A Johnny Carson timeline -- Memorable moments in ''The Tonight Show'' host's life

By EW Staff
Updated May 08, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

* Oct. 23, 1925 John William Carson is born in Corning, Iowa, the middle child of Homer ”Kit” L. Carson, a local utility manager, and Ruth Carson; his older sister, Catherine, will become a homemaker; his younger brother, Richard, will later direct The Merv Griffin Show and Wheel of Fortune.

* June 1949 Carson earns a bachelor’s degree in radio and speech from the University of Nebraska.

* Aug. 1, 1949 The start: Johnny gets his own 45-minute morning talk and music radio show on station WOW in Omaha, Neb.

* Oct. 1, 1949 College sweetheart Joan ”Jody” Morrill Wolcott weds Carson in North Platte, Neb. They will have three sons, Cory, Rick, and Chris (above), before divorcing in 1963.

* October 1952 Carson gets his first big TV job, announcing for an L.A. station. It is followed a year later by his own half-hour comedy show, Carson’s Cellar.

* May 23, 1954 CBS gives him a summer game show called Earn Your Vacation.

* June 30, 1955 Carson launches The Johnny Carson Show, a weekly half-hour comedy-variety series on CBS. It bombs after 39 weeks.

* Sept. 30, 1957 Moving to New York from L.A., Johnny becomes a daytime game- show host on ABC’s Do You Trust Your Wife? After it becomes Who Do You Trust?, he will be joined by Ed McMahon.

* January 1958 Carson subs for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show for two weeks.

* Oct. 1, 1962 Paar passes the torch to Carson for The Tonight Show. Groucho Marx introduces Carson to the audience; Skitch Henderson leads the band.

* Jan. 14, 1963 Singer Jimmy Dean becomes the first in a long line of guest hosts — 124, to be exact.

* Aug. 17, 1963 Johnny marries Joanne Copeland; they will divorce in ’72.

* 1964 Carnac the Magnificent and Aunt Blabby debut.

* 1966 The Mighty Carson Art Players bow. Milton Delugg takes over the musical chores from Henderson.

* Jan. 2, 1967 Tonight is reduced by 15 minutes to an hour and a half.

* April 4, 1967 Carson quits after NBC shows Tonight reruns during an AFTRA strike. He returns after three weeks, when NBC boosts his salary from $7,500 a week to $20,000 and gives him more control.

* April 1967 Victim No. 1: Ex-guest host Joey Bishop becomes the first in a long line of late-night competitors; his Joey Bishop Show will last two years and nine months. * 1967 Doc Severinsen (below) is promoted to musical director. Johnny introduces the Great Carsoni.

* August 1969 Victim No. 2: Merv Griffin, who will last 21 2 years.

* December 1969 Victim No. 3: former Tonight writer Dick Cavett (three years). The same month, Carson introduces a men’s clothing line called Johnny Carson Apparel Inc., advertising his jackets and pants on the air.

* Dec. 17, 1969 Tiny Tim marries Miss Vicki on the air (below right), and 45 million viewers tune in for the highest-rated Tonight ever. They will stay wed until 1974.

* May 1972 Tonight moves from New York to ”beautiful downtown Burbank.”

* October 1972 Johnny marries model Joanna Holland. They will divorce in 1982.

* September 1975 Johnny Carson and Tonight win their first of five Emmys.

* 1977 The dim Floyd R. Turbo makes his debut.

* April 1979 Carson says he’s tired of the weekly grind and wants out. ABC allegedly woos him with a big offer. Carson hosts the Oscars, the first of four straight times.

* Nov. 8, 1979 Americans tune in to ABC’s America Held Hostage (later Nightline), providing Carson’s biggest viewer threat ever.

* May 2, 1980 Johnny signs a three-year NBC contract that reportedly gives him more than $5 million a year and calls for the show to be cut to one hour in the fall. On the air he jokes, ”Fred Silverman [then NBC president] tricked me. He told me I was signing a petition to get Sheriff Lobo off the air.”

* February 1982 Carson is arrested for drunken driving in L.A. and pleads no contest; he becomes a teetotaler.

* Feb. 2, 1982 Late Night With David Letterman, made by Carson Productions for NBC, debuts.

* September 1983 Joan Rivers is named permanent guest host.

* September 1983 Victim No 4: Alan Thicke (nine months).

* 1985 Carson is now reported to be pulling in about $10 million a year.

* September 1986 Jay Leno is named one of several regular guest hosts, with Garry Shandling and Billy Crystal.

* Spring 1986 Victim No. 5: Joan Rivers, who lasts seven months in a new Fox talk show. When she phones Carson to explain why she’s competing with him, he hangs up on her.

* June 1987 Johnny weds No. 4, Alexis Maas. They’re still married.

* January 1989 Arsenio Hall’s new syndicated talk show proves popular with young viewers.

* January 1989 Victim No. 6: Pat Sajak (15 months).

* May 9, 1991 An appearance by Carson pal Michael Landon, battling terminal pancreatic cancer, gives Tonight one of its highest ratings in a decade.
On July 17, Johnny says an on-air goodbye to his son Rick, who died in a freak car accident on June 21, adding, ”These have not been the happiest several weeks.”

* June 1991 NBC taps Leno to succeed Carson.

* August 1991 Victim No. 7: Former First Son Ron Reagan (two months).

* January 1992 Potential victim No. 8: acerbic Saturday Night Live alum Dennis Miller.

* May 22, 1992 Carson takes his 4,351st and final golf swing.