6 Shocking Facts You Didn't Know About Johnny Carson

On January 23, 2005, former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson died at age 79 at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Here are 6 shocking facts you may not know about Johnny Carson...


He Started Out as a Magician Johnny Carson discovered his love for entertaining people when he found a book on magic at a friend’s house. He quickly ordered a magician’s kit through the mail and started practicing his skills on family members. His mother sewed him a cape and he got his first paid gig at the age of 14, when he performed as “The Great Carsoni” and was paid $3 for a show. His magic performances continued when he joined the Navy, and at one point, he even performed magic tricks for the U.S. Secretary of the Navy. 

He Had His Own Talk Show Before Taking Over the Tonight Show. Carson got into radio broadcasting in the 1940s while in college and continued to broadcast after moving to California. He landed jobs as a comedy writer and suddenly found himself hosting on TV when his boss at the time, Red Skelton, suffered an injury. Carson became the host of the Johnny Carson Show in the mid-1950s. His Tonight Show stint didn't begin until 1962.


He Hosted a Game Show Carson was picked to host the game show Who Do You Trust in the late 1950s, which is where he met Ed McMahon, who worked on the show as the announcer. It was a program where couples competed, and the man would be asked if he wanted to answer the question of whether his wife should. Carson spent a large part of the show interacting with the contestants, which helped land him the job on The Tonight Show after the retirement of Jack Paar.

He Started a Toilet Paper Crisis Carson’s influence was so huge that he created a toilet paper crisis by just joking about it. In 1973, in jest, Carson alluded to an alleged toilet paper shortage in the markets. This created such panic in his viewers that people began to buy and stock up on toilet paper, creating an actual shortage in the market. Stores and manufacturers had to ration supplies until the alarm ended and Carson apologized for his role in starting the brouhaha.

He Made The Game Twister a Pop Culture Sensation If it hadn’t been for Johnny Carson, Twister may have never gotten off the ground. On the night of May 3, 1966, host Johnny Carson played a game of Twister with glamorous actress Eva Gabor, star of television’s “Green Acres.” Sidekick Ed McMahon worked the spinner as Gabor and Carson soon became playfully entangled. Sales of the game soared the very next day! Twister proved a runaway success and has sold well ever since—all it took was a demonstration.

He Taught Himself Russian and Swahili Carson did a lot in his lifetime, and that included learning languages to a conversational level. Carson reportedly learned Russian in about five months before traveling to Russia. After his retirement, he taught himself Swahili, which he used to communicate during several trips to Africa.