Television personality and Tonight Show veteran Ed McMahon died June 23 at age 86. He passed away at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles; he’d been receiving treatment for pneumonia for the past several weeks.
The announcer, game show host, and sometime actor was best known as Johnny Carson’s right-hand man on The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992, but he began using his stentorian voice to make a living as a 15-year-old bingo caller and carnival barker. Before he could make his way to Hollywood, though, WWII and the Korean conflict intervened, turning the Los Angeles native into a fighter and test pilot for the U.S. Marines. After retiring from active duty, he returned home to L.A., where he got his big break in 1956, pairing with Carson on the game show Who Do You Trust? When Carson decamped for his Tonight Show berth, McMahon went along, remaining Carson’s sidekick for the next 30 years, announcing the comic in his signature “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” and punctuating Carson’s jokes with catchphrases in the making, a booming “Yes!” or “You are correct, sir!” In 1984, McMahon partnered with American Bandstand host Dick Clark (he’d served as announcer on that show in the ’50s) for TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes. The show ran for 16 years, during which time McMahon also took over the microphone as host of the talent competition Star Search. Even people who didn’t watch TV got to know McMahon, showing up as he did in their mailboxes, declaring that they might already have won millions from American Family Publishers.
But Ed McMahon was never a mere announcer or pitchman. Over the years, he picked up film roles in The Incident and Fun With Dick and Jane (often considered his best performance), as well as TV guest spots (often playing himself) on The Simpsons, CHiPS, Newhart, and dozens of other shows. In recent years, he suffered setbacks both personal and professional, losing his son Michael to cancer in 1995, and facing foreclosure on his home in 2008. He was most recently featured alongside MC Hammer in a Super Bowl commercial this year for Cash4Gold, which poked fun at his financial woes. In February 2009, it was revealed that McMahon had been hospitalized for a month, suffering from bone cancer. He leaves a legacy as a prolific performer on the small screen, and the undisputed No. 1 second banana. — Alynda Wheat
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