Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon Dies

For 30 years, Ed McMahon was Johnny Carson's sidekick on "The Tonight Show."

Of all the memorable teams in television — or show business in general, for that matter — few could match Carson and McMahon. Carson, who was introduced each night by McMahon's trademark "Heeeeeeerre's Johnny!" pitch, passed away four years ago, and now, McMahon has died as well.

I'm not sure what the official cause of death will be, but McMahon, 86, had suffered from several health problems in recent years.

What does seem certain is that Carson and McMahon shared a close friendship that went beyond their professional relationship. Carson spoke about it in his final "Tonight Show" program, and McMahon wrote about it.

In his 1998 memoir "For Laughing Out Loud," McMahon recalled an incident that illustrated the unique nature of their association. One of McMahon's jobs with the show was to do live advertisements for sponsors. For one of the show's regular sponsors, Alpo dog food, McMahon would talk about the good qualities of the product while a dog ate it on camera. But, on one occasion, the dog that was normally used wasn't available, and the substitute wasn't hungry.
"Then I saw Johnny come into my little commercial area. He got down on his hands and knees and came over to me. ... I started to pet Johnny. Nice boss, I was thinking as I pet him on the head, nice boss. By this point the audience was hysterical. ... I just kept going. I was going to get my commercial done. 'The next time you're looking at the canned dog food ...' — he rubbed his cheek against my leg — '... reach for the can that contains real beef.' Johnny got up on his knees and started begging for more. I started petting him again ... and then he licked my hand."

You can see that moment in the attached clip.

Some people may point out how appropriate it is that McMahon should pass away at this time — on the day that many famous show business people were born (June Carter Cash, Bob Fosse, Frances McDormand) or died (Maureen O'Sullivan, Aaron Spelling) — or, for that matter, the day after the first anniversary of the death of George Carlin, who was one of the most frequent guest hosts during Carson's absences from the show.

(Carlin, by the way, died on the anniversary of the deaths of Judy Garland, David O. Selznick and Fred Astaire.)

But I'll just say this:

Goodbye, Ed. Thanks.