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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Tribute to Johnny Carson

Aired January 23, 2005 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED MCMAHON, FORMER ANNOUNCER, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": And now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Johnny!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, an entertainment icon leaves us. Johnny Carson died today of emphysema at age 79. He changed the face of television. He changed America's bedtime habits. And he gave a crucial break to so many stars.

With us to remember the late night legend, Merv Griffin, a veteran talk show host himself; comedian Joan Rivers, the longtime "Tonight Show" regular; Mike Douglas, another longtime talk show host; Don Rickles, the famed comedian and "Tonight" show regular; and Carl Reiner, actor, writer and a comedy giant himself. We also check in with comedienne Phyllis Diller and others. They're all next on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Johnny Carson, gone today at age 78. This reaction from the president of the United States: "Laura and I are saddened by the death of Johnny Carson. Born in Iowa, raised in Nebraska, Johnny Carson was a steady and reassuring presence in homes across America for three decades. His wit and insight made Americans laugh and think and had a profound influence on American life and entertainment. He was a patriot who served in the United States Navy during World War II and always remembered his roots in the heartland of America. We send our prayers and condolences to the entire Carson family."

We have two American giants of comedy with us in the studio tonight, Don Rickles and Carl Reiner. And with us from New York is Joan Rivers, the famed TV personality and entrepreneur who guest hosted on "The Tonight Show". And we also have Mike Douglas, who preceded "The Tonight Show" as a talk show host. He hosted "The Mike Douglas Show" from 1961 to November of 1981.

How did you hear about it, Don?

DON RICKLES, COMEDIAN: About 9 a.m. this morning, Peter Lassally, a good friend, called me and said, very off the cuff with sincerity, he said, "Johnny just passed away."

And I was all set for the football game, and I was, you know, in the sweats and ready to have breakfast. "Johnny passed away," and that man will never -- I'll never forgive him. I'm going to miss the football game, and he had to do this to me.

But rest his soul, he's the first guy to laugh, in his death, wherever he is in heaven I'm sure Johnny is laughing. Because he didn't like a fuss. He was that kind of a man. I think Carl will agree with me. Of course, I don't want to speak for Carl, but I think -- that's what he would say.

And I love him, and I'm so sad he's gone, because he gave so many of us the opportunity to -- to show our wares.

KING: Mike Douglas, what -- how well did you know him?

MIKE DOUGLAS, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST: I knew him quite well. I -- as a matter of fact, the last time I saw him was at a party given by Don Rickles. And on the way up -- Don had it in some -- someplace near Johnny's home. I can't remember the name of the place.

As we're driving up, I said to Gen, my wife, I said, "Do you know who's going to be there tonight?"

She said, "No."

I said, "Johnny Carson. He has to be because he and Rickles are very tight friends, and he lives very close to where we're going."

And sure enough, he was. And he kind of sought me out that night and wanted to talk -- he's a very shy man. I think you all know that. It's hard to realize that somebody could perform like that for that many years and be that fun and that wonderful and be so within himself.

I mean, he did not like crowds. He wormed his way away from all the crowds, and sure enough, he started a conversation. Very interesting. Wonderful. And what a terrible loss.

This guy is one of a kind. No one else in history has ever been on television that long. And he left when he was No. 1, which is a great move.

KING: Carl Reiner, as a veteran of television yourself, do you imagine how important he got?

CARL REINER, COMEDIAN: You know something, he took the temperature of America. If it was -- if there was something you wanted to know about what was going on in America, listen to the Johnny Carson show. His opening monologue told you what people were thinking about.

By the way, before I get this further, this morning -- this is a terrible thing -- a friend of mine, Dave Jasmine (ph), called me and said, "Johnny..."

And I thought he was going to say, "Johnny can't come to poker this weekend, this Wednesday."

He said, "Johnny," and he told me Johnny passed away. And I -- this is one of the sad things, where you don't call a guy with something you wanted to tell him so badly. I was going to call him last night to say Ellen DeGeneres -- I was on her show the other day -- she was saying this man gave her her start. She said, "He's the best. He's the greatest. And I would love to tell him that."

She didn't want him to come on the show. She knows he doesn't do that. I said, "You know what? Coming from somebody who heard it, you know I'm going to go and call him tomorrow." And I didn't call, because I figured I'd be bothering him.

KING: Did you play cards a lot?

REINER: Every three, four or five months, a group got -- Steve Martin would host.

KING: And he was still very funny, right?

REINER: Always. Always funny.

KING: The raconteur stayed.

REINER: Never left. Never.

KING: Joan Rivers, we know you had your difficulties. He got mad at you for leaving.

JOAN RIVERS, COMEDIAN: Yes.

KING: How did you react today?

RIVERS: It's an icon that's passed. He gave all of us our starts. My life changed. I went on the show the first time. Seven years of struggling, coming out of Second City. And on the air he said, "You're going to be a star," and the next day, my life was different.

I'm terribly sad. The man was the best straight man ever, ever, ever. He knew how to feed a line to you, and he did one of the things I think people have forgotten. He was generous. He wanted you to come on his show and be better than him and be funnier than him. And he was delighted when someone got their laughs, and that's a very rare thing.

KING: One of the great moments in television history occurred between Mr. Rickles and Mr. Carson. We now have the honor -- I know you've seen it before; it never gets less funny -- of showing you this momentous moment. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICKLES: Could I do it a couple minutes?

CARSON: No!

RICKLES: Give me a break. I'm so lonely.

CARSON: Get off me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was not planned.

RICKLES: No.

KING: What was it like, Don?

RICKLES: Well, I blew a suit. I mean, the man's a millionaire, didn't replace the suit. He said, "Isn't this great?" as I was rinsing out my -- in those days, it was about a $500, $600 suit. You know, today if it was Oscar de la Renta, I would have sued.

But he was something else. He -- you know what? Carl I think will agree with me. You know, Johnny, he's gone, but he's not really. And I think he would laugh. He's the kind of a guy that says, "Don't make a fuss." Probably the memorial, which the family understands. They're not going to.

KING: There will be no memorial.

RICKLES: Right, right. And he loved to laugh, you know? He was...

REINER: I must say, the suit thing, remember? I wanted to get on his "Best of Carson." Every once in awhile, he would say, "I'm going to do the best of Carson." And I've been on 47 times, and I never was on the "Best of Carson."

I said, because I didn't do anything big, like Burt Reynolds put soda in his pants. And so I said, "I'm going to get on." And this is about a suit. And I told somebody, I told his assistant, "Tell him to wear not one of his best suits." Because I was going to tell him that he's not dressing like a real bon vivant of today, and I said, "Let me show you what."

And I said, "First of all, your pants are too long." And I cut off the bottom of his pants. And I said, "A slit up -- you've got nice legs. A little slit up the side of the pants."

KING: You did all that?

REINER: And I'm doing that, and he's looking at me, and I'm cutting. And I say, "A slit up the back, and an open back," and I'm slitting up his suit. And I never knew -- he's a good actor. He acted like he was upset that I cut up his suit.

And at the end, I went in his -- I said, "I apologize." I said, "Will it make the Best of Carson?"

He said, "We don't know."

KING: We'll take a break, and we'll be right back with more of our tribute to the late -- it's hard to say that -- the late Johnny Carson. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: I said, I'm sure they'll ask me about my secretary of the interior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watt?

CARSON: Jim, I just told you I think they'll ask about my secretary of the interior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James Watt. You're scheduled to go swimming with him tomorrow morning at the Y.

CARSON: Where?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y.

CARSON: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. With Watt.

CARSON: With what? I don't even know with who, Jim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not who, Watt.

CARSON: Well, now, Jim, let's get this straight. I'm going swimming tomorrow with who?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watt.

CARSON: Where?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

CARSON: Mount St. Helens, Three Mile Island and the Love Canal.

Where can you still buy a house for less than 100 grand?

MCMAHON: Envelope number two.

CARSON: A tongue, teeth and a foot.

What's inside Ronald Reagan's mouth?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: You said, Mike Douglas, that we'll never have another one that can replace -- was he the quintessential host?

Can you hear me? DOUGLAS: Yes. Oh my God. Absolutely. 30 years. Everybody you speak to loved the man. My own daughter called me to tell me about Johnny passing away and she said, "I loved him so." My own daughter. I had no idea she watched it and he did -- He did something on one of the shows they showed today, it's typical of the kind of reaction he can get from an audience. This little old woman can in with potato chips all she had saved for years with -- One was going to be a bird, one's an animal and she's showing him this priceless potato chip and Johnny reached over in the bowl and took one and when she was looking in a different direction, when he crunched that -- It was the biggest laugh I have ever heard in my life and the woman was in shock and he said, "Oh no, it's here.

But it was those kinds of things -- that just happened. He made it happen.

KING: Joan, as you look back, should you have handled it differently when he left?

RIVERS: No, I called him the minute he signed our contract with Fox and told them and he hung up on me and it took me years to kind of figure it out. And all I can think of is he just never thought I'd leave the show. I handled it honorably and I was terribly upset the way he felt that I didn't because you miss him (ph) -- these people -- He gave me my start. I met my husband through him. When Melissa was born, I literally sent her with a note saying "This is for you," with a nurse to his office.

KING: Why do you think he reacted that way?

RIVERS: I think I was a woman -- I know this sounds silly and everyone else had left him, Greta left him (UNINTELLIGIBLE) left, everyone went on. I don't think he ever thought I was going to leave and I didn't have a contract, it ran out with NBC and nobody came to me and Fox came with this amazing offer and we took it and he was the first one I called and as I said, he hung up and that really hurt me. All of these years it's always upset me. I always hope I'd bump into him at a restaurant and say, "This is so dumb. I love you and this is stupid."

KING: Here, let's watch a moment of Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson, watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

RIVERS: Because I always thank you in absentia because you're never there. Thank you for my first appearance on the show. Thank you for my career. Thank you for letting me guest host for you. Because I would not be sitting here ever. They all thought I stank and you were the first one to say, "You're funny," and thank you for that.

CARSON: We'll be back in a moment.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: That from a Johnny Carson special. You had dinner with him recently, Don?

RICKLES: Yeah I -- just to interject, Joan Rivers is so marvelous. It was a shame what happened, that argument. But she's a doll. She really is. It's a shame. I'm sure Johnny, if he had a little more time maybe they would have made up, but I love her, she's great. Anyway ...

KING: What happened at dinner?

RICKLES: Oh we went to dinner and we had dinner. Grenada, one night we went to dinner and it was amazing. Peter Lassally called and said to Rickles and Barbara let's have dinner, you weren't invited. And we had your name on a list and we said, "Nope." With your wife. Get out. She was busy rehearsing in Nashville. Anyway. So, it's an inside joke. He thinks his wife is going to make it as a big Western singer. So no ...

KING: Keep it up.

RICKLES: No, no. Hey, where am I going with you? This is the last time I'm going to -- Thank God I met Carl. So we had dinner and he was great, he sat down and -- Johnny -- he also did that shoulder bit. You know, I thought he was a football player and head were too high. He'd always do it. I said John, how do you feel? "I'm great," and we both walked out of the restaurant with the same disease. So anyway, we had -- He was so relaxed. We had laugh after laugh after laugh and every time I brought your name up, the comedy stopped. But I must say, if it had been Carl, who is great -- I'm so grateful to share this little podium with him and Johnny would like us to laugh. And Joan Rivers who -- the first one, and she's the funniest girl in the world, and I have to say that because I mean it, but I want you to know that we worked together and he was great to actors, he really -- We all know that.

CARSON: You have something with you?

REINER: No, I have two things of memorabilia. Now we know that Jesus Christ did not where ties, so if you take a closeup of this, do you see that?

KING: Move it right in and take you hand away.

REINER: Is it there?

KING: J.C.

REINER: J.C. I stole this from Johnny when I was on the show. Actually, I asked him if I could wear it because it was a perfect tie for the blue suit and then one more thing. This I took without him ...

KING: He gave you his monogrammed tie?

REINER: Yeah, he gave me his monogrammed tie.

KING: That's not your initials? REINER: No, but it's so small that I have to point it out to people, but this I stole. This I stole. You remember he used to drum? He had pencils with two erasers on them. There's no pencil. He had these made for him. It even has his name on them. Anyway, I had this on my desk. I see this every day, and maybe one out of 20 times I pick up this and I curse at him and I say, "Da-da-da," because I want a point and there's no point, there's two rubbers. But I love him.

KING: He used to use it as a tapper, right?

REINER: No, he drummed, he used it as two drumsticks. But this is one of the ...

RICKLES: Mike Douglas just interrupted and said he played drums, which he did.

REINER: He did and he was a drummer.

RICKLES: That was a good one, Michael.

REINER: And he was also a brilliant, brilliant ...

KING: Magician.

REINER: Sleight of hand.

KING: Let's take a break and we'll be right back.

RICKLES: Michael Douglas is here. So exciting.

KING: Take it easy!

RICKLES: OK. I get excited when I hear his voice.

KING: I first met Johnny Carson in 1964 at the New York's World Fair ...

RICKLES: No kidding?

KING: I interviewed him for an hour.

RICKLES: Wow.

KING: Yeah, an hour.

RICKLES: Lucky you.

KING: And it was fun.

RICKLES: Good.

KING: It was when he told the secret story of how Huntley and Brinkley got together.

RICKLES: Good. Were you davening at the time? That's a Jewish word.

KING: They were foundling children left at NBC's front door and they raised them to do the news together.

RICKLES: Your story stinks. I don't want to hear about it.

KING: That's funny. You're scared because you didn't think of it. We'll be right back with more of our tribute to Johnny Carson. Don't go away.

RICKLES: Johnny, you heard him.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCMAHON: Mr. Dewolf says, Mr. Beamish, why are you putting one over on me, I just paid you off.

CARSON: I was cleaning off the desk. All right, why don't we -- Don't do that.

MCMAHON: Stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: My first guest tonight became a media celebrity last week when he delivered the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Bill Clinton is a four-time governor of Arkansas. He also oversaw Arkansas' (UNINTELLIGIBLE) state economy, rebounded prosperity through his programs of welfare reform, public health plans and consumer protection, including a tight rein on utility rates. Governor expanded -- Clinton expanded his horizons as a Rhodes scholar studying at England's renowned Oxford University. He returned to America, which brings us full circle to our first guest, Bill Clinton, who loves his state. Here's a man who needs no introduction, the Honorable Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

Well, Governor, I thank you for coming here tonight, and my first question is: How are you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Bill Clinton issued a statement tonight. "Johnny Carson's unmatched contributions to American comedy and culture made us laugh and lightened our load. Of course, I owe him a great personal debt for giving me the chance to redeem myself on his show after my long speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. He was very funny, gracious and kind to me when I was down, as he was to many others. Hillary and I are grateful for Johnny's life, and send our prayers to his family and friends." There you see flowers left tonight on Johnny Carson's star on Hollywood Boulevard.

And by the way, Ed McMahon, who we played earlier tapes with him earlier tonight, will be with us live. It will be an exclusive appearance. Ed McMahon, his longtime partner, will be our guest tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE.

On the phone with us now is Dyan Cannon. Dyan, how did you hear about it?

DYAN CANNON, ACTRESS: I was in the market, and many people offered me Kleenex. It was -- we weren't in the Kleenex aisle when I heard about it, but I was staggered. I was absolutely staggered. I was surprised at how hard it hit me. He was a great friend, a great, great, great entertainer, and there will never be anyone like him again.

KING: Did you know that he was ill?

CANNON: Yes, I did. I knew that he was ill, and I have talked to -- and I haven't seen him in a while. But you know, that's not the way I remember him, Larry. He used to come to my house in Malibu when I'd have parties. He'd bring his drum set, he'd play the drums, and he'd pop popcorn all night. He loved those two things as much as anything, playing the drums and popcorn.

He made me laugh like no one ever has, and he made me angry. You know, the essence of great comedy, the secret of great comedy is getting to the essence of anything that's up, and he knew how to push buttons, and he knew how to do whatever he did by getting to the essence of whatever it was.

But what a lot of people don't know about Johnny is the heart of the man. He had one of the great hearts of the universe. When I was going through a hard time, he'd be the first one to call, and lift me up, and cheer me, and lead me on.

KING: Well, thank you for being a part of this tonight, Dyan.

CANNON: Sorry I couldn't get there.

KING: We know how much you miss him.

CANNON: I do indeed.

KING: Dyan Cannon. When she laughed on that show -- thanks, Dyan.

RICKLES: She has a great laugh. God bless her. Dyan, love you, sweetie.

CANNON: Love you, guys. Hello, everybody.

RICKLES: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

REINER: ... picture of you to Johnny Carson, said she made -- he made Dyan Cannon laugh. Of course, everybody makes her laugh. She's a laugh -- she's the sweetest laughing...

(CROSSTALK)

REINER: She's a laughing person.

KING: Yeah, but he was funny.

REINER: Oh, was he ever.

RICKLES: But you know, nobody realizes...

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: He was going to ask me a question.

REINER: Oh, I'm sorry.

KING: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: No, I didn't mean to interrupt Carl, but nobody -- Ed McMahon, as Carl would agree, was like Carl is with Syd in those days. He was the trigger for Johnny. Ed McMahon, which people don't realize, and you'll have him tomorrow night, but God bless him, Ed made Johnny come alive. And yet socially, they didn't see each other that much. But when the light went on, they were buddies.

KING: Why was he reclusive?

REINER: I think it was like -- I think you'll find out among very, very many comedians and performers, they are shy. And one of the reasons they get up -- they're alone on stage, nobody has to be with them. They're really still shy. They're alone. They don't need anybody. I just -- now, leave me alone, I'm going off stage. There's no question about it.

KING: And he was the quintessential shy person.

REINER: He was. As a matter of fact, being along with Johnny Carson was uncomfortable, because he wasn't a hugger. I tried to hug him a couple of times. He allows for it, but he didn't really mean it. Dick Van Dyke, he allows it, they don't mean it. They're very...

RICKLES: Midwest.

REINER: ... yeah, Midwest, might be Midwest.

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: Bob Newhart does the same thing.

KING: We presented together...

REINER: Did you hug Bob Newhart?

RICKLES: Once...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Johnny Carson and I presented together at the TV Academy when they install people into the Hall of Fame. He was a presenter. I was a presenter. And they had, because it was a small area, put us in the same dressing room. So we had to dress together. We carried our tux -- we dressed together. So I saw him in his shorts.

REINER: He had good legs.

KING: Good legs, nice legs.

RICKLES: You guys got a problem?

KING: We'll be right back with more right after this. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: That bear will hibernate for a year. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Bear will go (UNINTELLIGIBLE), hey, you got any food?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: By the way, we're back on this tribute to Johnny Carson. Ed McMahon will be with us exclusively tomorrow night. There will be no memorial service.

Or I'm going to ask about that in a minute.

With us are Joan Rivers, in New York, Mike Douglas in North Palm Beach, Florida, Don Rickles and Carl Reiner here in L.A.

And before we talk with Phyllis Diller on the phone, this was Johnny Carson's last ever television appearance. The year was 1993 and -- '94 rather. David Letterman started on CBS with the "Late Show" in 1993. And this was the surprise when Letterman came west. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, THE LATE SHOW: Johnny, can I have the top 10 list?

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: Good one.

JOHNNY CARSON, COMEDIAN, TELEVISION HOST: Good night. LETTERMAN: Nice to see you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was something.

RICKLES: You see. Carl, I hope you agree, David Letterman is so beautiful, because he has that pacing that Johnny had. Jay is great, but Jay is -- apples and oranges, 2 different kinds. But David had Johnny's pace. And those were exciting moments.

KING: Johnny liked him.

REINER: Very much so.

You know what was exciting about that? Because he came on Sat in the seat, got the laugh, and didn't -- and knew to get off the...

KING: He knew what he was doing.

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: Time-out -- Pittsburgh (ph), which I think you'll agree. We never mentioned, Mike Douglas was one of the original guys, you know, in Philadelphia when we all went down there...

KING: He began this.

RICKLES: Yes. And nobody realizes what Mike's contribution was...

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: But he was something else...

KING: You are the beginning. Mike, you were the first.

You started in Cleveland, right?

RICKLES: He did. He did. God bless him.

DOUGLAS: I did start in Cleveland. Correct. 1961.

KING: And then moved to Philadelphia.

DOUGLAS: Moved to Philadelphia in '65. And -- those were the wonderful days.

RICKLES: You're the best, Mike.

KING: Had a producer named Roger Ailes. What ever happened to him?

Anyway...

DOUGLAS: He happens to be very big in this business. KING: That was a joke, Mike.

With us on the phone is Phyllis Diller, comic and actress, frequent guest on the "Tonight Show."

Phyllis, how are you taking this? How did you hear about it?

PHYLLIS DILLER, COMEDIENNE: Well, I heard about it from his second wife who called me early in the morning.

(LAUGHTER)

DILLER: That's the truth. She was supposed to come and play gin tonight. And she said, I can't come, Johnny died. And she was crying.

And then the phone started ringing and everybody knew that it had happened. And I just feel awful. Well we all have to go sometime, but shoot, it's a horrible thing when you lose someone like that who is a consummate artist.

KING: What did he mean to you?

DILLER: Oh, God, I loved him. I met him before he had the show when everyone was saying oh, nobody can follow Jack Paar, remember that?

KING: Yeah, sure.

DILLER: And there's little old Johnny who took it to a higher level than it has ever been.

KING: How many times were you on that show?

DILLER: I lost track. You know, he inherited me from the original Steve Allen, Jack Paar, then Johnny. And I just lost track of it. I didn't pay any attention. But it was always a thrill to go on the show, because it was the top show. And he created all of the people who are now the top people like Seinfeld and Letterman and Leno, he created them.

KING: He made people, right Carl?

REINER: Well, Ellen Degeneres had her first -- she talked about this. I wish she were here.

KING: Her first appearance was...

REINER: Her first appearance. And she said she was frightened to death. She wanted a panel (ph) in the worst way. And she figured if she did way, she would look over and he would do this.

She said when she finished her act -- it was really great -- she was afraid to look over. She said it was about 30 seconds before she looked over. I looked at the tape the other day, it was 4 seconds, but it seemed like 30 seconds. And she looked over and he went like this. And she came, and it was the beginning of her career.

KING: You remember your first appearance, Don?

RICKLES: Yeah. It was in New York. I was headlining -- I couldn't believe it -- at the Copa Cabana at the time, and I was starting like a really tiny name. I came from the Elegonton (ph), Brooklyn, the Skandori (ph) family. And all of a sudden there I was at the Copa Cabana and Johnny said, let's have him on, you know.

And I came on. And we had notes. And he never looked at notes. And he opened up with, you know, abstract things like, how's your mother. I said, leave me alone, I don't want talk about my mother. What's the matter with you, you're a big star.

And he started what you did. And he started to laugh, never like you did, Larry. But Johnny, rest his soul, he always carried on with me. And he made me important. And I love him for that. And wherever he is. He knows it.

KING: Phyllis Diller, what was his greatness?

DILLER: Well he -- you see, he was a consummate artist and a true gentleman. He was a really civilized man.

KING: Good point.

DILLER: A gentleman. And he was nice to children and nice to old ladies, nice to old men. And he was always a gentleman.

KING: Joan Rivers, how good a night club act was he?

RIVERS: Oh, I'll talk about that in a second. What everyone is forgetting that I adored about him, what I learned was, he was what, I found out a star should be. He was simple. He didn't have the entourage. I once asked him to come on the show that I was doing, he came alone, Larry. Do you understand? Alone. There wasn't a posse, there weren't 70 people leading the way.

KING: He drove to work.

RIVERS: He drove to and from the studio by himself every day. I have such respect for that.

He was a true star. He was simple. He didn't have to put on airs. And I adored him for that.

Now as far as a nightclub act, I loved...

KING: He did a lot in Vegas.

RIVERS: I would be working on the strip the same time he was, and I got to run over and see him. Because I was everybody's opening act, I was like the strip slut. So I would do my act and then run over and see Johnny who was closing.

And he was wonderful on the stage. Such a connection. And the people adored him. And he just -- he waited for the laughs. They loved him. There was such a feeling of warmth in the room. He was amazing.

KING: Did he ever do the -- Mike Douglas, did he ever guest on your show when it was in the afternoon?

DOUGLAS: No, unfortunately not. But I guested on his show a couple of times, and he wasn't there. There was a message there somewhere. In fact, Don Rickles is laughing, he was the host when I appeared on Johnny's show.

KING: You had Mike Douglas as a guest?

RICKLES: Oh, are you kidding, he's my buddy.

KING: Only the biggies for you.

RICKLES: Oh yeah. He had a bear once on the show. And I sued because the bear tore my arm off.

KING: Phyllis, thanks so much, dear. Stay well.

DILLER: You as well. I'll see you soon.

KING: OK. Phyllis Diller.

We're talking with Joan Rivers and Mike Douglas and Don Rickles and Carl Reiner. Dick Cavett is going to be checking in soon by phone. Who was a writer.

DOUGLAS: Oh, he's wonderful.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Went on opposite him.

RICKLES: I personally never like him. But, you know...

KING: I tell you. Don't get much attention.

Did you know that Johnny Carson once hosted Ms. Universe.

DOUGLAS: Yes, I do.

KING: For one year. I was back stage. I was like the local host. I did the local events in Miami...

RICKLES: What an exciting story.

KING: No, wait a minute.

RICKLES: All right. All right, I'm just...

KING: He goes on. He opens up. He introduces them. He's throwing lines. Now, they break for commercial. He comes off. The producer says, don't be funny! This is Ms. Universe. He said, what?

Don't be funny.

And he looks at me and says, don't be funny? Then you go on.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.

RICKLES: Ah, Larry, you're a funny guy.

KING: Dirty.

We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're very sexy.

CARSON: Excuse me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're very sexy. You have hair on your toes.

(LAUGHTER)

CARSON: And a song in my heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will marry again...

CARSON: I will what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will remarry a...

(BOINK)

(CHEERING)

CARSON: All I need, honey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not with a woman.

CARSON: Not with a woman?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean with a woman that...

CARSON: There's a man in my foot!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: Good evening, ladies and revolutionaries. I know you're revolutionaries, because I just saw you come out of the ladies' room. Revere is my name, night riding is my game.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Finally, we got the cameras working and we got Merv Griffin with us from La Quinta, California. Was a guest on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson," hosted his own night show as a night rival of "The Tonight Show."

Before we talk with Merv, with us on the phone is Dick Cavett, who was a writer for "The Tonight Show," both with Paar and with Carson. Was a guest on "The Tonight Show," and then you went against him, right?

DICK CAVETT, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST: And then...

KING: Dick Cavett, can you hear me?

CAVETT: I'm hearing you, right, oh, sure.

KING: Were you on against Johnny?

CAVETT: Yes, it was. Well, I wasn't exactly against him, because I enjoyed him. I know what you mean. But I never thought of it that way. In fact, I used to call him, and he would give me advice, and very good advice when I would have some particular problem that I didn't know how to handle, and I thought (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Really?

CAVETT: Yeah, he was wonderful that way.

KING: What was it like to write for him?

CAVETT: It was a very professional, very rigid kind of thing, where he was immaculately sincere about writing comedy. He didn't joke about it. He only once laughed at something I took down to him, but he -- I had an awful day once. I didn't feel very good, and I slacked off, and I wrote eight jokes, took them down, came back, and the phone in my office produced, "Richard, I think you're capable of a little better monologue than this." And the chill went through me. And I just felt like I hurt my favorite teacher's feelings or something. I got better after that, but I never tried -- you slack with him, he'll kill you.

KING: I'll tell you, that was something, you're on opposite him, and he could call him and he'd give you an advice, which says an enormous lot about the man.

CAVETT: I'll tell you something about Johnny, Charlie, that people don't often hear. I'll try to make it quick. He invited me to come and have dinner with him in a bar. I was taping in California. I was late, and before I'd hung up, I'd said, I don't really think I should come, I've got on white running shoes and it's a fancy -- he said, that doesn't matter. So I went, I kept him late. I was sweating. I got there, and there's a man sitting at the bar, familiar dark bar, with a beautiful suit on and white running shoes. He either sent out for them, or he made somebody buy them and rush them over, and he didn't want me to feel bad.

KING: That is a great story.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Thanks for joining us. Dick Cavett, always great hearing that voice.

And now, Merv Griffin is with us. Don't get excited. By the way, because...

MERV GRIFFIN: Fire a rocket, Merv Griffin.

KING: We finally got the rocket -- rocket? We finally got the satellite working, so I'm going to hold this show over for like 10 minutes tonight, so instead of going over the top of the hour, we're going to carry over for 10 minutes, because I'm having a good time.

RICKLES: You bet your burger...

(CROSSTALK)

REINER: Are you allowed to do this?

(CROSSTALK)

REINER: I'm more impressed than anything that's happened.

RICKLES: What did you want to hear (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: They told me before the show I could do extra time. I...

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: I begged and begged, and that's why I kiss (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Merv!

GRIFFIN: Yeah.

KING: All right, Merv...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: OK, now, all right, how did you hear about Johnny?

GRIFFIN: On television this morning, on CNN. KING: First reaction.

GRIFFIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for this great tribute tonight, Larry. It looks like Abraham Lincoln's graduating class. I've never seen so many old -- I mean, to see Rickles with Johnny, and he was thin.

KING: Yeah, you were thin.

RICKLES: Why did the man turn on me? For no reason.

KING: Merv, what was...

RICKLES: I love him, I love him.

KING: ... now, you hosted a lot of shows, Merv, you did your night show. What was his uniqueness?

GRIFFIN: Well, I think what most people don't know is Johnny and I, through all the competitiveness, which was usually through the staff, we were great friends. I mean, Don talks about going out -- I used to go out and have dinner with him at Grenada. He owned that. That's why he would invite us there. He owned it with Wolfgang Puck. But I used to go out to the house on weekends. He built a beautiful tennis pavilion, and he would, you know, invite us and he would all go out there and play, Chevy and the whole group. And he was a really wonderful guy. Everybody thought that we were like enemies, you know, and we would never. Dick Carson, who I just talked to a little while ago, his brother, was my director for 17 years. And then I gave him also "Wheel of Fortune." Another wonderful Carson family member. I knew his sister, I knew their mother and father, I knew the whole family. They were amazing people.

KING: So did you -- did you fight for the same...

GRIFFIN: I'll tell you...

KING: You fought for the same guests, though, didn't you?

GRIFFIN: No, the staff did. The staff always did. There was -- oh, if you're going on "Carson," you can't go on "Griffin." You know, we'd fight to see which one could keep Rickles off. And I always won, and that's why he went on with Johnny.

KING: Joan Rivers went on "Griffin," didn't you, Joan?

RIVERS: No, I was brought on Carson, and that was...

KING: That was exclusive?

RIVERS: Exclusive. And it took me a long time before I was allowed -- not allowed, but it softened up, and you were allowed to do both shows. But no, I was totally with Carson, at least for the first four years.

GRIFFIN: Joan, you were on with me -- Joan was on with me before Carson was born. She was on with me many times, at Caesar's Palace... RIVERS: Oh, yes, once it started...

GRIFFIN: Joan, wake up.

RIVERS: What I'm saying is Johnny -- once I was able to go back aboard, I was over with you a million times, and you had that great light on your set, I don't forget. And in the beginning I went, and then NBC signed me right away, and that was one of the -- the things (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Now, Mike, Mike Douglas, was Merv ever on your show?

DOUGLAS: Certainly.

GRIFFIN: Sure.

DOUGLAS: A couple of times.

GRIFFIN: And he was on my show, and I was on his Carson's show, and Carson was on my show. It's all (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CAVETT: I met Carson before anybody there did, I'll bet you.

KING: Who?

CAVETT: Johnny. I bet him -- I met him before any of you did.

KING: When did you meet him?

CAVETT: Well, can you top this? The basement of Westminster Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, on South Street, in 1952, where he'd do his magic act for $35, and got back into his Chevrolet and drove through the glamorous night to Omaha, where he had a television show.

KING: What a story.

CAVETT: The three of us would have traded with him.

GRIFFIN: Dick, Dick, who had the guts to put you on the air?

CAVETT: It was a guy...

GRIFFIN: Think about it. Come on.

CAVETT: Merv, have I ever kept a secret that I was judged not ready for "The Tonight Show?" That's where not ready started. And...

GRIFFIN: You told...

CAVETT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jack Rowlins (ph) said, "put him on Merv, the hell with him."

KING: All right, I got to get a -- Dick Cavett, thanks very much -- I got to get a break.

CAVETT: OK. KING: Thanks for checking in, Dick Cavett. We'll be right back with more, and again, we'll hang over for a while after, just to hear what Rickles has to day. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: To compete in the Olympic Games, first a woman has to qualify to make the team. Then they go to Montreal and have to prove that they are a woman, and they are subjecting the women athletes up there to a sex test to prove that they're actually -- there are two ways of doing it. Now, let me point them out. You may have yours, I got mine. They can either take the physical examination by a doctor, or they can go on a date with one of our congressmen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: Let's get to it.

MCMAHON: Aren't you in a testy mood?

CARSON: You got it.

MCMAHON: Envelope #1. Hermetically sealed.

CARSON: I have -- I have -- I don't care. May I have silence as I open.

(CROSSTALK)

CARSON: They ask you this question -- sealed?

MCMAHON: Hermetically sealed.

CARSON: We're not going to get away with this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) for another year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back with the crew. Merv, were you surprised that he stayed retired?

GRIFFIN: Well, we all went out there a lot. We'd have dinner at the house, that lovely home in Malibu, overlooking the ocean, which he loved. And then one day the gates closed, and they never saw, he and Alex, never saw anybody again. It was really very sad. Alex is the most wonderful girl, and I am so glad that she was with him there to the end.

KING: Did you expect him to come back, though, in some form? Do a special?

GRIFFIN: No. He wouldn't -- he was offered -- he was offered so much money to do even magazine layouts and stuff. The only time he ever came back is when "Vanity Fair" did a big story on me, here at La Quinta, and he -- they called somebody in his office, and he gave them a really nice quote. I never thought that he would come back.

KING: Why do you think, Carl, that he didn't like to do -- I would call him every year, and was always nice and sweet, and it's always the same thing. I'd say, "do you want to do the show?" "I can't do it, because then I'd have to do everybody."

REINER: That's the way he felt. As a matter of fact, the one time he thought about it for a second, Steve Martin was going to emcee the Oscars, and he'd done it three or four times, and the introduction was going to be -- it was Steve Martin's idea -- they were going to give Steve the best introduction, like the greatest host that ever hosted the Oscars, and he was going to start the bow, and all he wanted is Johnny to walk out, just look at him, shake his head and walk off. And Johnny thought it was wonderful. He thought about it for 30 seconds, he said, "Oh, I'd love it. It's so easy and it's so fun. It's going to get a big roar, but, "he said, "I'm retired." He really felt that once he -- he was a man of his word. He said, I'm never going to work anymore, I'm going to retire. He loved his boat, he did go around. The only thing he ever did that we knew about is he played poker with us once every few months, and sometimes he wasn't there because he was going around the world in his boat.

KING: But he went to tennis tournaments. He went to Wimbledon, he went to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

REINER: Yes, yes.

KING: Would you -- since you didn't get close, it was hard to get close to him, Joan, would you call him a dear man? How would you describe him?

RIVERS: Decent. Decent. That really middle American decency. Honorable. His word was bond, and...

KING: I'm going to interrupt you right there. Hold it a second. I'm going to take a break and come back, and we're going to hold the show over, by my edict. And we'll come right back with more. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: Now, does that lower the value of the chip when it -- obviously, it's been restored, you know. And sometimes that -- it's like the Mona Lisa, you know. That.

Now, here's...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A candle.

CARSON: That's a nice little candle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a candle.

CARSON: Wow.

MCMAHON: Look at this one, Johnny.

CARSON: No, I didn't...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My pantyhose make me look like I'm not wearing nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My pantyhose make me look like I'm not wearing nothing.

CARSON: Now, hold it, you little teasers. Admit it, you're really wearing something, aren't you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we are.

CARSON: Well, I'm not!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

KING: That was funny.

One other quick -- about Carson's story, on a personal note, before he had his heart surgery, he called me and he wanted to know everything that was going to happen to him. The first thing they did when -- so I said, the first they do is, they take an electric saw and they go down the center of...

And he goes, ooh, oooh. Tell me more.

And then I spoke to him a couple of days after the surgery. And he said his room looked like a Mafia funeral. All the flowers -- with all the flowers that kept pouring in to him.

So, how are we going to remember him, guys?

Mike, what's history going to say?

DOUGLAS: History is going to say he was the best at what he did, the very best.

KING: There'll never a host. That ain't going to happened, there will be no host like him on late night television.

REINER: I knew that -- the last week he was on, he had old friends on, and I remember...

KING: You were on, right? REINER: Yeah. I had done 47 shows. And I said, Johnny, I wanted to do an even 50. Would you do me a favor.

And he said, what, anything. Right on the air.

I said, give me 3 introductions. I'll come out 3 times. And I'll have it in my bank, and I'll show it to people, here's my 50th.

And he did 3 different introductions. I came on. I turned my suit inside out. I wore it. And I came out with shirt sleeves. And I sat down 3 times. And the people next to me turned their shirts inside -- their jackets.

He was just of the moment.

KING: Merv, did you know he was ill?

GRIFFITH: Yes, I did.

Do you want to hear a fact about Johnny that very few people know? He spoke impeccable Russian.

KING: What?

GRIFFITH: In his later -- he spoke perfect Russian. And he would do it all the time at the table. And it used to make me laugh, because I used to say to him, well, do you think they're coming at us, John, and you want to be the first to welcome them? But that was just one of his hobbies. Astronomy was another great hobby.

But the funniest night I remember is I gave Eva a birthday party. Eva Gabor. And he came, he and Alex. And a lot of people were there. And suddenly, Ronnie Reagan and Nancy walked in. He said, oh, you didn't tell me they were coming. And he got crazed. And he almost tried to hide to behind me.

I said, what's the matter?

He said, oh, I've done too many jokes about him on television.

I said, you don't think he has a sense of humor? Are you crazy? Come here.

And I dragged him over. And I said, Ronnie, Nancy, you know Johnny Carson.

And they went, hi. And they hugged him. He was so relieved.

KING: No kidding? He was -- that's interesting. It's like Rickles, you get concerned about people, right?

RICKLES: Not really.

KING: Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot who I asked.

REINER: Not only did he speak Russian, but he studied and spoke Swahili. We couldn't check it, but he did. When he went to Africa, he wanted to be able to speak Swahili...

KING: You're kidding me, right?

REINER: Oh, he spoke it.

RICKLES: Every Jew likes to live in the jungle. Every Jew...

REINER: He tracks adurial time (ph). He was a real astronomer. He could track the time with his telescope.

KING: How good a magician was he?

REINER: The best. As a matter of fact, he allowed us to win in poker, because he both -- Steve Martin and he could do splice, they could deal seconds. They could have beat us in poker every night. But they let us win.

KING: I was on the Tonight Show 3 times, but he wasn't the host. Someone was sitting in.

RICKLES: That's normal.

KING: Why not me, Don? Why didn't I get on?

RICKLES: You don't have it. You're not...

REINER: Oh, I would be much kinder. You have too much. And it was too...

KING: I have too much for him.

RICKLES: No. You're beautiful

I guess Johnny never knew you.

Is it my turn to say something?

KING: OK, Don. What's you're -- what would you like -- and then I want to ask about why there's no memorial, but go ahead.

RICKLES: My -- if I may call, my experience with Johnny Carson was, he made me the host of the show many times. And I was a nervous wreck. I didn't deserve it, but he was so kind. I knew him socially. And my wife and I Barbara, God bless her, and we were at the house in trying times. We were at the house when it was fun. And I say, very honestly, he was so special, because Midwest guy -- and I'm a Jewish kid from New York, and when I showed affection it was hard for him to show that. But when I did, I knew he loved me.

And he's in heaven now. And I know he loves me and my family. And I love him. And may God be good to this man. He was the best.

KING: Should there be a memorial, Merv? The family has said no.

GRIFFITH: I'm sure Hollywood friends and stars and the folks that started on his show will get together and do something. I asked Dick about that today. And he said, no, it's going to be just a family good-bye someplace. I don't even know where.

But I'm sure all the friends, you know, will want to get together and tell Carson stories. They're all great.

KING: Don't you think that will happen, Mike? Someone will put one together.

DOUGLAS: No, I don't think so. I really don't think it's going to happen. Knowing the man as I did, a few brief moments I have spent with him, he wouldn't want it. He'd want it his way.

KING: Joan, you agree?

RIVERS: Oh, absolutely. I think you respect his wishes. And if he didn't want it, he didn't want it. And if they did put a memorial together, my God, he started all of us: Gary Shandling, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor. I mean, every major name now in comedy -- Rodney Dangerfield, we all got our breaks due to him.

KING: Carl?

REINER: There may not be a big memorial service -- one big one, there's going to be hundreds of little ones. Don't you think I got friends who are going to get together and talk about him? Maybe a half a dozen, a dozen, 2 dozen? Whatever it is, we're going to go someplace and talk about him. We have a poker game that he was supposed to be at in a couple of weeks, half the night we'll be talking about him.

There will be a memorial service, but they will be clusters all over the city and country.

KING: And he deserves one.

RICKLES: He does. And we'll miss him.

And with Johnny gone. It's now up to me. So...

KING: You couldn't stay with it. You lost it for one moment...

RICKLES: Oh, Johnny would know. He's the first one...

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: Don't turn on me...

KING: I'm not turning on you...

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: The money I'm getting for this show, I'm...

KING: No, I'm not turning you. It's just that you had me so emotionally...

RICKLES: No, emotional. Sure, there's a moment in my life when I'm emotional. Where Johnny is, he saying, turn on this mother, turn on this mother.

(CROSSTALK)

RICKLES: Carl has Rob Reiner. If he dies, God forbid, this man is millionaire.

But I want to tell you, from my heart, from my heart, I don't want to do this anymore. Bring me a show when somebody doesn't die. Bring me somebody that's alive.

Carl, I'm gay.

Get me off. I don't want to be here.

KING: Johnny would have loved this. Johnny would have loved...

RICKLES: Johnny would have loved it. And get rid of the glasses, because everybody knows you're blind.

KING: Why is that funny?

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Merv Griffin...

RICKLES: Johnny, rest in peace, baby. We love you.

KING: Joan Rivers, Mike Douglas...

RICKLES: Read the card...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Carl Reiner.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And Don Rickles.

RICKLES: Now we get snap out of this. I'm getting depressed. I'm going to bury my wife. And she's well.

(LAUGHTER)

RICKLES: Oh, I've got vodka on the hand. Here Carl, in case you want a drink.

KING: You're drinking vodka.

RICKLES: Don't touch it. Don't touch it.

REINER: He is.

RICKLES: Now, you're personality will come out.

Now you'll become a star, instead in that with the jaw sticking out, and the shoulders, and the skinny body...

KING: Johnny, rest in peace, not by watching him...

RICKLES: Johnny, don't listen to him baby. You're the best. I love you.

KING: Carl Lin is going to follow with news headlines. And then a great new show, "OFF TOPIC WITH CARLOS WATSON." He's terrific. Stay tuned for that. We leave you with Bette Midler in tribute to Johnny on his final night.

See you tomorrow with Ed McMahon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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