Personal and Professional Lives

He was born in 1925 in Iowa. As a child, he was both shy and devoted to entertaining his family and friends. He became an amateur magician and performed magic acts for $3 a show. When he was 18, he joined the Navy. He was en route to combat duty when the war ended. It was when he performed a magic trick for the Secretary of the Navy that he decided he wanted to have a career in entertainment.

Using the GI Bill, he attended the University of Nebraska when his military duties were over. He earned a bachelor’s degree in radio and speech even though it challenged his introversion.

Following graduation, he began a career in local radio and TV but soon made the move to Los Angeles. What followed was a series of on-air and writing gigs. Gradually he discovered his talent of interviewing celebrities and using his improvisational wit in a way that few TV hosts could master.

His big break came when he was asked to be the successor to Jack Paar as the host of The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was full of fear and was reluctant to accept the challenge of sustaining America’s most popular late-night TV show. Thirty years later he retired as one of our most famous Americans.

His legacy is one of many dimensions. He jump-started the careers of many entertainers. The foundation he created is the largest of the Hollywood charities providing support for children, education, and health advances.

Johnny Caron was many things. He was an amateur astronomer, a drummer, a tennis player, an airplane pilot, and a speaker of Swahili.

One thing that Johnny Carson was not was outgoing. He was an introvert and socially uncomfortable. He was called the most private person imaginable. He would refuse to discuss his private life.

Johnny Carson is an example of how a person can have two different lives: a public one and a personal one. Anxiety in social environments can be transformed into a very different personality “on stage”. Why is that? Neuroscientists may have the answers, but the lesson for all of us is that we shouldn’t close doors to possibilities that we tell ourselves we can’t do.

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“Here’s Johnny.”- Ed McMahon

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