Johnny Carson, 1992. (Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Johnny Carson started entertaining audiences at 14 with magic tricks as "The Great Carsoni." He would go on to serve in the Navy during World War II, where he performed a magic trick for the U.S. secretary of the Navy, before starting a career in radio and television. As a television host, Carson made real magic, bringing an effortless, casual charm as host to a string of game shows and his own failed variety show before finally landing on NBC's late-night talk show, Tonight. Today we know it as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and for 30 years he embodied late-night television. His influence still can be felt in the industry and all of the hosts who have followed in his footsteps. We remember Johnny Carson's remarkable life today as well as other notable people who died on this day in history.
2011: Jack LaLanne, U.S. fitness and nutritional expert considered the "Godfather of Fitness," dies at 96.
"The only way you can hurt the body is not use it," LaLanne said. "Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it's never too late." His workout show was a television staple from the 1950s to the '70s. LaLanne and his dog, Happy, encouraged children to wake their mothers and drag them in front of the television set. He developed exercises that required no special equipment, just a chair and a towel. Read more
2007: E. Howard Hunt, U.S. CIA agent who was one of the engineers of the Watergate break-in that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, dies at 88.
2005: Johnny Carson, U.S. host of the Tonight Show for 30 years, dies at 79.
The Tonight Show (then called simply Tonight) existed before Carson took the reins, of course – Steve Allen was its first host; then Jack Paar ran the show. When Paar left (not long after his famous walk-off, which probably destroyed any chance he had to achieve the longevity Carson would enjoy), several others were approached for the position – Jackie Gleason, Bob Newhart, Groucho Marx, Joey Bishop – but they all declined, leaving the stage open for Carson to begin his reign over late night. Read more
2004: Helmut Newton, German photographer who had a prolific career as a fashion photographer, dies in a car accident at 83.
2004: Bob Keeshan, U.S. actor who hosted the iconic children's television show Captain Kangaroo, which ran for 30 years, dies at 76.
Keeshan’s career took him from a short stint as the original Clarabell the Clown on NBC’s Howdy Doody Show to a 30-year run as Captain Kangaroo on his own CBS show. The New York Times called the captain “one of the most enduring characters television ever produced.” How Keeshan maintained the fun-loving, grandfatherly character for so long was a tribute to his own gentle demeanor and commitment to nonviolent children’s programming. Read more
2003: Nell Carter, U.S. singer and actress who won a Tony Award for her role in Ain't Misbehavin' and starred in the TV sitcom Gimme a Break!, dies of heart disease at 54.
Carter’s life provided a study in extremes. She endured personal tragedies and chronic health problems, yet she achieved a level of success most young singers and actors only dream of. She knew both the pain of addiction and the triumph of successfully kicking her habits. And, while she made great money during her award-winning career, she also knew what it was like to lose everything. Read more
1999: Prince Lincoln Thompson, Jamaican reggae musician well-known in the 1970s and '80s, dies at 49.
1999: Jay Pritzker, U.S. businessman and member of the Pritzker family, dies at 76.
1997: Richard Berry, U.S. singer-songwriter who wrote and recorded the classic song "Louie Louie," which is the most recorded rock song of all time, dies at 61.
1993: Thomas A. Dorsey, U.S. pianist who was considered the "Father of Black Gospel Music," dies at 93.
1992: Freddie Bartholomew, U.S. actor who was one of the most popular child actors in the 1930s, dies at 67.
1989: Salvador Dalí, Spanish artist widely known for his surrealist paintings, dies at 84.
Dalí emerged as one of the most high-profile artists of his time. His famed surrealist paintings of melting clocks, spindly legged elephants traversing desolate landscapes and recontextualized religious iconography are familiar today from T-shirts, calendars, coffee mugs and dorm-room posters. But Dalí did more than paint, contributing to avant-garde and Hollywood films, designing furniture and jewelry and even acting as a pitchman in TV commercials. Read more
1982: Hope Hampton, U.S. actress known for her work in the silent-film era, dies at 84.
1978: Vic Ames, U.S. singer and member of the Ames Brothers who are in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, dies at 52.
1978: Terry Kath, U.S. rock guitarist with the band Chicago, dies when he accidently shoots himself at a party at 32.
1978: Jack Oakie, U.S. actor who had a long career in film and television, dies at 74.
1976: Paul Robeson, U.S. National Football League player, singer and actor who also was a civil rights activist, dies in Philadelphia at 77.
1973: Kid Ory, U.S. jazz trombonist and bandleader who worked with such musicians as Louis Armstrong and Joe "King" Oliver, dies at 86.
1973: Alexander Onassis, Greek heir of the Onassis family, dies in a plane crash at 24.
1944: Edvard Munch, Norwegian painter known for his work The Scream, dies at 80.
1803: Arthur Guinness, Irish beer maker who founded the Guinness Brewery, dies at 77.