To celebrate what would have been Johnny Carson's 85th birthday, let's look back at some of the late-night king's greatest moments. From his outrageous characters to his winning banter with sidekick Ed McMahon to even a few emotional moments, heeeeeere's our favorites!
Video: Ed McMahon reflects on being Johnny Carson's sidekickThe Tomahawk Toss
On April 25, 1965, actor Ed Ames
stopped by The Tonight Show
to promote the TV show Daniel Boone
, on which Ames played a Native American named Mingo. Carson asked Ames to demonstrate his tomahawk-throwing skills, and Ames' first toss landed squarely on the silhouette target's crotch. The instant classic moment was marked by uproarious laughter, which only worsened when Carson quipped, "I didn't even know you were Jewish!"
Carnac the Magnificent
Carson played many recurring characters, including Carnac the Magnificent, a mystic from the East who could "divine" unknown answers to unseen questions, which were hidden in a sealed envelope which Carnac held to his head. The answers were usually puns. An example: "The La Brea Tar Pits" is the answer to the enveloped question, "What do you have left after eating the La Brea Tar Peaches?"
Hamlet the Huckster
Other characters were one-offs, like Hamlet the Huckster. In this classic sketch, Carson recites Shakespeare's famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet, only to pause after every few lines to hawk sleeping aids and various other products.
Tiny Tim's Wedding
Famously falsetto-voiced singer Tiny Tim made numerous appearances on Carson's Tonight Show, but none was more hyped than the "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" singer's wedding to Miss Vicki on December 17, 1969. Although often uncomfortably awkward, the stunt drew 40 million viewers.
Johnny Comments on His Son's Death
Every moment on The Tonight Show wasn't about comedy. In 1991, during his first show after his son, Rick, died in a car accident, Carson took a few moments to eulogize him. "I'm not doing this to be mawkish, believe me," Carson said. "Rick was an exuberant young man, fun to be around. And he tried so hard to please. You'll have to forgive a father's pride in these pictures." He then showed a series of photographs, some taken by Rick.
Bette Midler Helps Johnny Say Goodbye
Carson was also noticeably emotional on his penultimate show when friend and frequent guest Bette Midler took the stage to sing "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)."
For more of Carson's greatest moments, check out TONIGHT: 4 Decades From The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
, a new 15-disc DVD set
available Oct. 26. Order your copy at johnnycarson.com
What are some of your favorites?