After Carson went on strike from the show, his salary was upped to $1 million a year and he got total creative control.
The real Carson was someone the public never knew. He was a very private man, especially after his 1992 retirement. He would break from this on occasion, when he'd include jokes about how his ex-wives were gunning for his money.
Carson was married four times. He wed Joan Morrill Wolcott in 1949 and they had three sons. After a messy 1963 divorce, he married Joanne Copeland, but they split in 1972. His third marriage, to Joanna Holland, lasted from 1972 to 1985. The fourth time was the charm. He married Alex Mass in 1987 and the couple remained together.
Tragedy found Carson when his son Rick, a photographer, died in a car accident in 1991. When that happened, Carson did his usual monologue and guest chats. But in a rare moment of personal display, he thanked America for its condolences, asked forgiveness "for a father's pride" and showed a mini-slideshow of his son's nature photographs.
Most of Carson's energy went into the show and in return, America gave its attention to him.
When Carson once mentioned that he loved turtlenecks, he received dozens, starting a national trend. When Carson made a joke about fruitcakes -- "The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other" -- he received tons, inspiring the classic line, "Some fruitcake sent me another fruitcake."
On Dec. 17, 1969, "The Tonight Show" attracted more than 45 million viewers when Tiny Tim, the long-haired, falsetto-voiced singer of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," married 17-year-old flower child Miss Vicki.
Carson's final show on May 22, 1992, was one of the highest rated programs on television that year. The show paid tribute to couch sidekick Ed McMahon and band leader Doc Severinson.
His second-to-last show was even better loved, and included guests Bette Midler and Robin Williams. Midler won an Emmy for her performance.
Carson ended his program with, "I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight." And of course, his famous good-bye golf swing.
Carson is survived by his wife, Alex, and two sons, Chris and Cory.