Famous Friends Remember Johnny Carson

ByABC News

Jan. 23, 2005 — -- Following are reactions to the death of Johnny Carson:

Joan Rivers, comedian, on so many comics getting a start on "The Tonight Show" -- speaking on "Good Morning America":

"I was a girl writer. Nobody thought I would be funny. They brought me on as a girl writer on the air. Johnny said, 'You're going to be a star.' He loved comedians. Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Woody Allen, Dick Cavett ... We all were there because of him.

Rivers, on her 1983 fallout with Carson -- on "Good Morning America":

"Nobody told me the rules. My contract hadn't been renewed because they figured I would never leave. It was one of those not-so-wonderful network stories. Fox came and offered immediately my own show. He was the first one I called when I signed the deal. ... He hung up on me. ... [Rivers tried more times with no success] And that upset me because I wouldn't be here talking to you without him."

Steve Martin, comedian -- written statement:

"All of us who grew up on Johnny Carson had three decades in which to go to sleep with a smile on our faces. He loved to laugh, he loved to make you laugh, and he loved comedians and entertainers. His occasional touch of boyish naughtiness made America a sweet and kind place to be, and he without doubt enriched our nation."

Billy Crystal, comedian -- written statement:

"He was the greatest talk show host of our time with the quickest mind. ... One of the greatest thrills of my career was not on stage but when Johnny called me after seeing me host the Oscars and telling me how much he loved what I did. That's how much I looked up to him. He was a true idol."

Ed McMahon, "Tonight Show" sidekick -- written statement:

"Johnny Carson was a man I considered like a brother to me. Our 34 years of working together, plus the 12 years since then, created a friendship which was professional, family-like and one of respect and great admiration. When we ended our run on 'The Tonight Show' and my professional life continued, whenever a big career decision needed to be made, I always got the okay from 'the boss.' I will miss him deeply, not only as my close friend, but because of the impact he made on my life and audiences around the world."

Skitch Henderson, "Tonight Show" bandleader (1962-1966) -- ABC News Radio:

"Young John, as we called him, 'the prince,' was always prepared. I remember when I'd book music guests, he would always talk to me about who they were, what their interests were. He was a wonderful businessman who related to the Midwest and related to New York."

Jay Leno, current "Tonight Show" host -- written statement:

"No single individual has had as great an impact on television as Johnny. He was the gold standard. It's hard to believe he's actually gone. This is a tremendous loss for everyone who Johnny made laugh for so many years."

David Letterman, late-night talk show host -- written statement:

"It's a sad day for his family and for the country. All of us who came after are pretenders. We will not see the likes of him again. He gave me a shot on his show and in doing so, he gave me a career. A night doesn't go by that I don't ask myself, 'What would Johnny have done?' He has been greatly missed since his retirement. Thank God for videotapes and DVD's. In this regard, he will always be around. He was the best. A star and a gentleman."

President Bush -- written statement:

"Laura and I are saddened by the death of Johnny Carson. Born in Iowa and raised in Nebraska, Johnny Carson was a steady and reassuring presence in homes across America for three decades. His wit and insight made Americans laugh and think and had a profound influence on American life and entertainment. He was a patriot who served in the United States Navy during World War II and always remembered his roots in the heartland of America. We send our prayers and condolences to the entire Carson family."

Former first lady Nancy Reagan -- written statement:

"The death of Johnny Carson is a huge loss for all of us. He was a comedian who not only made us laugh, but also made us stop and think. Ronnie and I always enjoyed him on 'The Tonight Show' and we were honored to know him as a friend. My prayers go out to his entire family at this very difficult time."

Jerry Lewis, comedian -- written statement:

"He was the most decent, marvelous man I've ever known, and we're going to miss him a lot . . . I think that Johnny, no matter how long he lived in Hollywood and no matter how much money he made, he still had a piece of straw stuck in his ear."

Chevy Chase, comedian -- written statement:

"Being Johnny's friend was an honor. To hear of his sudden death, a great shock. He was so much more than just the 'King of Late Night,' he was a real intellect with broad interests. Thankfully, many of which he was able to enjoy in the last decade. It is a terrible loss to his friends. I am deeply saddened."

Bette Midler, singer-actress -- written statement:

"Johnny Carson was the public face of American comedy for decades. But anyone who knew him well knew he was an intensely private and yet deeply generous man. So many of us who are working in show business today owe our careers to him. I was his last guest and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. He had it all -- a little bit of devil, a whole lot of angel, with charm, good looks, superb timing and great, great class."

Oprah Winfrey, talk show host -- ABC News Radio:

"He was ... one of the greats of our time."

"He was in our generation what Ed Sullivan was in that generation. And, you know, the very first time I got invited to the show, that defined, 'You have now made it.' "

Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor, bodybuilder and governor of California -- written statement:

"Maria and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of this comedic genius. As an irreplaceable member of the entertainment community, Johnny Carson shared his spirit and laughter with his family, friends and countless fans. Johnny was a great friend and always showed me profound respect. He welcomed me on his show when no one knew who I was and helped promote the image of bodybuilding. Johnny was a tenant of mine for years and it was always a highlight when we would see each other in the building. He brought out the best in people. Hollywood has lost one of its most esteemed pioneers, but he leaves a proud legacy that will inspire generations to come."

Phyllis Diller, comedian -- ABC News Radio:

"I don't think his work will ever be topped. I think he was the world's greatest host. He did so many creative things on that show. He used to have sketches that were hilarious. When a joke died, he was funnier than ever."

"It was the plum show to be on for even big, big stars. They all hungered to go on with Johnny Carson because he always treated everyone so well and brought out the very best in them."

"I've been to parties with Johnny where he simply sat in the corner and talked to only Ed McMahon. He was very, very, very shy."

Hugh Downs, newsman and former substitute host of "The Tonight Show" -- interview with ABC News Radio:

"Steve Allen had it ["Tonight Show" hosting duties] for a while, two or three years I think -- and then Jack Parr for five years. But when Johnny came on, he adopted that format pretty much. But he built on it, and in those 30 years he made it into the pattern that you can't really improve on. And that's why all the late-night hosts do sort of the same thing."

"Believe it or not, Johnny was not an extrovert. He could do the job of an extrovert, but he had a private life and a different agenda. And that's part of the reason, I think, he was successful, part of the reason that he was willing not to have the spotlight on him but on his guests. And that made a big difference."

Bob Wright, chairman and chief executive officer of NBC Universal -- written statement:

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Johnny Carson today. Johnny was a part of our NBC family for more than 30 years, long after his retirement in 1992, and he was a dear friend to both me and my wife, Suzanne. As host of 'The Tonight Show,' his gift was the ability to make millions of Americans feel they too had a close friendship with Johnny. His professional and usually anonymous personal generosity launched the careers of countless stars and helped thousands of people. With his lightning quick wit, effortless delivery, and immense charm, he was without peer in late-night television. His death marks the passing of a show-business legend and a man of warmth and sincerity. We offer our heartfelt condolences to Johnny's family."

Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker -- ABC News Radio:

"They [other late-night TV hosts] all took from Carson many things. One, he was effortlessly funny. He didn't sound practiced or rehearsed. He seemed to genuinely like people and yet he always kept a certain distance."

"I think they were all his children. Everyone in late night is a child of Johnny Carson."

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