carson.jpgIt’s all over the internet today, but I thought I’d mention it as well – early yesterday morning, “Tonight Show” host and the only real undisputed ‘king of late night’ Johnny Carson passed away from emphysema. He was 79 years old.

Just last week, Carson’s name had been on the entertainment wires – it was reported that he was secretly feeding jokes to David Letterman for his “Late Show” monologue. As you’ll see in this clip from Letterman’s old NBC show, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Growing up, I don’t think I was mature enough to appreciate Carson’s humor, being more interested instead in the ‘attitude’ of Arsenio Hall or (briefly) Dennis Miller, or the sheer wackyness of 12:30 Dave, although that changed as my understanding of comedy broadened. Carson had a style that no one could match. Beyond all else, he was, and still is, unrivaled as a conversationalist. And he understood the comic value of silence as well as Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, or Steve Allen – Carson was capable of turning anything into a joke without even opening his mouth – a knowing take to the camera or to Ed MacMahon was all it took. His show may have been a bit ‘old school’ in comparison (to Letterman, not to Leno – Leno couldn’t hold Carson’s…well, Leno couldn’t hold a candle to Carson), but the man knew how to entertain.

I won’t even begin to catalog his thousands of guests, or the post-monologue comedy bits that even this cynical SOB to laugh (hell, in high school, I was mining the Carnak bits for my own purposes). Instead, I’ll end with this quote from Johnny’s last appearance on the “Tonight Show” back in May of 1992 – if only we were all able to say this about our lives.

“And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it.”