The Johnny Carson Show ran from October 1, 1962, to May 22, 1992. And anyone that’s ever watched it can attest to the fact that it’s one of the most influential shows of its kind to ever hit the airwaves. It was practically a staple of American life back in the day. It quite frankly revolutionized the way we look at late-night television.
While the show certainly culturally significant on many different levels it also managed to stir up quite a bit of controversy from time to time. From his insistent and oftentimes careless jokes to some of the more questionable elements of his personal life. Johnny Carson was far from being perfect. This kind of thing wouldn’t even raise eyebrows these days. But back then Carson liked to make a ton of jokes at the expense of other stars. And that kind of thing not always received with open arms.
Some of the real-life altercations and arguments with people on the show will probably surprise you to learn about. Like Carson’s four failed marriages and that one pesky guest that Carson just couldn’t stand, but we’ll cover all of that in just a minute.
So why not come along with us for a little trek down memory lane. It’s been nearly three decades since The Johnny Carson sounded off for the last time. But the legacy that it left behind is still felt to this day and it’s pretty clear how big of an impact that program had on the bustling and highly competitive world of late-night talk TV. Join Facts Verse to know the details about the Dark Secrets about Johnny Carson we ignored for too long.
An Unhappy And Needlessly Cruel Husband
No one can argue with the fact that Johnny Carson was a beloved television icon. I mean, it probably wouldn’t be that big of a stretch to call the man a national treasure. But that being said, he’s far from being anything close to a saint in his private life. He was notorious for treating the people around him with disrespect and with a surprising degree of cruelty. One of his most startling displays of hostility was during a time that he publicly put his new wife on blast while on their honeymoon.
In 1987, Carson tied the knot with Alexis Maas, his fourth wife. The freshly wed couple decided to spend their honeymoon in Italy and booked a yacht to make the best of their limited time. Carson, apparently, was in a bad mood and decided that he should take his frustrations out on his new bride. He even once warned his wife that they had only married for three weeks. And that if she were to say something disrespectful to him again then their marriage probably wouldn’t last another three weeks.
Carson could be so cruel at times that some celebs flat-out refused to even appear on his program. And there was Bob Hope, a star that Carson would eventually consider to be his arch-enemy. While they were always chummy with each other when the cameras were rolling. In truth, Carson couldn’t stand the man.
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And make sure you stick around for the rest of the video. In a moment we’ll cover the reasons why Johnny Carson says his four marriages failed. We’ll just come out and say it though because no one else seems to have the guts to do so. Johnny Carson seriously needed to take more accountability for his own problems instead of pointing the finger of blame on everyone else all the time.
A Difficult and Strained Relationship With His Son
Carson’s first marriage resulted in three children, all sons. His three other marriages didn’t result in any other kids. His son, Rick Carson, has struggled with mental health. And back in the day, mental illness wasn’t the kind of thing that people liked to discuss in the open. Rick Carson eventually committed to a mental hospital but Carson straight-up refused to go visit him.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t come with any kind of happy ending. On June 21, 1991, Rick was driving his vehicle in Morro Bay, California when he went off the edge of the road and plummeted 125 feet down to the water below. He killed instantaneously. Johnny ended up paying tribute to his son despite their estranged relationship on his show. But it didn’t change the fact that their relationship was always a turbulent one and once he was gone. There was no way that he could remedy that heartbreaking reality.
Carson was infamous for being a heavy drinker, but he also had a pretty nasty attitude to go with it. NBC threw him an elaborate 25th-anniversary party in October of 1987. The event held aboard the Queen Mary and his son Rick, who had his own fairly significant drinking problem, was also in attendance.
Rick got absolutely hammered and when Johnny went to check on him, a boisterous screaming match ensued. This all went down while aboard a ship packed full of media figures, powerful network execs. And Carson’s brood of family and friends. Witnesses to the event reported that Carson most certainly was the aggressor. And noted that he lost his temper first before all of the yelling started happening. At one point, Johnny even pulled back his fist to take a swing at his son. But fortunately, someone stepped in and stopped him before he could land the punch.
A DUI Lingered Above Him Like A Storm Cloud
Johnny Carson was an alcoholic. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. And of course, that means that some of his worst qualities came to the surface when he hit the bottle. And that was practically all the time. Sadly, a lot of folks that crossed his path during his lifetime remember him as a cruel drunk with little sympathy for others.
In 1982, Johnny was driving his DeLorean while under the influence of alcohol. He ended up pleading no-contest to a misdemeanor charge but that was the least of his worries. He ended up being place on three years of probation and ordered to attend an alcohol program for drivers. He’s not allowed to use his vehicle for anything other than driving to. And from work and forbidden from driving around with people or animals in his car.
He Hated His Mother, Ruth
Probably quite a few of us can relate to having personal life problems but Johnny Carson seemed to be cursed with having an exorbitant amount of life problems in comparison to most people. Whether it was his relationships with his family, friends, or his countless lovers and mistresses. He ultimately struggled with his interpersonal relationships on a daily basis. But in his mind, there was one clear reason for all of his troubles. There was one person from his tangled history that he routinely pointed the finger of blame to explain away all of his issues. He blamed his coldness and cruelty on his ‘terrible and heartless mother’, Ruth.
But to be fair, if he talked about his own mother using such terms, can you imagine how he’d speak about his legitimate enemies?
Carson Laid It All Out On 60 Minutes
So we’ve already established the fact that Johnny Carson was a bonafide alcoholic. But at least he was able to be open and honest about his addiction instead of trying to sweep it under the metaphorical rug. He did his best to avoid the media and press so he wouldn’t have to confront his issues or answer reporters’ intrusive questions. But that didn’t mean that he was oblivious to the fact that he had a problem. His experiences with alcoholism. In fact, altered the way that he approached the subject and joked about addiction on his Academy Award-winning talk show.
Carson gave a surprisingly candid – not to mention revealing – interview to 60 Minutes, In 1977. In it, Carson admitted that there was a time when he used to drink and that he didn’t handle it very well. He pointed out that even though he had some ‘wonderful’ times in the past drinking, most of the time he couldn’t handle it.
Johnny and Joanne: Destined For Disaster
One of Johnny’s most troubled marriages was to his second wife, Joanne Copeland. She worked as a stewardess for Pan Am World Airlines. And she and Johnny went on their first date in 1960 when he was working as a game show host for the program, Who Do You Trust? After they got hitched, Copeland engaged in an extramarital affair with sports figure, Frank Gifford. While her husband also engaged in his own infidelities.
The Carsons were married for 9 years but all of that came crashing down in 1972 when they had a very public divorce. But even after their marriage was over, Copeland still helped preserve Johnny’s TV legacy. She was still dedicated to his professional career and did her best to help him succeed in the cut-throat industry.
An Affair For The Ages
In 2013, Johnny’s former lawyer, Henry Bushkin, published a tell-all memoir about Mr. Carson. One of the most explosive bombshells found within the pages of the book was the claim that Johnny’s second wife, Joanne, had that scandalous affair with Frank Gifford.
Before filing for divorce, Johnny wanted to find out for himself what his wife had been up to so he secretly went to her apartment where she and her illicit lover had been hooking up to find evidence of their affair. Henry claims that Johnny began sobbing at the very thought that his wife was cheating on him. Henry also claimed that Johnny started carrying a revolver although he never revealed why he had the gun.
He Sure Did Get Around
Like so many other rich and powerful men in the entertainment industry, Carson was a notoriously abusive womanizer. While he was in the middle of dealing with the fallout of his second divorce, he was spending quite a bit of time with Playboy model Angel Tompkins. His lawyer warned him that he was potentially jeopardizing any settlement that might be reached if his wife’s lawyer found out about the affair. He replied with harsh expletives signaling that he couldn’t care less about what Joanne found out about his lover.
Sometimes it’s difficult to separate a performer’s private life from their craft. It’s not exactly a rare thing to find out that stars are actually pretty awful when the cameras aren’t running but that leaves the viewing audience in this little moral predicament where they must come to terms with the fact that their heroes aren’t exactly the shining stars that we would like to remember them as.
Johnny Carson was unquestionably one of the most influential talk show hosts to ever hit the small screen. A lot of us grew up with him as an extended member of our families. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that he was a highly problematic man with a ton of skeletons hiding in his closet.
Anyway, now’s the time for you to have your voice be heard. Who was your favorite late-night talk show host between Johnny Carson and David Letterman? Let us know in the comments section below.
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