Just got to my hotel near the Philadelphia Airport and turned on the set to watch the Eagles/Falcons game, and heard that Johnny Carson passed away at age 79, of emphysema. USA Today has details, as does The Wall Street Journal, if you’re a subscriber.
As a kid, it was always a treat when I could stay up to catch Carson; he always seemed cool and sophisticated, even if his sketch comedy could frequently be banal. He hosted the Tonight Show for three decades, an astonishing run for anyone in show business.
Scott Johnson of Power Line has some additional thoughts and links.
Update: For a less sentimental look, there’s much truth in this brutally honest memorium by Terry Teachout.
And this paragraph by Jeff Jarvis about the era that Carson represented is certainly spot-on:
Carson also represented the golden age of America’s shared experience in media. That era lasted about three decades, from the late ’50s to the late ’80s, when the three networks turned most cities into one-newspaper towns and we all watched the same thing. I don’t regret that era dying; it means we now have more choice and choice equals control. But it was a unique time in our culture, when popular culture became a common platform, a common touchstone for Americans. We all got Johnny’s jokes.
I have fond memories of that era as well–I think I was genetically conditioned to consume mass culture. But while it’s a shame that what’s left in pop culture has coarsened since Carson’s peak, like Jarvis, I’m not sorry that era of mass-media dominance is over, either.
More: James Lileks adds:
But while the show may have lost its charm, Carson’s image never suffered. He was always cool – and not because he adapted his personality to meet the definitions of the era, but because he was surpassingly cool. He didn’t conform to the eras; the times adopted to him, asking only that he dress in whatever bad fabrics the era provided. No, we made fun of Ed; we made fun of Karnac, the mayo jar on the porch of Funk & Wagnal’s, the petrified format that worked more for Dad than for you. But we never made fun of him.
Not a chance.