John William ?Johnny? Carson was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years. Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.
Although his show was already highly successful by the end of the 1960s, it was during the 1970s that he became an American icon and the “best guest” in American homes up until his retirement in 1992. Carson is credited with molding modern television late night talk shows, transitioning the format from Ed Sullivan’s era of post-war variety where the host was merely an announcer of acts, to today’s more casual, conversational approach with extensive interaction with guests. David Letterman, Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien have all cited Carson’s influence on their late night talk shows, which greatly resemble Carson’s show in format and tone.
Born in Corning, Iowa, on October 23, 1925 Carson lived in the nearby Iowa towns of Avoca, Clarinda, and Red Oak before later moving to Norfolk, Nebraska. He left college after one year to join the United States Navy, being commissioned an ensign. He joined the U.S. Navy on June 8, 1943, as an apprentice seaman enrolled in the V-5 program, which trained Navy and Marine pilots.
He hoped to train as a pilot, but was sent instead to Columbia University for midshipman training. He performed magic for classmates on the side. Commissioned an ensign late in the war, Carson was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania, a battleship on station in the Pacific. He was en route to the combat zone aboard a troopship when the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a close.