Johnny Carson, the host of NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" who became a national institution by putting his viewers to bed for 30 years, died today (Jan. 23) of emphysema at his Malibu

Johnny Carson, the host of NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" who became a national institution by putting his viewers to bed for 30 years, died today (Jan. 23) of emphysema at his Malibu, Calif. home. He was 79.

"Heeeeere's Johnny!" was the booming announcement from sidekick Ed McMahon that ushered Carson out to the stage. Before his retirement in May 1992, Carson entertained audiences with his topical monologue, celebrity guests and broadly played skits like "Carnac the Magnificent."

"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," McMahon said in a statement. "When we ended our run on 'The Tonight Show' and my professional life continued, whenever a big career decision needed to be made, I always got the OK from 'The Boss.'"

Nearly all of Carson's professional life was spent in television, from his postwar start at Nebraska stations in the late 1940s to his three decades with "Tonight."

In 1972, "Tonight" moved from New York to Burbank. Growing respect for Carson's consistency and staying power, along with four consecutive Emmy Awards, came his way in the late 1970s.

In the '80s, Carson was reportedly the highest-paid performer in television history with a $5 million "Tonight" show salary alone. His Carson Productions created and sold pilots to NBC, including "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes." Carson himself made occasional cameo appearances on other TV series.

He also performed in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., and was host of the Academy Awards five times in the '70s and '80s.

Carson chose to let "Tonight" stand as his career zenith and his finale, withdrawing into a quiet retirement that suited his private nature and refusing involvement in other show business projects.

During his retirement, Carson wrote short humor pieces for The New Yorker magazine, including "Recently Discovered Childhood Letters to Santa," which purported to give the youthful wish lists of William Buckley, Don Rickles and others.

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