Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Johnny's Dark Side

Dick Cavett, in one of his many TV interviews yesterday, alluded to the late Johnny Carson's drinking, saying he could be a rather unpleasant drunk.

This, you already knew, if you read what was written about the man long before his death.

'Course, it's considered bad form, in many quarters, to speak ill of the dead. New York Radio God Don Imus, for one, said this morning he doesn't want to hear bad things about Johnny.

I want to know it all. Doesn't bother me in the least. We lionize the dead, but really, it's rather dishonest. We're all sinners, right?

So, in that spirit, I'll excerpt what the NY Daily News had to say this morning regarding Johnny's dark side. It doesn't diminish what he accomplished. It just means he's human.

From the NYDN:

Johnny Carson made millions of viewers laugh, but few of them saw the moody side of the talk show legend.
"Off the air, he was an incredibly dark comedian - almost like Lenny Bruce," biographer Laurence Leamer, author of "King of the Night," tells us. "He was a strange guy, flawed and vulnerable."

Leamer recalls getting himself - without Carson knowing - invited to a 25th anniversary party for "The Tonight Show" on the Queen Mary.

"There were about 200 so-called intimates of Johnny," he says. "But they hardly seemed to know each other. It was supposed to be a wonderful occasion, but they were all nervous - because Carson was so nervous.

"He wasn't even comfortable talking with people he worked with. After dinner, he did card tricks. They weren't very good card tricks, but everybody said, 'That's great, Johnny!'"

A few cocktails didn't exactly loosen him up.

"You didn't want to drink with him," said Leamer. "It could be dangerous. Once, he went to a mob hangout [for drinks] and got mad at people he shouldn't have been mad at."

"He had his own little blacklist of people banned from the show," says another insider. "Rich Little was banned for a while and he couldn't figure out why. [Barbra] Streisand was banned because she canceled and gave some stupid excuse back in the '60s."

One night on the air, Charles Grodin cut too close to the bone when he teased Carson about never really revealing himself and never inviting him to his poker games.

Annoyed by the armchair analysis, Carson snapped, "You never come on the show unless you have something to push. Let's roll his clip and get him out of here."

Grodin told us yesterday that he didn't remember that particular appearance, but said that when he and Carson sparred, "the majority of the audience didn't know it was an act....As though I really would take shots at Johnny! You'd have to be nuts. I was kidding around."

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