For three decades, from 1962 to 1992, Johnny Carson, born John William Carson (1925 – 2005), hosted The Tonight Show on NBC. During that time, he set the standard format and template followed by television chat shows ever since, including the guest couch and studio band. He won a Peabody Award, six Emmys, and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Carson also received a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom – America’s highest civilian award.
He worked hard to cement his perception as the funny and neighborly Midwesterner, and perfected his friendly on-air persona. In return, Americans welcomed Carson with open arms into their living rooms as the country’s favorite late-night-host. However, when he was not in front of an audience, The King of Late Night Television, as Carson came to be known, was often a horrible human being – a bitter bully, and a mean SOB. Indeed, he was so awful that many famous figures boycotted his show – but quietly, because they feared that he might damage their careers. As seen below, Wayne Newton was an exception.
1. Johnny Carson Got Slapped Around by One of His Targets for Being a Jerk
While he was on the air, Johnny Carson was sweetness and sunshine, and the epitome of the friendly character we all wish we had as a neighbor. When not in front of the cameras and his adoring audience, however, Carson was an awful jerk who habitually bullied and abused others, and even physically assaulted people in fits of rage. Examples of Carson being a jerk include an attempt to strangle NBC colleague Tom Snyder, his refusal to visit his son who was institutionalized in a mental asylum, and his verbal and physical abuse of his wives.
Celebrities subjected to The King of Late Night TV’s abuse usually stayed quiet to protect their careers from the notoriously vindictive icon. One notable exception was singer and actor Wayne Newton, who did not find it funny when Carson cracked homosexual jokes about him on national TV. Thinking that they were buddies, Newton begged Carson to cut it out, but Carson persisted. So an incensed Newton barged into Carson’s office one day, and slapped him around silly. It was one of the few times that Carson got his comeuppance. The homosexual jokes stopped.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading