that David Letterman used it.

HART: That's - absolutely and you know that's true. That's what I said. I knew he was watching, paying attention and just like everybody, following what's going on in the show business world and, of course, seeing what David and Jay are doing every night because we reported that story on ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT as well. And it gave me a big kick just to know that he was sitting back there chuckling saying, hey, I'm not out of the game yet completely.

LIN: You bet. So what are you going to be doing on your show this week to celebrate Johnny Carson's life?

HART: You know, I think you just said it right, to celebrate Johnny's life. We're getting as we speak, reaction from all over the country. I know that we're trying to get a hold of Bette Midler and Robin Williams, the last guests on his very last show in '92. We -- there are so many people who can react, not many of whom who knew him well, but so many people who have feelings and thoughts and appreciated Johnny. So we're going to have a full show for you tomorrow on things that you won't have seen so far today.

LIN: Looking forward to it. Mary Hart, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, thank you so much for joining us tonight and sharing your memories and your personal observations of a man who is going to be missed. Thanks so much, Mary Hart.

HART: He will be missed, Carol. Thank you.

LIN: All right. I want to share this with you also. I just got this in. It's a statement by the president of the United States. And also you saw there that we're going to be continuing our special coverage of Johnny Carson's passing right here on CNN on LARRY KING. More on that in just a moment.

The White House says that the president says that Laura and I are saddened by the death of Johnny Carson. He notes he's was born in Iowa and raised in Nebraska and that Johnny Carson was a steady and reassuring presence in the homes across America for three decades, that his wit and insight made Americans laugh and think and had a profound influence on American life and entertainment. We're going to have much more on that legend as well.

In the meantime, CNN's Larry King is going to have a special tribute to Johnny Carson tonight. He's going to be talking to some of Johnny Carson's closest friends and confidantes about the passing of the legendary entertainer. So please join us at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

And also a note here tomorrow night, Johnny Carson's long-time sidekick, Ed McMahon will speak exclusively to CNN's Larry King about the passing of his friend and fellow comedian. So that's tomorrow night, Monday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

And we right here are going to continue our coverage of the death of Johnny Carson. In fact, straight ahead, some of the best moments from his show. And later, I'm going to be talking with Peter Castro, executive editor of "People" magazine. He's got some insight on the private life of Johnny Carson.



JOHNNY CARSON: I'm going to join the cast of MURPHY BROWN and become a surrogate father to that kid.


LIIN: Well, you know, we still laugh because that was his legend. Johnny Carson passed away today in case you are just joining us. Most of the afternoon we've been playing clips of Bette Midler serenading Johnny Carson on set. Do you remember that one? Well, today Bette Midler issued this statement. She says that Johnny Carson was the public face of American comedy for decades. But anyone who knew him well knew he was an intensely private and yet deeply generous man. So many of us who are working in show business today owe our careers to him. I was his last guest and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. He had it all -- a little bit of devil, a whole lot of angel, wit charm, good looks, superb timing and great, great class. Bette Midler's last appearance as a guest on THE TONIGHT SHOW was in May of 1992 and this is what the serenade looked like.


CARSON: As you were saying.

BETTE MIDLER: As I was (INAUDIBLE). I was so freaked out that I wasn't going to get everything out that I wanted to say to Mr. Carson on this most auspicious occasion that I sat down the other day and I tried to make some coherent sense out of my thoughts because this is important to me and I have a lot to say and I know that most women in America wished they had this opportunity to tell you how they feel about you. So I wrote a little letter and would you mind dreadfully if I sang it to you?

CARSON: I think it would be very nice.

MIDLER: OK. They think I don't have it written. It is written. Dear Mr. Carson, I am writing this to you and I hope that you will read it so you know, my heart was pitter-patter and I stutter and I stammer every time I see you on your TV show. I guess I'm just another fan of yours and I thought I would write and tell you so. I thought that was pretty sweet, guys. You made me watch you, I didn't want to do it. Jack Paar had put me through it. You made me watch you.

I love the jokes you're flogging when you are monologuing. I watched your hair turn slowly from dark to white and when I can't sleep I count your wives at night. I love you, babe. I drop my drawers for the kind of bucks you're making, for sinful double taking, before you bid adieu don't be cheap, put the (INAUDIBLE) of us to sleep. Just the thought of you leaving me gives me the shivers Arsenio is at the gate and so is Joan Rivers, you know, they made me watch you.

Ah, gee, Mr. Carson. I don't want to bother you. Just when I heard that you were leaving, well it kind of broke my heart. I mean I can't tell you how many nights I've laid in bed watching you thinking to myself, should I change the color of my toe nail polish? You know, Johnny, I got to tell you, you are the greatest straight man that ever walked the earth and I've known my share of straight men. I got to ask you, though, Johnny what are you going to do with all that free time? I mean, Wimbledon only comes -- it's only one week a year.

And did you ever really stop to consider what would become of Ed? Not to mention Doc and the band. Well, maybe I'm just being selfish because after all, my life is going to change the most. How am I going to get by without you, you sexy thing, your charm, your wit, your talent, your civility and all your fabulous, fabulous guests. How I miss the social intercourse so badly, now I have to have it with the guy I married. You know I'd rather watch you.

ROBIN WILLIAMS: Give it up, people. Give it up! Get up! Get up! Take it in, honey. Take it in.

CARSON: Oh, my God. I think I booked Ozzie and Harriet of THE TWILIGHT ZONE tonight. That is marvelous.

MIDLER: It's what you deserve. Actually it's more than you deserve. Actually, it's no. I'll tell you. You are really getting out at just at the right time. You really are.


LIN: Or maybe too soon for some. That was a mere 13 years ago. Joining me now, a special guest Peter Castro. He's the executive editor of "People" magazine. You guys have chronicled the lives of many a celebrity. But your covers of Johnny Carson, I think, really tell an interesting story. If you were to only look at the series of covers that you did on him, the complicated man that he was and yet so terribly funny, Peter.

PETER CASTRO, EXEC. EDITOR, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: He was so funny and a terrific interviewer. I mean that's the other thing people forget. I mean with Johnny Carson, it was never about him. He was all about the guest. And people, they just melted in front of him, he was so charismatic. And they just opened up and it was terrific television. I mean, David Letterman's statement today said that anyone that came after Johnny Carson are really pretenders. And I think he's right.

LIN: Do you think it's that much work to make it look as effortless as he was?

CASTRO: Totally effortless. And for 30 years, I mean, this is unheard of. Letterman is approaching 20 years now or he might have hit that mark already. But to think he's going to be on another 10 years is almost inconceivable.

The fact that Johnny Carson was doing this and defining the role as he was going along. I mean, He didn't invent late-night television, but he set a standard that to this day, really no one has reached. It's like comparing garage band to the Rolling Stones. You know -- he's really in a league of his own.

LIN: OK. We talked a lot about setting a standard for late- night television. But if you had to put his contribution or his style or whatever that magic was, Peter, in a single word, I mean, what is it that we're talking about when we say Johnny Carson? CASTRO: Flawless. I mean, his appearance on his monologue. He never -- you never saw this guy crack under pressure. He never lost his cool. He was sort of like the Nat King Cole of television. Ultimate, consummate cool all the time.

LIN: That's an interesting comparison.

CASTRO: 30 years of it, night after night after night. I mean, he gave people a reason to stay up late. I mean, the preferred choice among most Americans is to fall asleep after 11:30 and you forced yourself to stay up for Johnny Carson.

He was also a hit maker. If you were on the Johnny Carson show, the phones rang off the hook the following day, because everyone wanted to book you on their show or, you know...

LIN: Is that the same standard like if you appeared on Jay Leno or David Letterman now?

CASTRO: It aspires to be the same standard, but it's not.

LIN: Why is that?

CASTRO: Because Johnny Carson was the only lion in the jungle. He was the only game in town. And he was a master at what he did. I think people now like Craig Kilborn and Letterman and Leno, they look up to this guy and they go how the heck did he do it and how the heck was he so great for so long a time?

LIN: Did he have a lot of control over the content of the guests? He did he defer to the producers.

CASTRO: Oh, no. I mean, he worked very closely with his Freddy De Cordeva (ph) his long-time producer, but he absolutely had a lot of control over it. And he wrote a lot of his own material. I mean, even recent reports said that he was writing material for Letterman who was like a son to him. Did not surprise me.

I mean, he was a brilliant comic. And you forget about that part of it, too, because his television work was so -- it was so supreme that you forget -- this guy was actually really funny.

LIN: Even just with a look.

What are the kinds of -- what are the things that he would not allow on his show that were absolutely forbodden (ph) or the kinds of guests that maybe other shows might go after that Johnny Carson would not have?

CASTRO: Well, the thing about Johnny Carson -- he allowed a lot because he was such a gentleman. I mean, you know, Letterman who is a protege of Johnny's, doesn't have the restraint that Johnny Carson had. So, if someone gets surly or out of hand on the Letterman Show...

LIN: Oh, he is mean right back. CASTRO: He's mean right back.

LIN: He just gives it right back.

CASTRO: Absolutely. And Johnny was too much of a gentleman for that. But his wit was so sharp that he'd get you with a joke or a very kind of subtle insult and that's how you knew, OK, I better back off.

LIN: Peter, one of the covers we just showed of your magazine, the private side of Johnny Carson that nobody knows. I mean, this is a man whose family is not even giving a memorial service. You have to wonder if that probably was by his personal request. That he led almost -- well he did, he led a reclusive life.

Most people come out of retirement, they do the talk show circuit, they write a book. You know the celebrity drum beat. Not for Johnny Carson. So, who is the man we didn't know?

CASTRO: Well, you know, that is a very good question. And I don't know that anyone really knows the answer to that question, including his four wives. I mean, this is a guy who was really private. After the show he left, he went home, played his tennis.

LIN: That implies a secret life. That's contradictory to his public image.

CASTRO: Not a secret life. I mean, it's not like he was a hidden room doing something sinister. I mean, he loved tennis, he loved to sail, he loved playing poker with Steve Martin after he retired. He was still doing things, but he was always very private.

I mean, he and Ed McMahon were together since 1958, but it's not like they painted the town red after the show. And Johnny was always very professional and very, very private. I'm not surprised at all that there's no memorial service.

LIN: And what, four wives. He was married four times?

CASTRO: That's correct.

LIN: But not the usual Hollywood fodder of womanizing or accusations in public after these divorces, or at least none that I remember.

CASTRO: The divorce with Joanna Carson got a little ugly. But, no, they all spoke glowingly of him afterward for the most part.

You know, I mean, listen, there are a lot of people that have multiple divorces, especially in Hollywood.

LIN: I think I'm comparing it to today's stories, where it's always about infidelity or money or some, you know, personal strangeness that comes out. Johnny Carson, though, he married these women, he had a family, but I think it's just -- I mean, I'm just so interested in a man who was so successful at doing what he did, making it look so effortless and yet his personal life there was a lot going on. The failure of three marriages, the loss of one of his sons and yet this is a man who endured through that and was surrounded by his family at his bedside, at his death.

CASTRO: I think his feeling was, look, I'm giving you myself, five nights a week, 30 years, you know, straight. That's enough. That's as much as you are going to get from me and that's plenty. Allow me this other life, and, you know, let's just strike that bargain now and we'll all be happy.

LIN: Right. All right. And so it goes.

Thanks very much, Peter Castro, executive editor of People magazine.

CASTRO: Thank you.

LIN: We're getting a lot of reaction out of Hollywood to the death of this ever so famous and beloved man. In fact, I'm going to be talking with -- or actually, we're going to be -- CNN's going to be talking with Ray Romano coming up and getting reaction there. So please, stay tuned. That's going to happen in this hour.

We've got a lot of other news happening right now. You are probably wondering what's going to happen on the commute Monday morning. We've got the latest on the monster snowstorm blanketing the northeast. So, we'll check in with CNN's Jacqui Jeras on that.


LIN: Welcome back to Sunday night here on CNN. We've been talking about the death of Johnny Carson. And I've talked to people that have known him. And one of the people who, perhaps, may know him know him best is comedian Phyllis Diller. She is joining me on the telephone right now after the death of one of her beloved friends, Johnny Carson.

Miss Diller...

PHYLLIS DILLER, COMEDIENNE (via telephone): Yes.

LIN: What was your reaction when you heard the news? Did this come as a surprise to you?

DILLER: It's an amazing thing. His second wife was supposed to play gin with me tonight. And she called early in the morning and said, she was in tears, she said Johnny died. And that's how I heard it.

LIN: You know, I just spoke with Mary Hart of "Entertainment Tonight" just a few moments ago. And she was telling me she had seen him weeks before and he was in pretty good shape.

DILLER: Yes, I know. Well, he wouldn't want to do that horrible word, called linger, and he went out like a gentleman. He was a gentleman and a scholar. And he was so, oh, such a fabulous showman. LIN: What do you mean by that, a showman? Because what I think was the magic of Johnny was his subtlety.

DILLER: Subtlety, oh, well, when I say showman, I don't mean show off. I mean knowing how to do a show. You see, he invented a lot of characters. We don't have that sort of thing going on anymore in the nighttime shows. Remember, he had Carknack?

LIN: Oh, yes, Carknack the Magnificent.

DILLER: And then that country guy, the farmer and the guy that was always trying to sell things with the baton and pointing at the fork in the road.

LIN: Now when you were on with Johnny Carson, I mean, he did not cut you any slack.

DILLER: Oh, I don't know what that means.

LIN: Well, I think that you both, your chemistry was that you gave as good as you got together.

DILLER: Well, yes, of course, I'm a comic and that's our business. We're supposed to think quickly and fast and make it work.

LIN: What's your favorite moment with him?

DILLER: Well, it came when we were doing a musical number. He was a drummer.

LIN: I didn't know that.

DILLER: Oh, God, yes. And this was very early in the show. I mean, early in his taking over of the show. It was, however, after he had brought the show to L.A. And we had a quartet going. Jimmy Stewart on the accordion, me on a saxophone and our then mayor Sam Yorki (ph) playing the banjo and Johnny on the drums. And it was the funniest quartet that ever played a note.

LIN: Oh, my goodness.

DILLER: What a group.

LIN: Oh, my goodness. I would give something to see that played again.

DILLER: I wish I could see that myself.

LIN: When was the last time that you spoke with him or saw him?

DILLER: Well, it was when I was on the show.

LIN: That long ago.

DILLER: I take that back. There's a Spago restaurant in Malibu. I saw him briefly and just said hello. But actually on the show was the last time I spent any time with him.

LIN: What was he like during a commercial break or behind the scenes?

DILLER: He was just the absolute gentleman. Gentleman of the highest order and a genius. I had such respect for that man.

LIN: When you say genius what do you mean?

DILLER: Oh, my dear, when he visited the country he would learn the language before he went. I mean, and he -- well, you see, he started out being a very disciplined show person, magic. He was a child magician. He would practice for hours and hours. So you see what I mean?

LIN: Uh-huh.

DILLER: And get it right.

And remember he started out there in the west with his own show. He did TV shows and clown stuff and then he created the characters which he did.

LIN: You bet. Which one was your favorite character?

DILLER: I loved them all, but Carnac was especially good. And Aunt Gabbie. Oh, well, I loved them all. I adored him. I worshipped him.

LIN: Were you disappointed and somewhat surprised after his retirement that he never came back to perform again?

DILLER: No, I understood it completely. He didn't want to be bothered. He has production companies who do other shows. I understand that because, you see, he was such a star and the kind of a star that no matter where he went, every eye was on him. Now that is -- turns into a lot of pressure where you just don't want to ever go out in public.

LIN: You bet.

Not bad, though, the success that he had for a little boy from the Midwest, from Iowa.

DILLER: Hey, baby, wasn't he something else?

LIN: He was. And so are you, Miss Phyllis Diller. The woman who pioneered stand-up -- I think you were the first woman to do stand-up comedy, weren't you?

DILLER: I was really the first one who did it.

LIN: Remarkable.

DILLER: Who did it for real on purpose.

LIN: For real on purpose. I like that.

Phyllis Diller, thank you very much for calling in and sharing your memories of Johnny Carson.

DILLER: Bye bye.

LIN: We have got lots of people to share those memory with tonight as people have learned of the death of Johnny Carson at the age of 79.

Coming up, I'm going to be showing you an interview we did with comedian Ray Romano. And we have not forgotten about the big storm of 2005. We have got the highlights and the plan for you since you'll probably have to get to work tomorrow or maybe flying into some of these cities. So stay right there.


LIN: We'll have much more on the passing of Johnny Carson. But right now we want to address the blizzard of 2005. It is pulverizing the northeast with hurricane-strength wind gusts and more than two feet of snow in some places. At least 6 people have died because of this storm so far.

Now our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is tracking the storm from the CNN weather center. Jacqui, what do you have on this?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Carol, the worst of the storm is over with for the big cities. But there are still blizzard warnings in effect for parts of Maine from Bangor extending down towards Bar Harbor. And that will be in effect until midnight.

But many of the advisories have been replaced with new ones. For example, Boston, no longer under the blizzard warning. As you can see, the snow has stopped, but you are under a blowing snow advisory.

Check out these winds here. 22 miles per hour in Boston. 24 up there in Portland. 20 miles per hour in Providence and still 20 miles per hour in New York City. And those strong winds blowing that snow all over the place.

We have pictures to show you from earlier today. Boston the hardest biggest city hit with more than 20 inches of snow coming down. And the blowing snow is causing problems with drifting right now. We could see drifts as high as 6, 7 maybe even 8 feet. And we just got word in that Boston Logan Airport is closed, according to the FAA Web site. And is scheduled to reopen sometime for tomorrow morning.

Let's go back to the maps now, show you where that snow is continuing to come down. Most of the Northeast quiet. There you can just see mostly coastal areas getting in on some of the snow at this time.

Want to show you some of the totals, 31 inches South Hamilton, Massachusetts. That was the highest number I could find. More than 13 in New York City. Philadelphia more than 11. Washington, D.C. gets off easy at 3.5 inches.

We had more than hurricane-force winds pushing in Nantucket. Power out to the entire island at times today. 55-mile-per-hour gusts in the Boston area. The good news is if you're going to be traveling for tomorrow if they can get the roads cleaned up, the snow is going to be over and done with. Just left with the bitter cold. It feels like -4 in Boston, minus 1 in Philadelphia and a reinforcing shot of cold air, by the way Carol, moves in by the end of the week.

LIN: Wow. All right. Thanks, Jacqui, for the heads-up on that.

We have much more also on the passing of Johnny Carson. And the thoughts and memories of Ray Romano. Be right back.


LIN: Family and friends and fans of Johnny Carson are mourning his death after his battle with emphysema. The entertainment icon died today at the age of 79.

Johnny Carson got started in show business as a magician and ventriloquist when he was just a teenager. And then served time in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He then spent time as a radio announcer before turning his attention to television.

Johnny Carson was host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" for three decades. His last show was in May of 1992. Johnny Carson dead at the age of 79.

We've been talking to a lot of people whose careers were started perhaps, even because of their appearance on the Johnny Carson show. Actor Ray Romano who helped make "Everybody Loves Raymond" a hit TV show is one of the fans of Johnny Carson. So, we asked him what did he think when he first got the news today what did he think?


RAY ROMANO, COMEDIAN: We were here. We were in the middle of rehearsing, or about to rehearse, and someone came by and told me that he wasn't sure, but he had heard something like that. And a few minutes later we saw it on the news backstage in one of the rooms.

And it was a little shocking. I was with Brad Garrett at the time who also started in stand-up comedy and has been on his show and owes a lot to him, to Johnny, just like myself.

So it was sad. Very sad. I mean, I had -- you know, personally, I feel like he is a big factor in me having any success at all here. I mean, he was an inspiration for me even to get into stand-up, and then just to be on his show.

I got to meet him about 5 years ago. I had a lunch with him and two other people just, you know, so it was -- this was the only time, actually since being on his show that I talked to him. And I got to, for those two hours, kind of see what he was really like. And everything you saw on TV, you know, the professionalism, the style, the class and the humor. It was all there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For those of us who have never met him personally, how would you describe him, and what was he like to be around?

ROMANO: You know, I mean, this was an icon for me. And for him to be there and be as engaging and, I mean, I know exactly the conversation we were having. I know exactly when I made him laugh, you know, just said some lame joke and he laughed.

It was very -- he had this genuine enjoyment of other people and especially comedians and that's what you saw on TV. You could see that connection he had with comics and how he appreciated it. And, you know, as a comic, that was the pinnacle was to get on his show and to have him see you perform and to get his validation.

I feel funny, because he's inspired so many people besides me. I feel funny talking about it just from a personal level, but, yes, it was sad. He was really the best.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He -- it didn't -- he was incomparable really.

ROMANO: Yes. He was the standard. Right now you compare everybody to him. There are people that are great out there. You can actually appreciate how difficult it is what he did and how easy he made it look. I mean, there are people that are very good out there, but, yes, I don't think anyone will ever be as good as him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What kind of legacy do you think he will leave?

ROMANO: Well, I mean just that. He will never be -- you will never compare anyone to anyone except him. And he left when it was time to go, you know. He left with class. He didn't overstay his welcome. And he had the ability to be funny, to be poignant, to be serious, to talk about any subject.

And, like I say, there are people who are like that, but there is something that he had -- there was -- he possessed everything. He had the humanity, the warmth and he could also be biting and cutting and funny. So we are going to miss him, yes. We lost a great guy.



LIN: There you go. Well, CNN's Larry King will have a special tribute to Johnny Carson tonight. He's going to be talking with some of Carson's closest friends about the passing of the legendary entertainer. That begins at 7:00 eastern, 6:00 pacific.

And tomorrow night, Johnny Carson's long-time sidekick Ed McMahon is going to speak exclusively to CNN's Larry King about the passing of his friend and fellow comedian. That's Monday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

And coming up next on CNN, Larry King's 2003 interview with Johnny Carson's close friend and sidekick for more than 30 years, Ed McMahon.


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