A very bright light in my life has gone out.
Forgive me if what follows is a little disorganized, but I've just heard that we've lost Johnny Carson. It doesn't seem possible. We were in touch just a week ago.
I'm dropping this into the web page as a sort of catharsis. The phone has been ringing incessantly, and I'm hardly able to speak coherently to those who express their grief and shock.
Just a few years ago I asked John about his triple bypass and how it was affecting his life. Typically, he told me that it had made such a difference to him in so many ways, that he would recommend it to everyone, "whether they need it or not." I now regret that I was never able to ask him a burning question: whether he'd given up smoking. I suspect he hadn't, since those of us who appeared on his show were well aware that he smoked all through the taping, concealing that fact by waiting until the camera was on a guest and would probably stay there for at least 30 seconds. There was an exhaust fan under the desk, always a lit cigarette within reach, and the audience had been prompted to simply not notice that he was smoking in between camera shots. I mention this because it seems pretty evident that tobacco got the man, as it does so many of us. It makes me hate the product and those who promote it even more than I did previously; it took away my father, too.
John was generous, kind, and caring. The JREF received several checks 6-figure checks from this prince, because he really believed in what we were doing, he followed our web page closely, and he would call every now and then with comments and suggestions for subjects he believed to be important. The phone will never again give me the delight of hearing his voice, and that is the burden I will have to live with. I will miss him more than I can say.
There was always a bit of mystery connected with my appearances on the show. John would never wish to meet guests before they actually walked out onto the set, but I was accustomed to hearing at tap on the door about 10 minutes before airtime, opening it to find him standing there. He was thoughtful enough to want to ask me what I wished to promote during my appearance, and always had some sort of anecdote to share with me. Once, after he'd left my dressing room, I was asked by the prop man, "Do you know where the body's hidden, or something?" He just couldn't understand why John had broken his rule in my case.
When the famous expose of Peter Popoff occurred on his show, conditions had been somewhat changed over those that usually applied. Earlier that afternoon I had met with Fred DeCordova, his director, I had shown him the video footage that we had exposing Popoff's scam, and when Fred said that he would show the video to Johnny, I'd suggested that it might be better to surprise him. "No," Fred had insisted, "Johnny doesn't like surprises." "Well, just think for a moment about the expression he'll have on his face," I told him. That did it. We went on-camera that evening without Johnny knowing the big surprise that Popoff had a concealed receiver in his ear. John let out an expletive that was dropped out of the tape before it was broadcast later in the evening, and DeCordova had to agree that we'd made the right decision.
John and I were fond of pertinent quotations. We'd exchange them by e-mail or phone, really, I suspect, trying to out-quote one another. Here's one I'll send him right here and now:
Love is a bad tenant for one's bosom; for when compelled to quit, he always leaves the mansion more or less out of repair. C. F. Hoffman 1806-1884
I loved you, Johnny. We all did.
Yes, I'm rambling because I just don't know what else to say. I will miss Johnny Carson like no other person in my life. He was such a good man, one of my minor gods, and a good friend that I regret to say I did not meet again in person after he left TV so long ago. Just one small example, if I may, of how generous he was. When I called and asked him if he might place a telephone call to Martin Gardner on that gentleman's 90th birthday, John had no hesitation agreeing to do so. "I've got most of his books," he told me, "and it'll be fun to speak with him." They did speak, on the afternoon of Martin's birthday, for some 20 minutes. That's the kind of gentleman that Johnny Carson was.
John, I will miss you, as will so many millions here and around the world, but your legacy lives on. I've just run out of words.