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Did You Know About The Darker Side Of Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson captivated the world as the star host of the late night series, The Tonight Show, which ran from 1962 until 1992. It was one of the most well-recognized talk shows in the world. As popular as the show was, controversy and tragedy clouded the image of its famous host. Carson was highly flawed, and known for airing out his dirty laundry in full view of the public eye. Here’s a peek behind the darker side of the show…

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wedded Misery

Carson was adored by many viewers, but he tended to treat people around him with disdain. One such incident involved his new wife, while they were on their honeymoon. He married his fourth wife, Alexis Maas, in 1987 and took her on a yacht in Italy for their honeymoon. Unfortunately for his wife, Carson was in a foul mood, and was determined to take it out on her. He yelled at her, “We’ve been married for three weeks. If you say something like that again, this marriage won’t last another three weeks,” so that everyone around them could hear. She wasn’t pleased, and who could blame her?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CBS Television

Unfortunate Sons

Carson fathered all three of his children during his first marriage. One of his sons, Rick, struggled with his mental health, but that was during a time when the topic of mental illness was rarely spoken of. He would eventually be committed to an institution, where his father refused to visit him. The rift in their relationship was never mended. In 1991, Rick was driving through Morro Bay, California, and ended up driving off a 15-foot cliff. He died upon impact. Carson later paid tribute to Rick on his show, in spite of the tension that existed between them while Rick was alive.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Driving Under the Influence

Carson was a full-blown alcoholic, and he often exposed his worst side to those around him when he drank. Sadly, he was drinking the majority of the time, and people frequently referred to him as a “cruel drunk.” At one point, he was driving his DeLorean while intoxicated and received a DUI. For the offense, he received a total of three years probation, along with a mandate to attend an alcohol program for drivers. During that time, he was only permitted to drive to and from work.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ABC Television

A Doomed Second Marriage

Carson’s second wife was Joanne Copeland; their marriage became one of his most famous relationships. When they met, Carson was hosting the game show Who Do You Trust? and Copeland had been a Pan American World Airways stewardess. Both parties were unfaithful, and the couple divorced after nine years of discontent. Surprisingly, Copeland continued to honor her former husband’s legacy and still wished the best for him right up until his death in 2005.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Trikosko, Marion S.

An Unpleasant Guest

Carson was a controversial host who would always take note of which famous guests he enjoyed, and which he didn’t. When asked who was his absolute least favorite, he answered that it was comedian Bob Hope. Hope came onto the Johnny Carson Show with scripted jokes, prompting Carson to make the remark that the comedian rarely spoke authentically.


In fact, one of the head writers of the show at that time completely agreed, claiming Hope relied entirely on his writers. When he spoke of Carson, he referred to the host’s quick wit and indicated that he was extremely well-read, a multi-linguist, and someone who appreciated authentic and genuine people. Many presume this difference in authenticity led to the tension between Carson and Hope.

Photo: Shutterstock/Tinseltown


It’s interesting to think about how different someone can be when the cameras turn off, and the lights go down. Johnny Carson did have demons, but he struggled to take responsibility for his own poor behavior throughout his lifetime. Isn’t it strange how the most genial public figures can also be the most cruel at times, in private?