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The Night Carson Broke Down and Revealed His Inner Most Fears!
by Billy Ingram

Tonight Show producer Peter Lassally was interviewed by the Television Academy about his long association with Johnny Carson. In a rare moment, Lassally had a few drinks with Carson and the Tonight show host lost his composure, something he very rarely did in public.

“When I worked for Johnny,” Peter Lassally says. “We would see each other socially, maybe 2, 3, 4 times a year at functions or parties. But I never felt that we were friends, nor did I want to be friends. Again, carry over from the [Arthur] Godfrey days. Don't become friends, just keep a business relationship. But after Johnny retired, we became very close friends and he was a completely different guy. He was, Johnny was always, when he was working, shy, reserved, an introverted guy. After he retired he became a much warmer, relaxed, really a different guy. So that's when we had our close friendship until the day he died.”

Every interview I’ve ever read with someone who knew Carson has said he was extremely reserved and private. “Johnny was as shy a person as you'll ever meet,” Lassally says. “Wife number three made the mistake of wanting to be very active socially and would drag Johnny to these parties in Hollywood. And he hated every moment of it and would sit in a corner and just not talk to anybody because he just wasn't comfortable.”

Lassally told a story he characterized as “scary” that happened during his first week producing the Tonight show. “After the show he [Carson] asked me to come up to his office and we had drinks and he got drunk, which he could do very quickly and easily. And he started to pour his heart out that he didn't deserve his, the job he had and that he wasn't worthy. And it was really disturbing to me because he showed all his insecurities and poured them out. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is gonna be a rough trip.’ But that was the only time, you know, all those years where he just lost control completely and revealed what his fears were. But what, he had too many drinks.”

What was The King of Late Night like in his private life? “He was really unusual in the fact that for big, a big television star,” Lassally says. “He didn't live in his own private little world. By that I mean, he was well read. We would discuss politics every day. We would discuss books, magazines. He was completely well rounded. It wasn't all a show business for him. And I think that was one of his rare talents in that he was not living in his own little show business world.”

Johnny Carson died in 2005, he was 79. His sidekick Ed McMahon released a statement that read, “Our 34 years of working together, plus the 12 years since then, created a friendship which was professional, family-like and one of respect and great admiration.”

 

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“Mr. Carson took over the "Tonight" show from Jack Paar on Oct. 1, 1962, and, preferring to retire at the top of his game, voluntarily surrendered it to Jay Leno on May 22, 1992. During those three decades, he became the biggest, most popular star American television has known. Virtually every American with a television set saw and heard a Carson monologue at some point in those years. At his height, between 10 million and 15 million Americans slept better weeknights because of him.” - New York Times


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