Johnny Carson dispels doomy emphysema report. Yes, the retired late-night king has the disease, but he says he still feels fine

By Gary Susman
Updated September 20, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Reports of Johnny Carson’s imminent demise are greatly exaggerated. So says Carson’s spokesperson, Jeff Sotzing, responding to a tabloid story that says the former late-night king is dying of emphysema and secluding himself on his yacht. Sotzing said that the 76-year-old Carson had heard the report after finishing one of his twice-weekly games of tennis. While Sotzing confirmed that Carson has emphysema, it quoted the retired talk show host as saying, ”I’m dealing with it the best I can and it is not causing me any major problems.”

Carson’s diagnosis should come as little surprise to viewers who frequently saw him smoking on the air during his 30-year run hosting ”The Tonight Show.” ”He’s in great shape,” Sotzing said of Carson, adding that he hasn’t been hospitalized for the respiratory ailment. In 1999, USA Today reported that he’d suffered a heart attack at his Malibu home, and that he subsequently underwent quadruple bypass surgery.

Carson does spend a lot of time on his yacht and out of the public eye, according to a rare interview he granted to Esquire magazine this summer, marking the 10th anniversary of his retirement. He turned down NBC’s plea to be part of its 75th anniversary hoopla this spring. He told Esquire he spends a lot of time in Tanzania and has even learned to speak Swahili.