|Johnny Carson got his start in Show Biz as a magician|
Carson was a tee vee institution for over 30 years. While other people hosted the Tonight Show both before and after him, Carson will always be the gold standard against which all others are judged. Carson retired from his show on May 22, 1992.
Johnny Carson always felt that David Letterman was the natural heir to the Tonight Show seat and was sorely disappointed that the show was given to Jay Leno instead. "Some people say" that's why Carson declined to appear in NBC's 75th Anniversary Special. "Other people say" that Carson never forgave NBC for destroying all the early Tonight Shows to make shelf room for newer shows. It very well could have been both.
Either way, it's so appropriate that Carson's last appearance was on Letterman's show, almost 2 years to years to the day after his retirement. Letterman sprung Carson's appearance as a surprise and the audience gave him a sustained standing ovation. After waiting out the applause for a while, Carson left the stage without saying a word. It looked like he had some lines, which he decided not to deliver at the last minute because anything he said would be an anti-climax. Remember: Carson was the master of Show Biz Timing™. Later Carson said he pulled his Marcel Marceau act due to acute laryngitis. This clip makes it clear he was going to say something.
This was one of the rare post-retirement appearances Carson made on tee vee, and the very last. On January 23, 2005 Johnny Carson died of respiratory failure from emphysema at the age of 79. After his death David Letterman did a Johnny Carson tribute show, which included an entire monologue written by Carson. It turned out that Carson regularly faxed jokes to the Letterman show just for the thrill of having then delivered on air.
Johnny Carson was the Comedian's Comedian to the very end.
Here's David Letterman's tribute show to Johnny Carson: