'Tonight' sidekick Ed McMahon dead at 86

June 23, 2009 9:58:04 AM PDT
Ed McMahon, the loyal "Tonight Show" sidekick who bolstered boss Johnny Carson with guffaws and a resounding "H-e-e-e-e-e-ere's Johnny!" for 30 years, died early Tuesday. He was 86. McMahon died shortly after midnight at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center surrounded by his wife, Pam, and other family members, said his publicist, Howard Bragman.

Bragman didn't give a cause of death, saying only that McMahon had a "multitude of health problems the last few months."

McMahon had bone cancer, among other illnesses, according to a person close to the entertainer, and had been hospitalized for several weeks. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

McMahon broke his neck in a fall in March 2007, and battled a series of financial problems as his injuries preventing him from working.

McMahon and Carson had worked together for nearly five years on the game show "Who Do You Trust?" when Carson took over NBC's late-night show from Jack Paar in October 1962. McMahon played second banana on "Tonight" until Carson retired in 1992.

"You can't imagine hooking up with a guy like Carson," McMahon said an interview with The Associated Press in 1993. "There's the old phrase, hook your wagon to a star. I hitched my wagon to a great star."

McMahon, who never failed to laugh at his Carson's quips, kept his supporting role in perspective.

"It's like a pitcher who has a favorite catcher," he said. "The pitcher gets a little help from the catcher, but the pitcher's got to throw the ball. Well, Johnny Carson had to throw the ball, but I could give him a little help."

McMahon's Philadelphia Connection

For much of the 1950s, Ed McMahon did Philly television. He was a staff announcer at WCAU-TV, then a CBS Owned and Operated station.

He did a lot of local commercials. Most memorably, he was the on-camera endorser for McCafferty Ford in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. They had spots featuring him sitting in the then-current model.

McMahon left Philly when he landed a job as announcer on the ABC game show, "Who Do You Trust?" hosted by Johnny Carson. When Carson was named the new host of the "Tonight Show" in October, 1962, he took McMahon along with him.

For the many years "Tonight" was based in New York City, McMahon owned a resort home at the Jersey shore. McMahon's daughter, Claudia, waitressed at The Whitebrier Restaurant in Avalon, New Jersey for a time.

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