On this day in history, May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson makes his final appearance on The Tonight Show.

Johnny Carson, the king of late-night television, hosted his final episode of “The Tonight Show” in 30 years on this day in history, May 22, 1992.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Carson conducted approximately 22,000 interviews during his tenure and was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone in US television history.

The long-running “The Tonight Show” was the first and for decades the most-watched talk show on television, the Television Academy Foundation said.


In October 1962, Carson took over from Jack Paar and the show became The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Carson hosted the show for 30 years, from 1962 to 1992.

Johnny Carson

Photograph of Johnny Carson, circa 1960. He was “known for his slick sense of humor and Central American appeal,” noted the Television Academy Foundation. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

During this time, the show moved from New York City to Burbank, California.

“Known for his slick sense of humor and Central American appeal, Carson quickly recognized his increasing popularity and the strain of doing comedy and talk five nights a week,” said the Television Academy Foundation.

“As an entertainer, it was the greatest experience of my life.”

“He threatened to leave the show but was lured back with a generous offer that included a huge raise and more time off.”

Carson was emotional during his final show — and his monologue appropriately focused on his retirement, the Vancouver Sun noted.

Johnny Carson poked fun at Biden’s claims of plagiarism in 1980: video

Carson’s insights into his retirement included this comment: “Well, let me try to explain. If I could somehow magically rewind the tape you just watched, I’d love to do it all over again. It was a lot of fun.”

Johnny Carson, Robert Blake and Ed McMahon chat on Johnny's late night talk show

Johnny Carson (far right) along with Ed McMahon and Robert Blake on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1975. (Fred Sabine/NBCU)

He continued: “As an entertainer it has been the greatest experience of my life and I cannot imagine upon my departure tonight finding anything on television that would bring me as much joy and pleasure and such a sense of exhilaration as this .” show gave me. It’s just hard to explain.

He continued his monologue: “Now it’s a farewell show. There is a certain sadness among the employees, a little melancholy. But look on the bright side: you don’t need to read or hear another story about me leaving this show.” The press coverage has been absolutely amazing and we’re very grateful.”

“The press coverage has been absolutely amazing and we are very grateful.”

He added: “But my God, the end of the Soviet Union didn’t get that kind of publicity. The press has been very decent and honest with me and I thank them for that… That’s about it.”

Midwest roots

Carson was born John William Carson on October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa.

After graduating high school and serving in the US Navy during World War II—helping decipher encrypted enemy radio traffic on the USS Pennsylvania—Carson enrolled at the University of Nebraska.

There he participated in student theater activities and worked for a radio station in Lincoln, Britannica noted.

After graduating in 1949, Carson got a job at radio in Omaha – and in 1951 began working as an announcer for a Los Angeles television station.

He then went on to host a comedy show on Sunday afternoons, which led to him being hired as a writer for the show by Red Skelton, Britannica says.

“After successfully replacing Skelton once at the last minute, Carson got his own short-lived variety show, ‘The Johnny Carson Show,'” the same source states.

“Then he moved to New York City and in 1957 became the host of the game show ‘Who Do You Trust?’ In 1962, Carson replaced Jack Paar as host of The Tonight Show.

Carson was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.

During his 30-year tenure, Carson created memorable characters such as Aunt Blabby and Carnac the Magnificent, as well as many classic skits, and became one of the country’s most popular artists.

Carson’s final appearance as host of “The Tonight Show” drew an estimated 50 million viewers, the largest audience in the show’s history, Britannica noted.

In total, Carson received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy Governor’s Award in 1980 and a Peabody Award in 1985, the Television Academy Foundation announced.

Johnny Carson Dick Carson

Johnny Carson (left) chats with his brother, director Dick Carson, backstage at the Sahara Hotel circa 1973 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 by President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, stating that Carson “embodies the heart and humor of America.”

In 1993 he received a Kennedy Center Award.

“When Carson retired, Jay Leno was named the next main host of ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,'” the Television Academy said.

“Leno, a well-known stand-up comedian, brought his own writers and comic style to the show and showcased it in his opening monologues and his quips with guests.”


On January 23, 2005, Carson passed away at the age of 79.

“While the Carson family gave few details about his death, it was reportedly the result of complications from emphysema,” NPR said.


Honors were numerous after Carson’s death, with Leno’s standout line: “No single person has had as great an impact on television as Johnny. He was the gold standard.”

And Tonight Show contributor Charles Barrett said: “He always drove to work himself, never took a limousine. He was a guy who expected a certain level of professionalism from everyone on the show.”

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